Rereading the “Écriteau”: Protestant Myths, Native Alliances, and the Histories of French Florida
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.5070/T881036606
The écriteaux or public signs that may have been hung around the necks of French colonists in Florida in 1565 by Menéndez de Avilés and his Spanish comrades indicate that the Spanish were motivated to destroy a “Lutheran” colony. Beginning with this Spanish “reading” of the French settlement, this essay explores the long history of understanding French Florida as an exclusively Protestant colony. This emphasis, I argue, obscures another interpretation that can be traced back to Jean Ribault and René de Laudonnière. Rather than focusing upon the colony as a Huguenot refuge, Ribault and Laudonnière, and others after them including Richard Hakluyt and Marc Lescarbot, argue instead for the colony as a “French” project built upon effective alliances with the Timucuan populations of the St. John’s River region. At the same time, Laudonnière’s account demonstrates how the French prove unable to maintain stable relations with Timucuan allies. The French failure to communicate with and comprehend their Native allies explains the colony’s demise and its destruction. Despite the power of religion and its rhetoric in the colony’s existence and aftermath, this essay argues that we cannot ignore Native power and Native rhetoric in understanding the beginnings and ends of la floride française.