Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sunrise to Sunset Daytrips - Matanza Beach

Sunrise over the ocean
We woke up at 4:30am for a day trip to St. Augustine this particular morning, from Georgetown.

We drove out to the Matanza Beach area to watch the sunrise and spend the day just enjoying the surf and miles of endless and unpopulated beach.

It was chilly and windy, but we didn't mind, it assured us of the solitude we sought.

Note: The beach parking lots are closed until 8:00am, we had to park in the parking lot driveway and leave a note on our door saying we would be back to move the truck and pay the $3.00 day fee after the sunrise, which was OK since we didn't get ticketed...

The history behind the name of this beach area seems innocuous enough, but roughly translates into the Spanish word for "Slaughter". It seems a hapless group of French Huguenot settlers landed here and settled at what is now known as Jacksonville.


On the Beach Looking North
Norman navigator Jean Ribault René Goulaine de Laudonnière, landed at the site on the May River (now the St. Johns River) in February 1562

Ribault's second-in-command on the 1562 expedition, led a contingent of around 200 new settlers back to Florida, where they founded Fort Caroline (or Fort de la Caroline) atop St. Johns Bluff on June 22, 1564.

In June 1565, Ribault had been released from English custody, and Coligny sent him back to Florida. In late August, Ribault arrived at Fort Caroline with a large fleet and hundreds of soldiers and settlers and took command of the settlement.

However, the recently appointed Spanish Governor of Florida, Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, had simultaneously been dispatched from Spain with orders to remove the French outpost, and arrived within days of Ribault's landing. After a brief skirmish between Ribault's ships and Menéndez's ships, the latter retreated 35 miles south, where they established the settlement of St. Augustine.

Ribault pursued the Spanish with several of his ships and most of his troops, but he was surprised at sea by a violent storm lasting several days. Menéndez marched his forces overland, launching a surprise dawn attack on the Fort Caroline garrison which contained 200 to 250 people. The only survivors were about 50 women and children who were taken prisoner and a few defenders, including Laudonnière, who managed to escape; the rest were massacred.


The seaweed covered beaches and rolling surf
As for Ribault's fleet, all of the ships either sank or ran aground South of St. Augustine during the storm, and many of the Frenchmen onboard were lost at sea. Ribault and his marooned sailors were located by Menéndez and his troops and summoned to surrender. 

Apparently believing that his men would be well treated, Ribault capitulated. Menéndez then executed Ribault and several hundred Huguenots (French Protestants) as heretics at what is now known as the Matanzas Inlet. The atrocity shocked Europeans even in that bloody era of religious strife. This massacre put an end to France's attempts at colonization of the southeastern Atlantic coast of North America.

They were the first people to come to North America seeking freedom. The Huguenots were Protestants fleeing persecution by Catholics in their homeland.


"Had the French not sailed into that hurricane, Jacksonville would be America's oldest city. Jacksonville is America's first coast, the first place people came seeking freedom.

One can almost see the Spanish Fleet on the horizon
It was so odd to spend the day in a place that at one time was filled with so much violence and death, but it seems the ocean has swept clean the scars of the events and time has healed the windswept beaches of her sorrow.

Although, it almost seemed as I sat staring out over the waves that I could see the Spanish fleet at anchor and the long boats pulling for shore, the hapless Huguenot's apprehensively awaiting their arrival and wondering at their eventual fate, first marooned by Storm then left to be slaughtered by Menéndez's fleet.

Sometimes I could hear voices in the breeze calling to one another and the smell of shoreline campfires lit. It was an odd sensation and one worth experiencing in an area that is now a protected natural beach area and the refuge of the wealthy beach home owners in their Spanish revival homes facing the sea.

Sometimes the best way to study history is to go to the places where it was made and immersing yourself in the feeling that seems to pervade these areas.

Although the day was bright, crisp and cheerful, one felt compelled to take a moment of silence for the people who bravely tried to settle this region and payed for it with their very lives.

One also couldn't help but think of the tens of thousands of Timucuan Peoples who inhabited these regions for thousands of years only to perish in a twinkling from the diseases and brutal treatment of their captors.
Sunset over the Intercoastal

By all means, enjoy yourself, get out your pail and shovel and build a castle, pick seashells to your hearts content, but never forget what has gone before and give a moment to reflect on how things can change in 450 short years.

It certainly gives one pause to think, and I think one should consider such things when wandering the beaches of Florida, so much history has gone before that our present occupation is just a blink of an eye in comparison.

1 comment:

emailrobertcena said...

according to me it is good to see such natural beauty especially sunrise at the time of trip for Georgetown. I am sure that you had enjoy beauty of nature and also you had good experience and fun at the time of trip. Thanks for sharing this beautiful moment regarding trip.
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