Ceremony for the Death of a Chieftain
Striking image of Florida Indians gathered to celebrate the end-of-life rituals for a chief of their tribe. The members of the tribe gather and weep around a mound surrounded by arrows and with a nautilus shell on top.
This work was published by Theodor de Bry from manuscript notes and drawings made by Jacques le Moyne de Morgues, an illustrator and explorer, who sailed with René de Laudonnière, on the 1564 Huguenot expedition to Florida. Laudonnière set up Fort Caroline on the St. John's River in 1564. This is generally accepted as the oldest European settlement in Florida, but the Spanish army destroyed the settlement.
The text below the map translates as follows:
When a chief from that country dies, he is buried with great solemnity. The cup from which he used to drink is placed on his tomb which is surrounded by arrows stuck in the ground. His subjects mourn him for three days and three nights without eating or drinking. All his friends do the same, and in testimony of the affection they held for the deceased, both men and women cut off more than half their hair. During the next six moons, women specially chosen for the task lament the death of their king at dawn, midday and twilight with great howls. All the king's personal property is carried to his house where it is burnt. They do the same thing for priests.
Laudonniere and French Exploration in Florida
A French expedition, organized by Protestant leader Admiral Gaspard de Coligny and led by the Norman navigator Jean Ribault, landed at the site on the River of May (now the St. Johns River) in February 1562, before moving north to Port Royal Sound. There, on present-day Parris Island, South Carolina, Ribault left twenty-eight men to build a settlement known as Charlesfort. Ribault then returned to Europe to arrange supplies for the new colony, but was arrested in England due to complications arising from the French Wars of Religion, which prevented his return.
Without supplies or leadership, and beset by hostility from the native populations, all but one of the colonists sailed back to Europe after only a year. During their voyage in an open boat, they were reduced to cannibalism before the survivors were rescued in English waters. Meanwhile, René Goulaine de Laudonnière, who had been 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. The fort was named for the reigning French king, Charles IX. For just over a year, this colony was beset by hunger, Indian attacks, and mutiny, and attracted the attention of Spanish authorities who considered it a challenge to their control over the area.
In June of 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. In a bold stroke, Menéndez marched his forces overland, launching a surprise dawn attack on the Fort Caroline garrison which then numbered about 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 executed.
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 Frenchmen as Lutheran heretics, at a place now known as Matanzas ("massacres") Inlet. This atrocity shocked Europeans even in that bloody era of religious strife. This place is known today by a fort built much later, Fort Matanzas. This massacre put an end to France's attempts at colonization of the southeast coast of North America.
For his Grands Voyages, De Bry engraved 42 plates based Le Moyne's original sketches made during the French Huguenot voyage to the Florida Peninsula. De Bry's renderings of Florida and its inhabitants are today the earliest known printed European images of Native Americans in present-day Florida, known as the Timucua Indians.
The images attempt to convey a number of messages about the land and its peoples. For example, some of the plates have been suggested to represent the ability of the Timucua to obey authority and that they are less sophisticated than the Europeans. This was argued to make them ideal candidates for French Huegonot colonization, to be used in conflicts against Catholic Spain.
The accuracy of De Bry's depictions have sometimes been called into question. Some of the engravings do not quite match what became known about the Timucua by later French explorers, and some engravings possess out-of-place features, such as the appearance of a Pacific nautilus rather than a Florida whelk shell. However, it is believed that the core of the imagery is correct. For example, the depiction of Timucuan body art, otherwise unknown to Europeans at the time, suggest that De Bry's depictions were grounded in reality.
Theodor de Bry (1528-1598) was a prominent Flemish engraver and publisher best known for his engravings of the New World. Born in Liege, de Bry hailed from the portion of Flanders then controlled by Spain. The de Brys were a family of jewelers and engravers, and young Theodor was trained in those artisanal trades.
As a Lutheran, however, his life and livelihood were threatened when the Spanish Inquisition cracked down on non-Catholics. De Bry was banished and his goods seized in 1570. He fled to Strasbourg, where he studied under the Huguenot engraver Etienne Delaune. He also traveled to Antwerp, London, and Frankfurt, where he settled with his family.
In 1590, de Bry began to publish his Les Grands Voyages, which would eventually stretch to thirty volumes released by de Bry and his two sons. The volumes contained not only important engraved images of the New World, the first many had seen of the geographic novelties, but also several important maps. He also published a collection focused on India Orientalis. Les Grands Voyages was published in German, Latin, French, and English, extending de Bry’s fame and his view of the New World.