Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Today on the Christian History Almanac podcast, we remember when the Reformation Wars of Religion came to American soil.

It is the 20th of September, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I’m Dan van Voorhis.


 Let’s take a look at a time period we are very familiar with on this show- but play with our minds a little bit by changing our geography.

Let’s head back to the 1560s. This is Reformation territory- the second generation of Reformers are active in places like Geneva and Scotland. The Germans are consolidating lands marked now as “Lutheran” or “Catholic” in the age of the Peace of Augsburg. Still, there was no such peace in France where the French Wars of Religion began to rage between the Catholics and the Huguenots (“not” or “no”- pronunciation is often a matter of custom and preference).

Now, if we move our gaze from Reformation Europe to the New World, we might wonder what was happening then and there. Of course, there is Columbus and 1492 and all that. But please remember, Columbus never made it to the mainland of North America. He only made it as far as the Caribbean. European powers had tried to colonize the mainland, but only Ponce De Leon got close to founding a colony in modern-day Florida. There were two issues worth remembering: first was the birth of those “Pirates of the Caribbean”- this area would be dangerous for any settler as pirates- real pirates- would loot, steal, etc.… you should also remember that a rather crafty Spanish Pope signed a document called the Treaty of Tordesillas- essentially dividing the New World between Portugal and Spain, with Spain receiving most of North America.

The pilgrims are over 50 years away, but what if I told you the first European settlement wasn’t in Plymouth or the Massachusetts Bay Colony but in Florida? It was Jean Ribaut, a French Huguenot, who led a settlement in 1562 called Fort Caroline on the mouth of what is today St. John’s River, just south of modern-day Jacksonville. The colony was for Huguenots seeking respite from the Wars of Religion back home.  But, as the story often goes, they ran low on supplies. Ribault headed to England to ask for help and was arrested, and those back at Caroline either stayed and waited or joined the growing legion of pirates. It was from these pirates that the Spanish learned of a French settlement in their territory. The Spanish, ruled by the Catholic Phillip II (he was both king and Emperor) were not pleased that they were French, but more that they belonged to that new religion they referred to as “Lutheranism”. All Protestants were labeled with was then an epithet.

So, Phillip called on his man, Pedro Menendez de Avila, to conquer the interloping Huguenots he called Lutherans.

In 1565, Jean Ribaut was out of prison and was able to make his way back to the French settlement at Fort Caroline, where he was still in the process of unloading the resources as they saw the coming Spanish fleet. A brief skirmish took place with the Spaniards retreating to the South where they would settle part of the Florida coastline on the feast of St. Augustine and name their settlement “St. Augustine”- it is the first European settlement that still exists today (I went there in 2018, it was awesome. And you can call it St. Augustine, Florida, but everyone will look at you strangely. You can, however, call the saint “Augustine”- once again, pronunciation is often a matter of custom and preference).

Ribaut and the French Huguenots were none too pleased with Spanish Catholics nearby and took a fleet to meet the Spaniards to the south. And just as the Spanish Armada would soon be destroyed by bad weather in its attack on England, the French were foiled by a hurricane. With the French out at sea, Menendez and his men marched overland, north to Fort Caroline, where on this, the 20th of September in 1565, the Religious Wars of Europe came to America, where the French were slaughtered. He left a sign for those who might come upon the devastation by hanging some Huguenots with the inscription- that read “not as Frenchmen, but as heretics.” Later, French missions would abandon the American South and head to the North, where French Canadian settlements would survive. Today, we remember the story of Huguenots, Spanish Catholics, and the Reformation Wars of Religion on American soil, with a massacre at Fort Caroline on this day in 1565.


The last word for today is from the Metrical Psalter- although not in English, the Psalter was the hymnbook for the Huguenots who adopted Psalm 68 as their battle cry:

1  Let God arise, and scatterèd

         let all his en'mies be;

      And let all those that do him hate

         before his presence flee.


 2  As smoke is driv'n, so drive thou them;

         as fire melts wax away,

      Before God's face let wicked men

         so perish and decay.


 3  But let the righteous be glad:

         let them before God's sight

      Be very joyful; yea, let them

         rejoice with all their might.


 4  To God sing, to his name sing praise;

         extol him with your voice,

      That rides on heav'n, by his name Jah,

         before his face rejoice.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 20th of September 2023, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Pedros include Menedez (despite the violence), filmmaker Almodovar, Pedro Sanchez as in “vote for Pedro” in Napoleon Dynamite, and my 5-year-old Chihuahua named Pedro (thanks, man!) He is  Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who just saw this week’s Apple playlist. It starts with “St. Augustine” by Band of Horses- a goocher! I’m  Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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