The third band of Fathers and Brothers of the Company of Jesus to reach Florida was of those who were martyred in the province of Ajacán. It happened in this way. The Governor, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Marquis of that land and Knight of the robes of Santiago, conquered two strongholds of the King of France in Florida. He slew two thousand French heretics there, 600 in the fortress of San Mateo (so named because the Christians capture it on that day) and 1200 who together with their captain and leader Jean Ribault were lost in a storm off the cape of Cañaveral. Going toward Spain, he sought to explore the coast of Florida that runs northward. He skirted it for more than 450 leagues until he arrived in sight of a land that is called Ajacán, in the language of the Indians. This was 300 leagues away from Santa Elena and 150 [sic] from Havana, more or less.
— page 156 —The Governor, Pedro Menéndez, God save him, discovered on the coast a large bay. He entered further into the harbor and sailed up into it. When the Indians saw the boats, they came alongside in canoes and boarded the flagship. There His Excellency, as was his custom, like another Alexander, regaled them with food and clothing. Among these Indians came a chief who brought his son, who for an Indian was of fine presence and bearing. Pedro Menéndez asked the chief for permission to take him along that the King of Spain, his lord, might see him and others whom he had brought along. He gave his pledge word to return him with much wealth and many garments. The chief granted this and His Excellency took him to Castile, to the Court of King Philip II, God save him. The King our lord and his Court were very pleased with him and other Indians from the land of San Agustín and Santa Elena. His Excellency gave them many courtly favors and rich garments.
The Indian from Ajacán became a Christian and they gave him the name Don Luis and he stayed in Castile six or seven years in a house of the Society, where they instructed him in the matter of our Holy Faith and Christian religion. Being intelligent (as the Indians of those provinces are, if they mingle from youth with the Christians) he made ready and they gave him the holy sacraments of the altar and Confirmation. When he was more than twenty years of age, he wished to return to his native land, with the plan and determination, as he then said, of converting his parents, relatives, and countrymen to the Faith of Jesus Christ, and baptizing them and making them Christians as he was. He discussed the matter with the Fathers of the Society, telling them that, if some of them were with him, he would offer himself, and, with God's favor, they would go there and make Christians of all the Indians of the province of Ajacán, over most of which his father was chief and lord. This proposal seemed good to the Fathers of the Society, seeking as they were the good of those souls and the growth and spread of the Christian religion. They related it to Father Francis Borgia, the General of the Society, and to the Supreme Pontiff, Pius V, and to the King, Philip II, God save him, and with their knowledge and consent, the voyage was made. The Governor Pedro Menéndez de Avilés learned of the proposal. He was a great mariner and he knew the land of Ajacán and had brought Don Luis. He was greatly pleased at the news, for he was very devoted and faithful to the works of the Society. He offered to bring the Fathers and Don Luis to the land of Ajacán in the galleons which protect the sea of the Indies, over which he was commander. And so it was done.
— page 157 —His Majesty ordered the officials in the Casa de Contratación in Seville to give them what was needed in food and clothing and other things necessary for the divine worship and for their journey. From Rome His Holiness and the Father-General sent them their blessings with many favors, indulgences, and Agnus Dei's. They appointed, as superior of the Fathers and Brothers, a venerable Father who was named Juan Baptista Segura, who had been provincial in Castile, with full authority from His Holiness for matters touching on the conversion of the natives of that land of Ajacán and the land of Florida.
In the beginning of the year 1568, they sailed from San Lúcar de Barrameda in the galleons of His Majesty, over which the Governor Pedro Menéndez was commander. In a short time they came to the port of Havana, where some of the Fathers and Brothers stayed behind. From there the rest continued their voyage and reached the fort of Santa Elena that summer; there the blessed Fathers disembarked and stayed for a rest of some days, with the three Fathers an two Brothers who, as I said, had remained there. The Governor, knowing the treachery of the Indians, promised then 100 soldiers who were to be in their company and guard them in Ajacán. The Fathers thanked him and said there was no need for this, for they had confidence in God and were bringing with them Don Luis, whom they had educated in the Society, and who was the lord and chief of that land. Moreover the soldiers would set a bad example for the Indians disturb them with their activity. The Governor, if I recall correctly, or another official of those provinces, used to say (it was a byword there) that these good Fathers seemed to believe that the sole purpose for which His Holiness and His Majesty and their superiors had sent them was to be martyred and cut to pieces by the savages. They believed that although it is a holy and special gift from above to have martyrs in God's holy Church, the Fathers were not sent for this alone. They were to labor many years for the conversion of these poor Indians, and to plant and cultivate the vineyard of the Lord, to protect themselves and keep themselves in His favor many years for the opportunities in the great service of God that presented themselves. This is what several saints did. This seemed to me to be most reasonable, and experience and time, which reveal the truth, have made it evident, and we inhabitants of those provinces saw it with our own eyes.
The Governor gave them a very good frigate for their journey in which they brought some boards, nails, and other things for the erection of a house, in which they might live, and a carpenter to build it. For
— page 158 —captain there was Vicente Gonzalez, a Portuguese, a famous soldier and fine mariner who was married in Triana in Seville, who spent many years as captain of the small ships with the galleons which were under the command of Pedro Menéndez. His Majesty King Philip II, for his fine services, made him a Knight with the robes and badge of the Order of Christ.
As Father Ribadeneyra reports, two Fathers, six Brothers, and three catechists who had been trained by the Fathers and accompanied them from Seville left the fort at Santa Elena for Ajacán. Father Juan Baptista de Segura was the leader, Luis de Quirós was the name of the other priest, and Gabriel Gómez, Zaballos, Juan Baptista Méndez, Pedro de Linares, Cristóbal Redondo, Gabriel de Solís were the Brothers. One of the boys, Alonso de Olmos, escaped martyrdom; and the death of two was never learned.
They reached Ajacán in good season and landed without any opposition from the Indians. The Captain built them a hut, as best as he could, not far from the sea. He gave them a few days' supplies with a pledge to intercede with the Governor to remember them. The fleets en route to Spain would pass by there on their return; then he left the Fathers contented and happy. Although Don Luis had assured them that food would be available, for the country is rich in corn, fish, and game, and that he and his clan would protect the Fathers from the natives, the soldiers and those who knew the country always believed that the men who stayed there would be martyrs for Jesus Christ.
After the Captain left, the Indians round about, who were subjects of Don Luis and his father, came and were glad at the coming of Don Luis with the Fathers and Brothers of the Society. The Fathers were friendly, gave them some trinkets they had brought from Castile, and then began to sow the holy seed of the gospel among the savages, with Don Luis as interpreter. The Fathers were pleased, for it seemed that their preaching among the pagans was well on its way to bearing fruit.
Don Luis stayed with the Fathers for a few days and won their confidence. Then he asked permission to go in person to see his home country, his village, and his relatives, saying that thus more Indians than before would come. The blessed Fathers, embracing him, agreed and offered to send someone with him. Don Luis replied that he needed no companion and preferred to travel alone, because the terrain was rough, as was true, and a companion would have trouble on foot. He departed, though he should never have done so, for he turned worse than the natives, an
— page 159 —apostate from his Catholic faith, taking up his idolatry again, and living with the savages.
When the good Fathers saw that more time had elapsed than they had agreed to, and that the Indians had gone and no longer came for the preaching as they did when Don Luis was there, they began to worry over his tardiness. They sent one of the young men called Alonso de Olmos, who was very friendly with Don Luis. Through God's guidance, the boy lost his way and found the village of another chief more powerful than Don Luis, who took him in and warned him not to search for Don Luis, and promised to help gladly.
The renegade Don Luis convened his friends and relatives and may warriors to go and massacre the good Fathers and Brothers who were like sheep and gentle lambs offered as a holocaust and sacrifice to Our Lord Jesus Christ. Such was the council held by the faithless Jews to crucify the Saviour of the world for Whose love these holy Fathers and Brothers died their blessed happy deaths at the hands of another Judas whom they had reared in their own Society's college. This ravening wolf, tossing aside the sheep's clothing, and seizing his swords, darts, and arrows, as well as the hatchets, knives, and axes the Fathers had brought from Castile for their own use, came upon the blessed Fathers an cut them down and slew them. Blessed be the Fathers and Brothers who endured such a cruel and pitiless death for God's love! Hapless murderers who will suffer the eternal pains of Hell! Not a soul escaped to tell about this cruel martyrdom, and whether the manner of death was as a group or singly.
Alonso de Olmos, who, as I mentioned, had lost his way and reached the village of another chief, shed many tears at the news of the death of the blessed Fathers and Brothers. He almost lost his life grieving that he had not deserved to be martyred with them. When the chief saw him so crestfallen, he comforted him and promised to protect him and prevent Don Luis from killing him as he had his companions. Despite the demands of Don Luis that the boy be delivered up to martyrdom, the chief was firm. The boy lived on in fear.
This lad, Alonso de Olmos, later stayed in Havana and then went on to Santa Elena, whence he came. He told what the Indians had said, how they cruelly martyred Father Baptista and another Father, making him bless himself, and as he did so they cut him with points of flint as sharp as a razor. The rest were slain with cudgels and arrows, and then they cut off their heads. Fashioning the skulls into cups, they waved them about in
— page 160 —their drunken feasts, and putting on the sacred vestments and clothes of the saintly martyrs, they sang of their mighty conquests. Let there be no wonder or amazement at this. Father José de Acosta relates greater cruelties about the Indians of New Spain,—they are all the same. For they have a custom and a tradition taught by the devil to torture Christians and even Indians in their sacrifices, cutting out their hearts and offering them to their idols and false divinities.
Alonso de Olmos told something else that the Indians related after the Fathers died. They opened a chest and finding there a crucifix and some relics they tried to see and handle them, but they were struck dead. For it seems that the Crucified One was offended by the cruel death worked on these blessed Fathers and wanted to strike them down suddenly. At the sight of these deaths, the others ran away and left the bodies of the blessed martyrs, for the Divine Majesty willed that they be buried by the angels, as this boy says …
… In the Spring of 1572 Menéndez departed for Castile, sailing north along the coast of Florida. They reached Ajacán in search of the Fathers and Brothers, whose deaths were not yet certain. They arrived too late to explore the harbor; so they anchored at its mouth. When Alonso de Olmos, whose escape from martyrdom I have related, heard the report of ships off the coast (the village was close to the sea), he fled at night to the ships. At daybreak he came to the beach off their anchorage, swam out to the flagship, which was nearest, and climbed aboard. Since he arrived naked and tanned by the sun, no one recognized him but thought he was an Indian. Gazing about the ship, he saw and recognized his father, also named Alonso de Olmos, and threw himself at his feet and then he kissed him and cried: "Here! Here is my father!" Because he had not used our language for five years, and was so happy on being in the protection of Christians, he could hardly speak.
The Governor went on to Spain after ordering a ship to Havana with Alonso de Olmos, senior and junior, and some natives he had brought along from Florida. From Havana they returned to the fort at Santa Elena, where, in the house next to mine, there lived Alonso's mother named Marina de Lara, and two brothers, Francisco de Olmos and Pedro de Lara, a sister and a grandmother named María de Lara. When I was a bachelor I used to eat with them. A close friend of the boy told me at different times many of the details of that country that I have set forth. Later, while searching for pearls, he and 21 soldiers under Lieutenant Hernando Moyano were cruelly tortured and slain by Oristans, the
— page 161 —most savage Indians in Florida. How terribly unfortunate! It would have been much better to have died in the glorious martyrdom of his companions.
From Alonso I learned that Ajacán is a very fertile land, with gold and silver and pearls. He said that when he showed them a small gold cross, they bit it and said it was plentiful in the mountains which reach to the other sea, and this should be as far as New Mexico. The Indians of this province wear some golden circlets on their brows and bracelets on their wrists and ear rings.
According to his report, the Indians of this province are tall, noble, paler than many other Indians in that region, fine swimmers, very swift and nimble and skillful archers. They sustain themselves with fish, corn and game; all three abound in Florida. There is no king or prince who lords it over them, but only that chief is recognized wherever one tongue is spoken, and there are many in that region. The Indians of the long wide valleys are the enemies of those in the mountains and in summer a savage war is waged. In winter they return to their villages because the land is cold and they go about naked. Their only garments are the skins of animals and everyone does not have these.
They adore the sun, the moon, and the devil, who appears in many guises and in the shape of a bird. At times he takes possession of his priests and speaks through them and leaves them bruised and half dead. He said that one day, when he was in the chief's cabin, the devil appeared in the shape of a black bird, like a crow, and, perched on a tree, began to speak in the Indian tongue. When he asked the chief what the bird said, he replied that it was a god who came to tell him to kill the boy. The boy answered that it was the devil trying to deceive, for he was the enemy of the true God of the Christians. In order to show that this was true, he went out of the cabin an in the name of Jesus Christ, the God of the Christians, he drove it away from there with only the sign of the Cross. It went and never appeared again.
What I have told about the death of the blessed Fathers and Brothers of the Company of Jesus, martyred in Ajacán, was on everyone's lips at the time I was in Santa Elena, which was, as I said, for eight years. Alonso de Olmos recounted it to me many times when he was a soldier there four years after his escape. What he says can be believed, for he is a good man from an upright Christian family. There could be a slight difference from later accounts about the tortures which he recounted and which were understood to be much greater than what was recorded. As I said, there
— page 162 —really was no one present at the martyrdom of the Fathers and Brothers. No Christian who saw it escaped; anything said was first heard from the lips of Indians, who are liars and flaunt their own treacherous crimes.
There are people who can give testimony of the martyrdom of the Fathers. They are the aforementioned Vicente Gonzales, a Commander of the Order of Christ, who was married in Triana, and visited Ajacán twice, once when he brought the Fathers and then when he saved Alonso de Olmos. There is a brother of Alonso de Olmos, Pedro de Lara, who was a soldier in Florida when I left and should still be there. There was a person named Yuste, a soldier at the time of the martyrdom of the Fathers, whom I left in Seville. I know of no one else still living. I affix my name to this in the imperial town of Potosí, October 24, 1610.