Primary Resource

The Story of Guillaume Rouffi; an excerpt from Relación e información de los Franceses by Hernando de Manrique de Rojas (July 9, 1564)

In this excerpt from Relación e información de los Franceses, dated July 9, 1564, Hernando de Manrique de Rojas reports to Spanish authorities in Havana, Cuba, on the status of a French colony planted by Jean Ribault in 1562 at the Point of Santa Elena, near present-day Parris Island, South Carolina. Manrique de Rojas encountered a Frenchman, Guillaume Rouffi, living with local Indians who told how his comrades had sailed away. Remarkably, nearly all of them were later rescued. Rouffi, meanwhile, became a translator for the Spaniards. This English translation is the work of Lucy L. Wenhold and appeared in the July 1959 issue of the Florida Historical Quarterly.

Transcription from Original

On June the eleventh he weighed anchor to go to a river which is on a point on the south side of the harbor. As they sailed along those in the frigate saw a canoe anchored at the point, and immediately two Indians came out of the forest and got into the canoe to go away. The captain ordered Mateo Díaz, master of the frigate, to go to speak with them and to bring them to the frigate if they would come without being made captives or harmed. They came aboard willingly with Mateo Díaz and showed by signs where their village was on the northwest side of the harbor. The captain took the frigate to that place, and at once other Indians came on board. The captain landed and went to the Indian village. There he found in the possession of the Indians two iron axes, a mirror, some pieces of cloth, small bells, knives and many other things made by the hands of Christians. The Indians explained by signs and some intelligible words that there had been at their village thirty-four men with a ship; that thirty-three of them had gone away and one had remained with them in that land and was now in a village which they said was called Usta. They said that they would send for him and he would come the next day when the sun should be high. The captain, having understood, sent two of the Indians to the other village to summon this Christian and gave them a piece of wood with a cross made upon it which they were to give the Christian as proof that there were Christians in the land. The Indian messengers departed at once, and at noon on the twelfth of June there appeared before the captain, in the presence of me, the scrivener, and of witnesses, the said Christian, clothed like the Indians of that country, who declared himself to be a Frenchman.

Immediately the captain ordered Mateo Díaz, master of the frigate, to calculate the latitude in order to know the location of the harbor. Mateo Díaz calculated it by the sun, the captain being present, and found it to be thirty-two and a third. Then the captain said that inasmuch as it was desirable to find out some things from this Frenchman in order to know what was to be done in this matter he was giving command that the man be sworn and his deposition taken. He therefore summoned him and called Martín Pérez, one of the frigate's sailors who said he was French, who should translate into Castilian the things the Frenchman might say in his deposition which might not be understood. The two were put under oath. The Frenchman swore to speak the truth in whatever he knew and might be asked concerning the matter in which they wished him to give evidence, and Martín Pérez swore to translate into Castilian whatever the Frenchman might say what was not understood, without excepting or reserving anything. In acquittal of the oath they said: "Thus I swear" and "Amen!"

The Frenchman was asked whether he is a Christian, what is his name and of what country he is a native. He replied that he is a Christian, that his name is Guillaume Rouffi, and that he is a native of Unfein in the kingdom of France. Asked who brought him to these parts he replied that Captain Ribaut did. Asked by the captain from where was this Captain Ribaut, with what ships he came to these parts, what force of men and what artillery he brought, he replied that Captain Jean Ribaut was a native of Dieppe, France, that he came to these parts with two armed galleasses, one of about 160 tons and the other of sixty, a shallop with three lateen sails, and two other, smaller shallops which, at sea, were carried on board the galleasses; that the large galleass carried a hundred men, twenty-five of whom were sailors and seventy-five were arquebusiers, fifteen large brass cannon and two of smaller size and eight brass falcons, besides other arms and ammunition; that the small galleass, captained by the Frenchman Finqueville, carried fifty men, three large guns, one smaller one and six falcons, all of brass, twenty-five arquebuses and other arms and ammunition.

He was asked in what season and from what port they left France, and he replied that they sailed from New Havre in the kingdom of France on the first day of Lent of the year 1561. Asked by whose command and at whose cost the expedition had been arranged and what had been its destination, he replied that he understood the expedition to have been made up and sent out at the command and cost of the Queen Mother [Catherine de Medici] of France, the Admiral [Gaspard de Coligny] and Monsieur de Vendôme, and that each of these gave one thousand ducats to equip the expedition; that it came directly to this coast of Florida to settle on the Point and River of St. Helena, and to discover whether it was a good location for going out in to the Bahama Channel to capture the fleets from the Indies. This he knows because he heard it said by everyone and it was common knowledge.

He was questioned as to whether they explored any other territory or harbor of the Indies or any other parts before they arrived at this coast, and how long they were on the way. he said that after they left New Havre they neither entered any other harbor nor explored any other territory than this coast of Florida; that he had heard the pilot call the first land they saw Cape Florida near the Bahama Channel; that they were two and a half months on the way from France to this land. Asked whether they met on the ocean any other ship, he replied that he heard it said that the large galleass, having gotten separated from the small one in which he was, had met off Bermuda a Spanish vessel which was returning from the Indies, but that the French captain and his men did not wish to take the ship nor attack her; that they saw no other ship during the voyage.

He was asked whether any Spaniard came in the galleasses or whether the people were all French, also whether they were Protestants. He replied that the pilot they brought was a Spaniard called Bartolomé who had with him a son called Bartolomé, and that he heard it said that they were from Seville; that there was one Englishman and that all the rest were Frenchmen and almost all were Protestants; that there was one among them who preached the doctrines of Luther.

He was questioned as to whether the Frenchmen made a settlement or built a fort or set up anywhere any markers bearing the arms of France, and if so, in what places and on what harbors they placed them and where they are; whether there are other Frenchmen besides himself or what has become of the others. He answered that they set up a stone marker bearing the arms of France in the place on the coast where they first explored; that the galleasses entered a harbor three or four leagues south of this one and there set up another marker like the first one, that on a river a little nearer this way, on the same bay they build an enclosed house of wood and earth covered with straw with a moat around it, with four bastions, and on them two brass falcons and six small iron culverins; that twenty-six men remained in this house and fort and the others returned to France; that Captain Ribaut commanded them to remain there and promised that within six months, for which length of time he left them supplies, he would return from France with more ships and many people, with cattle and other things, to settle that land. They did not set up any more markers, and of the five they brought from France three were taken back in the galleasses.

Asked whether he would know how to go where the fort and the markers are and in what latitude they are, he replied that he would know quite well how to go to the fort and to one of the markers, that it was possible to go up the river to them without going out to sea; that he saw the Spanish pilot and two Frenchmen calculate the latitude in the harbor, that the Spaniard said it was thirty-two and a quarter and that the Frenchmen said it was exactly thirty-two; that the other marker is where he has said, but that he does not know in what latitude it is nor whether he could find the spot unless he could see the river there which he would recognize.

Questioned as to whether the twenty-six Frenchmen whom the captain left there are still in the fort, or what has become of them, he said that two of them were drowned in crossing a river in a canoe; that the one who had been left as captain over the others one day struck a soldier with a club, that the soldier drew his sword and in struggling with him killed him; that he and the twenty-two others who remained, seeing that Captain Jean Ribaut did not come nor did any other Frenchmen, decided to go away to France and for that purpose built a twenty-ton boat near the fort; that when it was finished the Indians of the country gave them a number of ropes made of the strong bark of trees and they rigged the boat with these. The Indians also supplied them with native produce and fed them until they went away in the boat to the province of Guale which is just south of this place. There they were given some native blankets which they made into sails for the boat. Those Indians also gave them supplies. They then returned to this harbor, and the declarant, realizing that there would not be in the boat anyone who understood navigation, was not willing to go with them and remained among the Indians of this section where he has been until now. It is about fourteen months since they went away and no news of them has ever been received.