Tuesday, 6 January 2015

"The Natives of Florida worship the column," from Theodor de Bry, America (13 vols., Frankfurt, 1590-1634).

Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere and the Indian Chief Athore Visit Ribaut's Column, c.1570 (gouache on parchment, New York Public Library)


In 1562 Jean Ribaut of Dieppe led a French expedition to the New World, landing in Florida. Here he set up the column shown in this print, to indicate French claims to ownership. Such columns were often put up in Europe, to mark the boundaries between the possessions of different kings, and so it seemed appropriate to do this in the New World as well.Ribaut left some colonists at Charlesfort, but their settlement did not thrive, and they eventually returned to France in great distress. Two years later, when the religious wars had broken out in France, the Protestant René de Laudonnière led an expedition back to this site, hoping to found a colony. The Indians greeted him in a very friendly way, and took him to the column erected by Ribaut. Our plate shows the Indian chief Athore showing the column to Laudonnière, who is described as being much shorter than the majestic Indian. Indeed, European travellers often noted how tall and well-built the coastal Indians were; no doubt they were much better nourished than most Europeans of that time.Athore points to the column, which other Indians are worshipping as a cult-object, symbol of their alliance with the powerful king of France. The column has been wreathed with flowers; before it lie offerings of fruits and vegetables, a bow and some arrows. We know that this scene is likely to be accurate, because, uniquely for the roughly fifty images engraved by de Bry from this expedition, the original water-color made by Jacques le Moyne de Morgues has been found and closely resembles the engraving. 

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