Witnesses to the Truth: Statements and Opinions

Statements of the Perpetrators

None of the actual perpetrators of the slaughter were ever apprehended and brought to trial. For that reason no direct statement from any of them as to their motives in slaying the friars is on record.

We do, however, have a parallel source of information as to the reasons which provoked the slaying of the five missionaries. These statements are found in the authenticated record of the trial of seven natives who, even though remotely, somehow were involved in the actual slaying. These statements must therefore be considered statements of the perpetrators as indirectly preserved.

The "Informative about the Martyrdom of the Franciscan Missionaries of La Florida," still preserved in the Archivo General de las Indias (Patronato 19), is an official document which includes the record of the lengthy investigation carried out in July of 1598 by order of the Governor of La Florida. Twice reproduced in modern times, it may be found in either one of the two sources, both readily available:

01 - Atanasio López, O.F.M., Relación Historica de La Florida escrita en el siglo XVII (Madrid, 1933), Vol. II, pp. 13-23;

02 - Ignacio Omaechevarría, O.F.M., "Mártires Franciscanos de Georgia," Missionalia Hispanica, Año XII (1955), Num. 35, pp. 327-340.

Though the two reproductions of the text of the original process are basically identical, the López version retains many now-archaic spellings as well as non-consistent forms of capitalization and punctuation as they appear in the original sixteenth-century text. In some few instances López introduces – regrettably without indicating that he is doing so – a summary of the text when it becomes prolix or is not strictly necessary for the substance of the record; only a patient comparison of his text with the Omaechevarría version will reveal these relatively minor variations. Such interpolations are not of the essence, nor do they affect the flow of the whole, while they may actually facilitate the perusal of the document.

The Omaechevarría version uses forms of capitalization and punctuation more in accord with current-day usage. It likewise adopts modern spelling in place of the archaic original. In a preliminary note, on page 291, Omaechevarría explains the adaptations of the original which he introduced to facilitate the reading and the understanding of the several documents which he presents, including this "Process on the Death of the Religious of the Province of Guale.”

The trial of the seven natives took place in San Agustin in the presence of the highest authority in the land, Gonzalo Mendez de Canzo, Governor and Captain General of the Provinces of La Florida, during the period July 20 to July 29, 1598. On the opening day, the Governor gave a summary of the happenings of September of the preceding year and told of his subsequent fruitless efforts to apprehend the guilty parties. With the explicit intention to investigate the slaughter of the religious "to its roots" ("saber de raiz el caso") and to discover the reason ("la ocasión")1 which led to the killing of the friars, he had, as he explained, made a long trip to the region of Santa Elena, seeking also to secure the release of Fray Francisco de Avila. Returning to the capital city of San Agustin with some Indians – four of them being sons or brothers of caciques – whom he had taken prisoner, the Governor had wanted, as he pointed out, to summon Fray Francisco de Avila, who had been held captive by the Natives for nine months, but was now free.2 The Governor's intention was that the friar might make depositions as to what he knew about the death of his fellow friars. Fray Francisco, despite the permission given him by the Commissary Superior, alleging the canonical prohibition for a cleric to depose in cases involving a capital crime, refused to testify, calling attention to the fact that the seven Indians in custody would be in a position to furnish any pertinent information.3

The interrogation proper of the seven accused began on July 20 after several weeks of preliminaries. The first native to be questioned was Lucas, a baptized youth from Tupiqui, the son of Don Felipe, the cacique of that place. He testified that eight caciques had conspired to kill the friar resident in Tupiqui, Fray Blas Rodriguez. From a blow to his head with a hatchet, the friar had died instantly. Questioned as to the motive for such an act, he cited what was allegedly by the micos and caciques who had ordered the friar killed, namely, that he was a troublemaker (bellaco), had forbidden the natives to have dealings with spirits (hechicerias), and had said that they should not have more than one wife.4 Subsequently questioned as to what he knew of the reasons for killing the other friars and. the harsh treatment given Fray Francisco, he repeated what he had already stated, namely that the micos and caciques claimed that the friars were bellacos, and that they did not want the natives to have more than one wife, and that they corrected and reprimanded the natives.5

The second Indian to be interrogated in the Governor's presence was Francisco, a baptized youth from Tolomato, related through his mother to the cacique. He testified that Fray Pedro de Corpa was killed by blows of a macana, a leading cacique of the Salchiches (a neighboring tribe) being the actual assassin. He testified that he had heard it said that the order to kill the friar had been given by the mico of Tolomato and his heir Juan (Juanillo). Questioned about the motive (causa) for which the friar was killed, he said it was Juanillo, whose wickedness (bellaquerias) the friar had reprimanded and censured (reprehendia y renia). He also testified that he had heard that Lucas, the son of Don Felipe (cacique in Tupiqui) was present at the death there of Fray Blas Rodríguez.6

The third Indian brought before the Governor for questioning was Bartolome, a baptized young man from Tolomato. Some months earlier, shortly after news of the insurrection had reached the authorities at San Agustin, at the orders of the Governor he had been sent to Guale to investigate the rumor that one of the friars was still alive. The cacique of Tolomato would not allow him to return to San Agustin. His deposition was based on the conversations he had heard while he was kept in Guale against his will. He testified he had heard the Indians say they had killed the friars because they, the friars, reprimanded the natives, were troublemakers (bellacos), that they (the Indians) did not want anything to do with them (the friars), and that they (the friars) would not allow them (the Indians) to have (plural) wives.7 An Indian called Buenaventura, a baptized Christian of Tolomato, was the fourth to be interrogated. According to what he had heard of the slaying, two caciques from the outlying area had killed Fray Pedro de Corpa with macanas while he was sleeping, and then buried his body in the same room. The witness further testified that all the friars, except Fray Francisco de Avila, who was taken prisoner, were likewise killed with macanas. As to the motive for the killings, he reported that the principal agent was an Indian named Soho Olate, who killed them all with macanas and induced other natives to join in the slaughter because it was not good to have friars, who were troublemakers (bellacos), who took away their law and who did not allow them (plural) wives. He further testified that he had heard that Lucas, Don Felipe's son, had been present at the death of Fray Blas.8

The fifth witness was an Indian youth named Alonso, who declared that he was a Christian and a native of Ospo. Though he had not been present at any of the slayings, he reported what he had heard as to the treatment given to the friars. With exception of Fray Francisco de Avila – saved from death through the intercession of the cacique of Talapo – all were killed with macanas. Because of his youth he was not present at the slaughter of any of the friars, but he had heard that Lucas, Don Felipe's son, was present at that of Fray Blas Rodriguez. As to the motive for the slayings, he had heard it said that the natives did not want the friars because they were troublemakers ( bellacos): they took away their way of life (ley) and they would not let them have (plural) wives.9

The next witness was a pagan Indian, whose name is not recorded, from a settlement called Uchilate, near Tolomato. Though he had known Fray Pedro de Corpa, he had no information as to how he or the other slain friars had been killed. Not being a Christian, he was ignorant as to the reason why the religious had been put to death.10 The final witness to be called to testify was an Indian of Asao by the name of Pedro, a youth who was a Christian. He had known all five of the slain friars. Not having been present at any of the slayings, he nonetheless had heard that the friars were slain with macanas and that the motive for the slayings was that the caciques did not want the friars because the friars corrected (renian) them and did not want them to have (plural) wives.11

Proceso (AGI, Patronato, 19), ed. Omaechevarría, MH 12 (1955): 328.

See below, 104. Fray Avila's story is preserved in Óre, ed. López, 1:95-I02; Geiger, Martyrs, 76-93. See also Maynard Geiger, Biographical Dictionwy of the Franciscans in Spanish Florida and Cuba (1528-1841), Franciscan Studies, 21 (Paterson, N.J .: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1940) : 28-30.

Proceso (AGI, Patronato, 19), ed. Omaechevarría, MH 12 (1955): 331.


Ibid., 332

Ibid., 332-33

Ibid., 331-34

Ibid., 334-35

Ibid., 335-36

Ibid., 336

Ibid., 336-37

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The First Georgia Missions: Our Southern Catholic Heritage, Dr. Paul Thigpen and Katherine Ragan. Illustrations by Pamela Gardner, based on the retablo by Dan Nichols. This retablo is part of the parish patrimony of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia

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