Gonzolo Solis De Meras: The French Interpreter to Be Put to Death Secretly, 1566

The imperialistic conflict between French Lutheran and Spanish Catholic colonialists over the possession of Florida led to the murder, in 1566, by the Spaniards, of an allegedly treasonous French Lutheran interpreter, said to be "a great Sodomite."

In this case the victim's sodomy is associated with, though seemingly secondary to, the subversiveness of his nationality and the heresy of his Lutheranism; the medieval connection of heresy with sodomy is suggested.

The primary work documenting this incident is a "Memorial" of the Adelantado, governor and captain-general, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, one of the pioneering Spanish conquerors and explorers of Florida. This "Memorial" is written by Menendez's brother-in-law, Gonzalo Soli's de Meras, probably in 1567, a year after the event described.

The document is difficult to understand, both because of its style and the great number of individuals named in it. For the reader's convenience, among these are:

the Adelantado, Pedro Menendez de Aviles,
Alonso Menendez [Marques], the Adelantado's nephew,
Vasco Zabal, a Spanish ensign,
Guillermo, a French Catholic working for the Spaniards,
the Cacique Guale, or chief of an American Indian clan of the Guale area,
the son of the cacique, said to "love" the French Lutheran interpreter "very much,"
the French Lutheran interpreter, said to be living with two sons of the cacique,
Estebano de las Alas, Spanish captain at Santa Elena.


Alonso Menendez [Marques], the Adelantado's nephew, and [ensign] Vasco Zabal had told him [the Adelantado] that the French interpreter who was there [at Guale] was a Lutheran and a great Sodomite; that when the Adelantado had departed thence for Santa Elena, he [the interpreter] went to the Indians [telling them] they should kill them [the Spanish]; and that through Guillermo [a French Catholic working for the Spaniards] he could inform himself of what was happening in this [matter], so that he [Guillermo] could speak with 2 Indians with whom he [the interpreter] was living, one of whom they said was the cacique's [chief's] eldest son.

The Adelantado made inquiries with great secrecy; and learning that it was the truth, and that they saw him [the interpreter] spit on the cross many times before the Indians,[1] scoffing at the Christians, he spoke with Alonso Menendez [Marques], his nephew, and with Vasco Zabal, the ensign of the royal standard, who knew this and had seen it, and told them that it was not well to leave that cacique and his people disconsolate, since they wanted to become Christians, and that it would please him [the Adelantado] greatly if they would remain there, as before.

Vasco Zabal replied that he would sooner the Adelantado had him beheaded, than be left there. Alonso Menendez [Marques] said that he would much regret staying, but since his lordship ordered it, he would do so, on condition that that Frenchman should be killed, or the Adelantado would take him with him; for otherwise nothing could be accomplished, and the Indians would slay him [Menendez] and those who remained with him; that the son of the cacique had more authority than his father, and loved that interpreter very much; that if they [the Spaniards] killed the interpreter [openly], the Indians would be angered and again break out in war. This reasoning appeared very good to the Adelantado, and because he trusted Guillermo, and held him to be a Catholic, he called him: he told him to tell that interpreter that he should go with him to Santa Elena, for they can go there in a canoe in 2 or 3 days, by a river, without putting out to sea; that Estebano de las Alas [the Spanish captain at Santa Elena], who was a very good captain and liberal, would make him many presents: and that he would bring back a gift to his cacique, for the Cacique of Santa Elena had sent word to him to send for it. The interpreter was pleased at this, and without knowing that the Adelantado knew it, he [the interpreter] came to beg him to give him a letter for Estebano de las Alas so that he might know him, and to give him a hatchet, because he wished to set out to get the present which the Cacique of Santa Elena was to send to his Cacique Guale. The Adelantado told him to give him paper and ink, that he would write the letter at once; and so he did, writing one very favorable to the interpreter, and giving it to him.

Then Cacique Guale dispatched that interpreter in a canoe, with 2 of his Indians, that they might go and return immediately. The son of the cacique showed much sorrow because the interpreter was going, and prayed him, weeping, to return at once. The Adelantado sent a soldier with a letter to Estebano de las Alas in order that he might have that interpreter killed with great secrecy, as he was Sodomite and a Lutheran; and if he returned alive, the Indians of Guale who desired to be Christians, would not as quickly become so; that he might greatly entertain the two Guale Indians who went with the interpreter; that Orista should do likewise, giving them a handsome present, sending another to Guale, and offering him his friendship; and that Estebano de las Alas should feign great regret because the interpreter did not appear, [saying] that as he was a false Christian, he must be hiding in the woods so as not to return to Guale, and so that if some ship should come from his country, he might go back on board of her. And therefore Estebano de las Alas had him garroted with great secrecy, and the two Indians returned to Guale; and the Adelantado had already departed for San Mateo and St. Augustine, leaving in Guale his nephew, Alonso Menendez [Marques], and the Christians who were with him: he took away Vasco Zabal.2


1. While the Indians were worshipping the cross, he spat on it, and committed other heinous sins."

2. Gonzalo Soli's de Meras, Pedro Menendez de Aviles; Adelantado, Governor and Captain-General of Florida . . . trans, by Jeannette Conner (Deland, Fla.: Florida State Historical Society, 1923), p. 180-81.

Additional sources on the French Lutheran interpreter, the murder victim, whose name was Guillaume, are in the following: Barrientos p. 105, Iio-n; Charles E. Bennett, Laudonniere and Fort Caroline (Gainesville, Fla.: University of Florida, 1964), p. 107-08; [Andres Gonzalez de Barcia Carballidoy Ziiniga] Barcia's Chronological History of the Continent of Florida . . . from 1512 . . . until the Year 1722, trans. Anthony Kerrigan (reprint, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1951), p. 113, 118. Jonathan Ned Katz thanks Stephen W. Foster for informing him of these documents.