The New Catholic Encyclopedia explains the story of the Franciscan Martyrs of Georgia, early casualties on what was then “the frontier”:
The title refers to five Friars Minor—Pedro de Corpa, Blas Rodríguez, Miguel de Añon, Antonio de Badajóz, and Francisco de Veráscola—who were slain in 1597 in the territory of the present-day Diocese of Savannah. Though the territory was then called La Florida, to distinguish these missionaries from others martyred in territory that is now part of the state of Florida, the term "of Georgia" is used to identify them.
These five Spanish missionaries—four priests and one lay brother—were laboring in the region then known as Guale. The event that occasioned their slaying was the polygamous infidelity of Juanillo, the son of a Guale cacique. A baptized Christian sacramentally married, Juanillo had openly taken a second wife. Called to task by the missionary in Tolomato, the headstrong young man took offense at the correction.
Fearing that he would be impeded in succeeding to the position of cacique of the tribe, he organized a revolt against the authority of the missionaries. He rounded up a group of nonbaptized natives, who, under cover of night, came to Tolomato.
On the morning of Sept. 14, 1597, Juanillo and his followers invaded the house where Fray Pedro was preparing for the celebration of Sunday mass for his flock. Without further ado, he slew the priest with blows of a stone-hatchet.
The following day the rampant natives moved on to the nearby settlement of Tupiquí, where they found Fray Blas preparing to offer mass with his people. The invaders allowed him to celebrate mass, after which he spoke words of farewell and exhortation to the faithful who had gathered. Though the friar sought to persuade the rebels to desist from their bloody intention, they refused to abandon their plan, beyond postponing action for two days. They then bashed his head with clubs and threw his body to the vultures.
Crossing the channel, the rebels came to St. Catherines Island (then called Guale). They had previously sent word to the cacique of the island to slay Fray Miguel and the lay brother Fray Antonio, the two friars missioned there. Hoping to save them, however, the cacique planned to send them to another island, where he knew that the faithful natives would give them safe haven. The warning did not arrive in time to save them from the rebels. The priest offered a last mass and gave viaticum to his assistant. The rebels slew both Fray Miguel and Fray Antonio with blows from a tomahawk.
The slaying of the fifth victim, Fray Francisco, took place on a date not explicitly indicated in the sources. For some days he had been absent from his mission on Asao (now St. Simons Island) when the revolt broke out and his brethren had been slain. Pressured by the rebels, the natives on the island, who had not embraced the Gospel in any great number, were persuaded to join the revolt. When within a few days the friar arrived back at his post, a group of young braves who had formerly been his friends overpowered him as he pulled into the land. On the shore of the island they clubbed him to death. Thus within the period of one week all five missionary friars working in Guale were put to death.
From the time of their martyrdom there was a constant recognition that their death was a witness to Gospel values. Their cause for canonization was formally opened in the Diocese of Savannah in 1983, and ten years later forwarded to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome for consideration.
An account first published in 1615, recounted the deaths of the friars:
As the Evil One…saw that the friars were an obstacle to his worship, he enticed the heart of a cacique…to apostatize from the faith,…to return to the evil life of his ancestors, to a plurality of wives…He plotted with other young men… to kill the friars…They came to the village called Tolomato, at night, without being perceived…When the friar (Fray Pedro de Corpa) opened the doors of the church, they slew him…and cut off his head…Then the young chief gave a long discourse…(saying) that the reason they had killed that friar was that he prevented them from having a plurality of wives and from following their pleasure…
They then went to where…Fray Blas de Montes (sic) was, to Tupiqui…The friar…began with Christian arguments to dissuade them from their evil intention (and) asked them, since he was about to die, that they allow him to say Mass… and that after his death he would ask them, as his sons, to bury him in the body of the church…As St. Lawrence distributed the treasury of the Church, he divided among the poor Indians of the village the few things he had, and proceeded to say Mas…
Mass ended, he knelt…and prayed to God…The Indians came forward…and killed him; and they buried him in the church itself, as he had requested.
The Indians…sent a message to the cacique of the Island of Guale that they should kill the friars…on that island…The cacique of that island greatly loved the friars…; he secretly sent a message to the friars that they should flee to the Spaniards' presidia…The servants who came with that message did not have the courage to give that message to the friars…The friars…said that they would die, as God so wished, that they were happy to accept death for Him and for the preaching of His Gospel…In a short time the Indians arrived at the friars' house and, ransacking it, proceeded to kill the friars…With clubs and macanas they beat on the heads and bodies (of the friars).
Fray Francisco de Veráscola was…a man of great physical strength, for which even the Indians held him in awe…For this reason they (the Indians) looked for a way to kill him after first taking him by treachery…Thus, as he was coming from a distance by canoe or boat, the savages were there, hiding in a clump of reeds; grabbing him from behind, some secured him while others beat him with clubs and macanas. Thus he died.
It is believed that, since he announced the Word of God to this people, and serving Him in this holy ministry – for hatred of which the Indians had done this evil – the same Lord, for whose law he had suffered, would have mercy on him; especially since he was an apostolic man, very poor and humble, devoted to prayer and all the practices of virtue.
-Fray Juan de Torquemada. Monarquía Indiana Sevilla, 1615 (First edition); Madrid, 1723 (Second edition); Mexico, 1975 (modern edition in three volumes).