Collection: Sixteenth Century French Exploration

Arx Carolina

16th Century French Exploration of North America

An AccessGenealogy Exclusive: Richard Thornton’s study of the Sixteenth Century French Exploration of North America – replete with maps and images – Much of the research in this report was drawn from two books by former Congressman Charles Bennett of Florida, which were interpolated with the author’s personal knowledge of Georgia coast – while fishing, canoeing, sailing and camping in the region between Darien, GA and Jacksonville, FL. The author was born in Waycross, GA, is a Creek Indian and is an expert on Muskogean culture. The first book by Bennett, Three Voyages, translated the memoirs of Captain René Goulaine de Laudonniére. The second book by Bennett, De Laudonniére and Fort Caroline, translated the memoirs and letters by other members of the French colonizing expeditions. These books are supplemented by the English translation of Jacques Le Moyne’s illustrated book, Brevis narratio eorum quae in Florida Americai provincia Gallis acciderunt,” Le Moyne was the official artist of the Fort Caroline Colony, and one of the few who survived its massacre by the Spanish.

Historical Maps of Southeast United States

1.  1550 – Dutch map of the Western Hemisphere This map shows the accurate description of the shape of the Florida Peninsula before the late 1600s.  Later maps described its shape as being triangular.  Even though the survivors of the de Soto Expedition returned to Mexico City in 1543, this map does not show any information about the interior.  Note that Japan (Zimpango) is shown off the coast of North America.     2. 1562 – French map of the Western Hemisphere This map contains many of the rivers along the coast of North America and the Gulf Coast, but

The Non-Search for Fort Caroline and a Great Lake

Most history books and online encyclopedia sources state unequivocally that Fort Caroline was built on the St. Johns River in present day Jacksonville.  They state that the May River named by de Laudonniére, was the same as the San Juan (St. Johns) River named by the Spanish. Virtually none of the articles tell you that Fort Caroline National Memorial is a reproduction of what some people “think” the fort looked like, constructed at a location that was good for tourism.  No artifacts have been found in the Jacksonville area that can be definitely tied to French colonial activities in the

What If’s

An incredible series of “things gone bad” turned the 16th century colonization efforts of the French government into a tragic disaster.  French efforts were far better planned than their Spanish or English counterparts in the 16th century.  At the start, France seem destined to be the dominant power in North America.  If any one of many decisions had been made differently, the French Colony may have succeeded.  Here are some of the “what if’s.” If Jean Ribault and René Goulaine de Laudonniére had brought along a couple of fishing boats from Brittany on their voyages, the colonists would have had

Florida Françoise

The Kingdom of France continued to claim the region between the Santee River in present day South Carolina and the St. Marys River in present day Georgia until the Treaty of Paris in 1763, when ceded all its territory in North America to Great Britain. Most European maps, except those of Great Britain labeled this “wannabe” province Florida Françoise.  However, France did not officially participate in any further colonization efforts in the region after 1565.  It is important to note that France never claimed the St. Johns River Basin and always on its official maps, labeled the Altamaha River as

Fort San Mateo

Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés simultaneously built fortifications in Saint Augustine Bay and at La Florida’s planned capital of St. Elena on Parris Island, SC. Next he repaired and strengthened Fort Caroline, renaming it Fort San Mateo.  Efforts were made by the Spanish in 1566 to bribe Indian tribes within the interior of Florida to turn over the Frenchmen, who avoided execution in 1765.  Apparently, the Natives could not be bribed. Fort San Mateo was to be the center of a planned mission system run by the Jesuits. The excellent harbor near Fort Mateo was to be a place where

Two Massacres at Matanzas

Survivors of Jean Ribault’s fleet staggered onto the beach south of St. Augustine with nothing but their torn clothes.  Eventually, the castaways clustered into two groups. One, numbering about a hundred were under the command of Ribault.  A smaller group came together on a beach farther south.  Neither group had food or water.  Apparently, none knew how to catch fish in tidal pools or which coastal plants were edible. Ribault’s party staggered northward in search of potable water.  Eventually, the desperate men encountered a small search party dispatched by Menéndez to look for survivors of the French fleet.  Ribault assumed

Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés Arrives at Fort Caroline

One September 2, 1565, just after Ribault had sailed in three of his small ships to Fort Caroline, six large Spanish ships appeared at the entrance to the May River.  It was the force commanded by Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés that the king of Spain had ordered to drive out the heretic French colonists.    The Frenchman, who had elected to stay behind at Charlesfort had been captured by the Spanish.  He had told the Spanish approximately where the other colony was located. Many of the tribes may have been in cahoots with the Spanish, not knowing that the Spanish

Jean Ribault Arrives at Fort Caroline

On August 28, 1565 the two ships at Fort Caroline’s dock prepared to hoist anchors and sail for France.  Then sails were seen on the horizon.  It was Jean Ribault’s large fleet of at least seven ships, carrying 800 colonists.  Ribault had finally returned to France from England in June of 1565.  While in England he had almost been successful in convincing Queen Elizabeth to send a English colonists to Fort Caroline. Those colonists, who returned to France after the fort was constructed, told authorities that de Laudonniére was a tyrannical commander, who would resist militarily any attempt by other

The Third Voyage to Fort Caroline

French combat teams went on expeditions several times to rival provinces, but only a few are specifically described by de Laudonniére. The relationships of the French with Native provinces upstream on the May River worsened when they became hungry.  The French then resorted to kidnappings of a king.  The leader was held hostage until food was delivered.  Of course, that was in contrast to the Spanish who frequently garroted or burned at the stake Native leaders they captured. On several occasions in his memoir, de Laudonniére mentioned that small parties of Frenchmen left Fort Caroline for several weeks to explore