Location: Fort Caroline

White's 1585 Roanoke Map

Castaways, Deserters, Refugees and Pirates

There is no accurate measure of the number of shipwrecks along the South Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, but the number must be in the hundreds or even over a thousand. Also not known is how many shipwrecked sailors and passengers survived in North America during the 1500’s and 1600’s, or how many Sephardic Jews, Muslim Moors and European Protestants, escaping the Spanish Inquisition, landed on the shores of the present day Southeastern United States. Surviving archives, however, do furnish credible evidence of these peoples settling in the interior of the Southeast, while officially England was only colonizing the coastal regions.

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

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

Southeast Topographic Map

Geography Around the Coastal Region of Fort Caroline

To understand why Captain René de Laudonniére would be drawn to either the Satilla, St. Marys or Altamaha Rivers as the location of France’s first permanent colony in North America, one has to first look at the “ground level” geography, i.e. what the officers would have seen from a mile or so out to sea. Maps of the Florida and Georgia coast are included with this article. The mouth of the St. Johns River would appear to be that of small, shallow river flowing through marshes. The outlet of the river was often blocked with dangerous sand bars until it

Where was Fort Caroline?

A very important historical fact should be considered with evaluating alternative locations for Fort Caroline. The cities of Darien, Brunswick and St. Marys on the Georgia coast were booming ports for many decades before Jacksonville, FL even existed. Their harbors were naturally deep enough to handle sea going vessels.  At that time the St. Johns River was so shallow in places that cattle could be driven across; hence the city’s original name, Cowford. It was only after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged and widened the St. John River’s outlet that the port of Jacksonville was able to attract