Fort Caroline - A Short Lived Colony
"They be all naked and of
goodly stature, mighty, faire and as well shapen…as any people in
all the worlde, very gentill, curtious and of good nature… the men
be of tawny color, hawke nosed and of a pleasant countenance…the
women be well favored and modest…”
-- French explorer Jean Ribault
Fort Caroline was
an early French
colony in the United States, originally thought to be established in what is now Jacksonville, Florida,
on June 22, 1564. However in recent years, this has come into dispute,
and scholars announced in 2014 that the actual ruins of Fort Caroline
may have been found in Georgia (See Dispute).
Built under the leadership of René Goulaine de
Laudonnière, it was intended as a refuge for the Huguenots, who were
members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France. It lasted only
one year before being obliterated by the Spanish.
During the 16th century, France was
determined to expand its empire. Spain, the world’s leading power,
already had a foothold in the Americas, and France wanted a share of
the riches the Spanish were gaining through trade and plunder.
France’s first attempt to stake a permanent claim in North America was
at La Caroline, a settlement thought to be near the mouth of the St. Johns River in
Native American researchers have recently found though that the
settlement is actually on the Altamaha River (See
When French explorer, Jean Ribault, arrived at the river in 1562, he
was impressed by the first native peoples he encountered. The
under Chief Saturiwa, who met the French at the mouth of the river,
were one of a number of Timucua-speaking tribes who inhabited central
and north Florida and southeastern
Georgia. They were the final stage of a culture whose way of life had
remained essentially unchanged for more than 1000 years.
The French expedition, organized by
Protestant leader Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, landed at the site
briefly in 1562 and Jean Ribault and his men erected a monument at the
river. They then moved north to Port Royal Sound in what is
present-day South Carolina. There, on Parris Island,
South Carolina, Ribault left 28 men to build a settlement known as Charlesfort.
Ribault then returned to Europe to arrange supplies for the new
colony; but, was arrested in England due to complications arising from
the French Wars of Religion, which prevented his return. Without
supplies or leadership, and beset by hostility from the native
populations, all but one of the colonists sailed back to Europe after
only one year. During their voyage in an open boat, they were reduced
to cannibalism before the survivors were rescued in English waters.
In the meantime, Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere, who had been Jean
Ribault's second-in-command on the 1562 expedition, led a contingent
of around 300 new settlers back to the Florida
and Georgia area,
where historians have said they founded Fort Caroline atop St. Johns Bluff on June 22,
1564. However that location has been called into question as recent as
2013 when Cherokee historian Marilyn Rae discovered that William
Bartram, famous botanist of the 1700's, had visited ruins of a French
or Spanish fort on the Altamaha River, and had even left specific
instructions on how to find them. After Rae's revelation, Glynn County
Georgia officials provided images that allowed researchers to locate
the footprints of a large triangular fort, and a smaller tetragonal
fort. (See Dispute)
The colonists included some of the leading families of France,
wearing gilded armor and brightly colored clothes. Other
representatives of French society included artisans to provide
entertainment and laborers to build the fort. The group also included
French artist, Jacques le Moyne de Morgues, whose job was to paint
images of the people, flora and fauna, and geography of this part of
the New World. The desire for permanency was illustrated by the
inclusion of women, of whom at least four had husbands. Most were
Huguenots, but there were also Catholics and agnostics.
first, the settlement was to be a commercial venture; but, religious
conflict in France broadened the goals, so that the settlement was also a
refuge for Huguenots. The soldiers and artisans then began to build, with
help from the Timucuan Indians, a village and fort on the river’s south
both Spain and France hoped to claim their piece of the "new world." By the
time the French planted their settlement at La Caroline, Spain was
entrenched in South and Central America and its sea routes through the
Caribbean were well established. Spanish ships bearing gold and silver from
the mines of Mexico and Peru stopped at Havana before sailing for Spain.
They rode the Gulf Stream through what is now the Straits of Florida and up
the southeastern coast of North America. The Spanish were uneasy about a
French settlement because their treasure ships, while they followed the
Florida coast, could be easy prey for suspected French raiders in their
nearby haven at La Caroline.
The settlement barely survived that first year. Good relations with the
Indians eventually soured and by the following spring the colonists were
close to starvation. Twice, mutinous parties had sailed off to make their
own fortunes and some were eventually captured by the Spanish, revealing the
presence of the French colony. The remaining colonists were about to leave
in August, 1565, when they spotted sails on the horizon. Jean Ribault had
arrived with a relief expedition of supplies and 600 soldiers and settlers,
including more women and some children.
On learning of Ribault’s departure for
Phillip II of Spain sent Admiral Pedro Menendez to remove the French from
Menendez established a base to the south at St. Augustine. Ribault sailed
down the coast seeking to attack the Spanish, but his ships were scattered
by a hurricane and beached far to the south.
Seizing the opportunity, Menendez marched north with 500 soldiers to attack
the weakly guarded colony. It is believed that the Spanish camped overnight
nearby, and attacked early. Forty or fifty French people, including
Laudonniere and the artist, Jacques le Moyne de Morgues, escaped and sailed
for France. Out of the remaining 200 people, only about 60 women and
children were spared.
Captain Pedro Menendez de Aviles, by Francisco
de Paula Martí, 1791.
Menendez next marched south and found the shipwrecked Frenchmen, Ribault
among them. They threw themselves on his mercy, but, to Menendez they were
heretics and enemies of his king. At a place later named Matanzas
(Slaughter), he put to the sword about 350 men - all but those professing to
be Catholics and a few musicians. France never again strongly challenged
Spanish claims in North America.
the current "government recognized" Fort Caroline National Memorial is a
unit of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. Fort Caroline
memorializes the short-lived French presence in sixteenth century Florida.
Here you will find stories of exploration, survival, religious disputes,
territorial battles, and first contact between American Indians and
Europeans. However all that is now in question with recent discoveries
putting the fort in Georgia instead. Read about and see links to further
information under Dispute below.
Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve
12713 Fort Caroline Road
Primary Source: National Park Service
of America, updated January, 2017.
It's not often that we have to rewrite
history such as this, but the story of Fort Caroline is obviously in flux.
After receiving a communication from a Legends reader we were alerted to the
fact that good solid evidence now points to Fort Caroline in a completely
different location, on the Altamaha River in Georgia. We expect to be
making additional updates to this story as more facts and resolutions come
out, but in the meantime, here are links to additional references and
details about the ongoing dispute between Georgia and Florida.
Florida Highjacks Discovery of Fort Caroline - Examiner Feb 22, 2014
Oldest Fortified Settlement In North America May be Located in Georgia -
Science Daily, Feb 21, 2014
Scholars say ancient Fort Caroline nowhere near Jacksonville (a
450-year mystery with much history at stake) - The Florida Times Union,
Feb 21, 2014
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