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 Frenchmen to occupy the fort. Ribault was under orders to arrest de Laudonniére, if the information was found to be true. If the allegations were not true, nevertheless, Ribault was to take command of the colony.
Ribault quickly realized that de Laudonniére was innocent of the charges. Ribault offered to name him is second-in-command. De Laudonniére refused and asked to be allowed to return to France.
The day after Ribault’s arrival Native leaders from throughout the region arrived at the fort to inquire. Again we have proof of a very speedy communication system among the coastal provinces. Presumably, in the flatlands, it was based on runners, rather than hill top signal fires. However, de Laudonniére makes no mention of any communication system among the Natives.
The indigenous visitors to the fort had many questions, because they obviously recognized the size of the newly arrived fleet. Who were these new people? Were they staying at Fort Caroline or just visiting like Sir John Hawkins? De Laudonniére explained that he had been called back to France. For now, the new colonists would stay at Fort Caroline, but in the near future, some would move elsewhere.
De Laudonniére became incapacitated with a strange illness that lasted eight or nine days. At the same time Ribault then ordered most of his foodstuffs to be brought to land. They were stored in a house that was 600 feet from the fort, next to a newly constructed bread oven. This location was obviously a very bizarre place to protect the food supply for 1,100 colonists. The house would be impossible to protect from night time raiders and immediately out of reach for the colonists if they were under siege. De Laudonniére’s placing of a bread oven so far outside a fort might have reduced fire hazards, but showed a lack of military foresight. A fort under siege meant no bread, which Frenchmen considered a staple.
One of the gifts that the visitors brought was a chunk of metal that the locals called “red copper.” De Laudonniére gave it to his metallurgist, who stated that it was pure gold. The Native dignitaries promised to escort Jean Ribault to the Appalachian Mountains in a few days to show him the gold mines and deposits. That trip was not to occur.
Source: Sixteenth Century French Exploration of the Southeast, by Richard Thornton, People of One Fire, Blairsville Georgia, © 2012.