Jacksonville, Florida 1564
Architect Richard Thornton is a member of an alliance of Creek, Choctaw and
Seminole scholars, who over the past seven years have been intensely studying
the heritage of the Muskogean peoples. Much of their activities have involved
re-examination of the archives of the early Spanish, English and French
exploration of the Southeastern United States. We have asked Richard to provide
AccessGenealogy with some of his work. As we add to these articles we will
also be providing a question and answer section for the reader to ask questions
at colonization and European Intrigues
In 1526, Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon led an expedition of
600 settlers and 100 horses to found the first Spanish
Colony in what is now the United States. This was only
five years after the defeat of the Aztecs in Mexico. The
location of the colony is currently believed to be in
the vicinity of Sapelo Island, Georgia. The settlers
arrived in October of that year. It was called San
Miguel de Gualdape.
The colony was a failure. The colonists were in the
midst of abundant seafood resources and unlimited edible
Live Oak acorns, but apparently ate little of either.
The crude buildings they erected were only occupied for
three months. Over half of the colonists died of
dysentery or starvation. Half of the remaining survivors
of the colony drowned when a rescue ship sank.
Nevertheless, Spain based its claim on all of North
America on the failed colony, plus the early expedition
of Hernando de Soto between 1540-1543.
Meanwhile in Europe, the invention of the printing press
had set off a revolution in Europe. Much of Germany,
Bohemia, Hungary, England, Scotland and Scandinavia had
become Protestant. By 1660, over half of the nobility in
France, and perhaps ¾ of its merchant class had become
Protestant. If France and the Netherlands went over to
the Protestant fold, the Roman Catholic Church would
lose its political control of Europe. The Pope asked the
King of Spain to actively intervene into the situation
by supplying funds and military support to the
pro-Catholic segment of the French nobility. This
resulted in 1562 in the First War of Religion in France.
An armed truce ended open combat in 1564, but atrocities
against the French middle class were continued by
anti-Protestant raiders. Many French Huguenots saw their
only hope of survival in being migration to England,
Switzerland, Scandinavia or the New World.
French Huguenot colonization
In February 1562 during the First War of Religion,
Protestant Admiral Gaspard de Coligny and navigator Jean
Ribault led a flotilla for Protestant refugees to the
banks of the St. Johns River at what is now
Jacksonville. When the weather got warmer, they then
moved to Port Royal Sound in what is now South Carolina
on Parris Island. Twenty-eight men stayed on the island
to build a simple timber palisade they called
Charlesfort, in honor of the King of France. Ribault
then sailed to England to obtain more supplies, but was
temporarily imprisoned because of diplomatic intrigues
by Catholic leaders in France. In despair of ever
receiving logistic support, the Charlesfort colonists
built an open boat and sailed to England. Cannibalism
occurred on the voyage.
On June 22, of 1564, Captain Rene' Goulaine de
Laudonniere led 200 Hugenot refugees to a bluff on the
St. Johns River. They named the fortified settlement,
Fort Caroline, using the feminine Latin form for King
Charles IX of France. It was the first European-type
fortress to be erected in North America. Much of what
historians know about the day to day life of Native
Americans prior European contact comes from the sketches
and records of Huguenot scholars, who accompanied the
Ribault was freed from English confinement in June of
1565. Admiral Coligny immediately sent him back to the
Huguenot Colony with a large fleet, ample supplies, plus
hundreds of engineers, soldiers and settlers. Once Fort
Caroline was further fortified with the cannon being
shipped by Ribault's fleet, it would be virtually
impregnable from Spanish attacks.
Description of Fortifications: By early 1565, Fort
Caroline consisted of a triangular earthen fort on an
island in the St. Johns River. It had a relatively low
wood plank palisade atop an earth berm; all of which was
surrounded by a moat. The plank fence was braced by
light timber brackets. On the points of the triangle
were reinforced battlements where small cannon had been
placed. Reconstruction of the fort in the late 20th
century showed the battlements being composed of brick.
The brick may have been added by the Spanish at a later
The fort was the "shape" of a sophisticated French
fortress, but its actual architectural defenses would
have been insufficient to stop heavy naval cannons.
Obviously, the construction at Fort Caroline was a
temporary measure until military engineers and more
manpower were available. The plank palisade would also
been ineffectual against Indian arrows . . . especially
the flaming variety. Fortunately, the Protestants were
on excellent terms with most of the Timucua Indian
neighbors. However, once the additional construction
planned by Ribault had been carried out, Fort Caroline
would have probably been there forever, and this nation
would have become the Etats Unis de France Nouveaux!
Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles had been dispatched from
Spain with orders to remove the French colony, just
about the time that Rebault left France with
reinforcements. The French and Spanish fleets fought off
the mouth of the St. Johns River. The Spanish fleet
retreated 35 miles southward to a bay, where they
established the colony of St. Augustine.
Ribault then loaded most of his soldiers into his armed
ships and headed south toward St. Augustine. A massive
hurricane pushed him out to sea. What should have been a
voyage lasting a few hours, took days. When Menendez
heard that most of the French soldiers were on ships, he
marched overland to Fort Caroline and attacked at dawn.
Apparently, Fort Caroline's acting commander,
Londonniere, had not posted sentries. The garrison
assumed that the Spanish were being soundly trounced at
that time in the military camp that would become St.
Augustine. French soldiers were in their night shirts,
when captured by the Spanish. All members of the Fort
Caroline garrison were executed by having their throats
Approximately, 50 women and children survived the
massacre at Fort Caroline, along with Captain
Londonniere, who fled when the Spanish attacked. It has
been speculated that Londonniere betrayed the colony out
resentment for Ribault being made the permanent
commander of Fort Caroline. It is odd that the commander
would be dressed for travel, while his garrison was in
their nightshirts and not protected by sentries.
Ribault's fleet was seriously damaged by the hurricane.
All ships were either sunk or grounded Many of his
soldiers and sailors drowned at sea. Ribault and the
several hundred men were marooned on the Florida coast
with few supplies. Menendez eventually located the
survivors and asked for their surrender. Assuming that
they would be fed and treated well. Ribault surrendered
his arms. The two forces were about the same size -
perhaps the French outnumbered the Spanish, but didn't
know it. Menendez executed the Frenchmen as heretics -
possibly even burning some at the stake - at a place now
known as Matanza (Massacre) Inlet. Despite the
continuing religious bloodshed going on in Europe, both
Protestant and Catholic military leaders were shocked by
Menendez execution of prisoners. Spanish Catholic
soldiers knew that they would probably never been given
During another flare up in the French Wars of Religion,
Captain Dominique de Gourgues led a force that attacked
the Spanish fort on the St. John's River. He then put to
the sword all Spanish prisoners in revenge for the
massacres at Fort Caroline and Matanza Inlet.
French Huguenots eventually established a little known
colony on the St. Mary's River in Georgia, specifically
for the purpose of making life miserable for the
Spanish. Both English and French privateers regularly
attacked Spanish ships and even St. Augustine. They
showed little mercy because of Menendez's atrocities.
Once the Colony of Carolina was established, the fate of
Spanish Florida was sealed. Bitterly anti-Spanish French
Huguenots migrated in large numbers to Charleston and
later to Savannah, GA. They were consistent supporters
of British military actions against Florida. Florida
became part of the British Empire in 1763.
Fort Caroline National Memorial is on the National
Register of Historic Places and administered by the
National Park Service.
Notes About this Material
Source: Richard Thornton, an alliance of Muskogean scholars, professors and
professionals. Copyright Richard Thornton, Blairsville, GA, 2010. Used here with