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Early Explorers in the Interior Coastal Region

La Roche Ferriére is our primary candidate for making direct contact with the gold-mining Indians of northern Georgia. The native peoples on the coast specifically told de Laudonniére that the most valuable export products from the mountains (to them) were the polished stone wedges used for splitting trees.  Greenstone does not exist in either Florida or southern Georgia. A small party that de Laudonniére trusted sailed up the Georgia coast to the province of King Oueda. Oueda still thought fondly of the Frenchmen.  He sent them food supplies and invited them to relocate their colony in his province. Pierre Gambie, who grew up in the household of Admiral Cologny, volunteered to travel into the interior to set up a trade network with the Indians. He apparently went up the May River at least as far as the Utina Province.  This is known because he married the king’s daughter.  He was living with her in Utinahaca, when the garrison at Fort Caroline was massacred.   He later was elected king of the Utina.  However, at some time during his reign, he became disliked and was assassinated.  It is quite possible that Pierre traveled up to the mountains while a trader or a political leader. Unfortunately, he never wrote memoirs and apparently communication with France was cut off, when the Spanish settled the Georgia coast. There is perhaps was an unknown connection of the Utina province to France.  In 1567 an angry Frenchmen seeing revenge, named Captain Dominque de Gorgues, established a French fort at what is now St. Marys, GA.  From there, he attacked the Spanish fort of San Mateo.  The...

Gold, Silver, Copper and Greenstone

In many sections of his book, René Goulaine de Laudonniére discussed being given or seeing gold chains, gold sheets, gold nuggets, slabs of silver and silver ore.  The valuable metals were always in the possession of the provincial leaders or town chiefs.  Both at Charlesfort and Fort Caroline, the former owners of the gold and silver consistently stated that these precious commodities came from the mountains to the north.   This is exactly what the Natives in the Florida Panhandle told members of the de Soto Expedition and South Carolina Natives told Spanish Captain Juan Pardo in 1567. By late 1564 food had become scarce at Fort Carolina because local Indians had become somewhat hostile to the colonists. The Frenchmen had not committed any atrocities toward their neighbors, but the locals were getting tired of feeding a foreign people, who showed signs of wanting the take over their land.  A faction of the garrison staged a mutiny.   René Goulaine de Laudonniére was not murdered, but he was put in chains, while his officers were disarmed.  The mutineers resented rationing and their commander’s plans to build a boat and return to France.  They demanded the right to both contact the Spanish for food (not a good idea) and also make contact with the Apalachee gold miners in the Georgia Mountains. Three small parties or individuals were given permission to explore widely in the Southeast. La Roche Ferriére headed north on the May River to find the Native gold mines. As proof of his success in finding trade opportunities with the Mountain Apalache’s, he shipped back to Fort Caroline mantles woven with...

Ethnicity and Political Divisions of Coastal Tribes

In recent years, several anthropologists have criticized the paintings of French Huguenot artist Jacques le Moyne because “the Indians look like they are from Brazil.”  That is exactly what the indigenous linguistics recorded by René de Laudonniére on the South Atlantic Coast suggest.  Most of these ethnic groups were not Muskogeans.  Most used a political title for king associated with the Moche culture; parcusi or paracusa.  Some worshiped a sun god named Toya like the Calusas.  Others spoke languages that contained Arawak elements.  South American anthropologists currently believe that the Arawaks originated in either the northern Amazon Basin or the Orinoco Basin of Colombia and Venezuela. The mouth of the River May was the most southerly location where de Laudonniére saw large concentrations of inhabitants. De Laudonniére stated that the Province of Alekamani at the mouth of the May River was controlled by a king named Satouriona.  No words spoken by these people that were recorded by de Laudonniére were Muskogean.  De Laudonniére never called these people the Mocama, as is stated in virtually all texts written in Florida. Mocama is a label that the Spanish used a decade later for the people on Cumberland Island, GA.  Cumberland Island, GA is about 45 miles south of the outlet of the Altamaha River and across the Cumberland Sound from Amelia Island, GA. King Satouriona used the title of paracusi, which is Peruvian in origin.  The Alekamani were apparently different culturally from “Timucuan” societies to the south.  They farmed yamas or clearings in the coastal forests that were particularly fertile. They were part of a regional trade network that stretched to...

Agriculture of the Coastal Native Americans

Anthropological literature from Florida is awash with statements that presume the coastal peoples of Georgia and South Carolina were primarily fishermen, hunters and gatherers.  This may have been the case for many ethnic groups in the coastal regions of the Florida Peninsula, but was not true for many areas of the Georgia and South Carolina coast. The primary reason listed by René Goulaine de Laudonniére for not placing a French colony on the coast of the Florida Peninsula was that the soil was infertile and the climate, hot.  On the first voyage he had noticed that the coast was sparsely inhabited south of the May River, while from the river’s mouth, northward to the Jordan River (Savannah River?) he observed intensive cultivation of the land.  The first French colonies would have to be located in a region where they could initially buy surplus food from their indigenous neighbors then be able to feed themselves from their own agriculture. Less de Laudonniére’s observations being assessed as the unfounded interpretation of the landscape by a mariner, the experience of Spanish St. Augustine can be used as added proof.  The mission Indians and Spanish peons around St. Augustine were never able to feed the relative small population of St. Augustine.  Former FSU history professor, Theodore Corbitt, estimated that in 1740 St. Augustine had a population of 2,143 persons.  During the 1600s, its population probably ranged between 1,200 and 1,600. The small town was totally dependent on food stuffs imported from the missions near the Altamaha River’s mouth, and to a lesser extent, the Apalachee missions in the Florida Panhandle. During May of...

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 became part of the United States.  It would require a voyage of about eight miles to begin seeing a broadening and deepening of the channel.  Nevertheless, the tidal shoals and sand bars near the outlet would have discouraged an experienced sea captain from planning a permanent colony. This is why during the 200 years that Spain owned Florida, no attempt was ever made to build a major town on the St. Johns River.  The Spanish eventually established Mission San Francis de Pupa and a small fort on the west side of the St. Johns River, northwest of St. Augustine.  On the east side of the river was Fort Picolata.  A ferry interconnected the forts.  San Francis de Pupa was a terminal for a road interconnecting the Florida Panhandle with St. Augustine. Between Fort Picolata and St. Augustine was eventually built Fort Mose, a fortified town occupied by escaped African slaves from Georgia. Immediately, north of Amelia Island, Florida is now the Georgia state line and a wide, deep bay...

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 large sea-going vessels.  Jacksonville was really not a seaport until the 1850s. De Laudonniére described Fort Caroline as being triangular.  The west side faced forests and prairieland. It was protected by a moat.  The north side adjoined the freshwater creek that contained potable water.  The other side faced the May River and tidal marshes.  A drawing by Jacques Le Moyne showed the May River to be relatively narrow near Fort Caroline.  René de Laudonniére’s commentary suggests that crossing the river between the fort and his beloved “modest mountain” was a fairly easy task, not one requiring several hours of rowing across a wide bay. The May River was consistently shown in the same location as the Altamaha River by French colonial maps.  Most maps show the May River beginning in the Piedmont, south of the Appalachian Mountains, and then flowing southeastward to what is now the coast of Georgia.  This is exactly what the Altamaha River does. Its two largest tributaries, the Ocmulgee and the Oconee, begin as a...

Second Voyage Commanded by René Goulaine de Laudonniére

In early 1562 the government of France dispatched Captain Jean Ribault with a small fleet to explore the South Atlantic Coast; claim it for the King of France; and identify potential locations for colonies. Ribault brought along with him three stone columns displaying the coat of arms of the King of France.  He placed one of these columns at the mouth of the River May, which contemporary scholars assume to be the St. Johns River.  Ribault’s fleet then sailed northward along the coast, mapping the islands and river outlets, until it reached was is now assumed to be Port Royal Sound.  Ribault planted a second column at the mouth of the sound. Most of the expedition’s energies during the short stay of Captains Ribault and René de Laudonniére were focused on constructing a fort and buildings for the 28 men, who were to stay at the new colony while the remainder went to France for more supplies and colonists. Captain Albert de la Pierria was placed in command of Charlesfort.  Because a religious civil war had broken out in France during their absence, neither Ribault nor de Laudonniére was able to return to Charlesfort as soon as promised. The garrison faced starvation and was saddled with a increasingly neurotic commander.  Captain Albert was killed by the garrison.  The survivors then built a sail boat. All but one sailed to Europe.  One man decided to take his chances living with the Indians.  Instead, he became a prisoner of the Spanish. In early 1564 peace was declared in France.  The Admiral of Châtillon met with King Charles to discuss the situation...

History of Charlesfort

René Goulaine de Laudonniére described Charlesfort as a simple, triangular earthen fort, reinforced with vertical timbers and bales of faggots (small limbs.)   It contained a fairly large timber-framed warehouse in the center, plus a small house for the commander, a somewhat larger house for the officers and a barracks for the enlisted men.  Much of the construction of the buildings was done by local Natives.  Presumably, these buildings resembled Native American structures of the region. There was also a cooking shed, an outhouse, a covered oven, well and a woodshed. Charlesfort would have given little protection from a warship, a sizable European force, or even one of the trained, disciplined armies maintained by Muskogean provinces within the interior of the Lower Southeast.  In particular, a night time attack using flaming arrows, would have been catastrophic.  It could well be that their store house was set on fire by flaming arrows fired by neighboring Edisto Indians. South Carolina archaeologists currently believe that they have found the location of Charlesfort on Parris Island, SC, within the U.S. Marine Reservation. The location matches the description of Charlesfort’s landscape, provided by de Laudonniére.  French-made artifacts were found in the lower levels of a fort constructed by the Spanish. The Spanish burned the French fort in 1565, but apparently rebuilt it in 1566. The launch of the first colonial voyage occurred a month before the beginning of the French Wars of Religion.  In March of 1562, troops employed by the Duke of Guise massacred an unarmed Huguenot congregation inside their church at Wassy, France.  Warfare soon raged across France.  Of course, Ribault continued his...

Unanswered Questions Concerning Charlesfort

Late 16th and 17th century maps published in France, the Netherlands and Germany stated that Captain René Goulaine de Laudonniére journeyed up what appears to be the Savannah River to the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1562 and claimed the gold-bearing lands for the King of France.  De Laudonniére was only at Charlesfort for less than a month in 1562, before returning to France. He does not mention making any long journeys. However, prior to leaving he was given a gold chain that was made in these mountains. He was also given a chunk of silver ore that supposedly came from a mine farther north. Did some of the 28 men, who stayed behind at Charlesfort, secretly make that journey?  Precise French maps of the entire length of the Savannah River seem to suggest so, but to date no archives have been found that describe such a journey. When a fire destroyed the Frenchmen’s warehouse, local Native American leaders refused to give them more food. Some of the garrison traveled southward to a provincial capital probably located near Savannah, where a King Ouede did give them food.  His capital was probably the Irene Complex.  Ouede is the French phonetic spelling of the Muskogean ethnic name meaning, “Water People.”  It probably was a name for the Wahale (Guale.)   If the journey did occur, it most likely was after the garrison befriended King Ouede. Although historians have generally ignored the claim by France that its 16th century explorers made contact with the Mountain Apalache Indians and thereafter, named the mountains after them, other archives do confirm the presence of the Apalache in...

The French Colony of Charlesfort

South Carolina archaeologists currently believe that they have found the location of Charlesfort on Parris Island, SC, within the U.S. Marine Reservation. The location matches the description of Charlesfort’s landscape, provided by de Laudonniére.  French-made artifacts were found in the lower levels of a fort constructed by the Spanish. The Spanish burned the French fort in 1565, but apparently rebuilt it in 1566. The launch of the first colonial voyage occurred a month before the beginning of the French Wars of Religion.  In March of 1562, troops employed by the Duke of Guise massacred an unarmed Huguenot congregation inside their church at Wassy, France.  Warfare soon raged across France.  Of course, Ribault continued his plans for colonization with the assumption that all was normal back in France. Jean Ribault and René Goulain de Laudonniére made contact with a powerful Native king, they named Audisto.  His name is most likely the same person, named Edisto five years later by the Spanish settlers of Port Royal Sound. Audisto introduced the Frenchmen, who were sub-kings of neighboring provinces.  Relations with their neighbors were excellent.  Ribault had a trunk filled with trinkets at his side often, so he could always end diplomatic meetings with gifts.  The French made no effort to impress the Indians with their superior military During the early phase of the first expedition, de Laudonniére was given a chunk of silver ore by one of his Native American hosts.  The leader said that it came from a mine that was at the base of a very high mountain.  This description appears to be the silver deposits in Nantahala Gorge, NC....
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