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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....

Where were Cape François and the May River?

Scholars have long assumed that Cape François was either present day Cape Canaveral They have also assumed that the May River was the St. Johns River.  However, the distances between these points and Beaufort, SC (Port Royal Sound) don’t seem to correlate with the time that French fleet spent to travel. De Laudonniére’s memoirs state that the fleet sailed directly from Cape François to the outlet of the May River in two weeks.  They spent two weeks more exploring a series of islands and rivers between the May River and Port Royal. They stopped to explore inlets and rivers. Late 16th century and 17th century French maps generally show Cape François to be north of the mouth of the St. Johns River. The numbers just don’t add up.  Jacksonville is 138 miles from Cape Canaveral (9.8 miles per day) and 27 miles from St. Augustine (1.9 miles per day.)  Jacksonville is 163 miles from Beaufort, SC (11.6 miles per day.)  If the May River was the St. Johns River at Jacksonville,  the time required to reach Port Royal Sound (Beaufort) should have been more like three weeks.  Furthermore, de Laudonniére’s memoirs state that the ships became lost in a fog as they approached Port Royal, losing much time. The question is significant because for well over a century, archaeologists and artifact collectors have searched along the mouth of the St. John’s River for the location of the second French colony, Fort Caroline and Fort St. Mateo, the Spanish fortress that was built on its ruins. This is because everyone has assumed that the May River and the St. Johns...

First Voyage Commanded by Jean Ribault – 1562

On February 15, 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. Unlike colonial expeditions sponsored by Spain and England in that century, the French expedition was extremely well planned, at least on paper. It was financed by the French Crown, whereas Spanish and English colonial attempts were privately capitalized.  The members of the expedition included all skills necessary to survive in the New World, including carpenters and ship builders. Admiral de Cologny intended French Florida to become a major center of ship-building, because of the inexhaustible supply of wood on the Southeast. The colony would thrive from the profits of ship-building and not be dependent on support from the French Crown for very long.  That was the plan, at least. The expedition reached the coast of North American around April 15.  De Laudonniére’s memoirs do not give a specific date. The place is called a cape or headland that consisted of a white sandy beach and a horizon defined by trees.  This well could have been one of the larger barrier islands on the South Atlantic coast.  The French called this geographical landmark, Cape François.  De Laudonniére said that it was at about 30 degrees latitude. Almost all scholars assume that Cape François was Cape Canaveral, however, Cape Canaveral is at 28.47 degrees. Furthermore, a later passage in de Laudonniére’s memoirs describe Cape Canaveral as a different geographical feature, farther south than they had sailed. Cape François may have been the entrance to St. Augustine....

The Inland Route to the Fort Ticonderoga

My reasons in favor of the mouth of the Salmon River as the point of departure for the interior are as follows: First. It is the southernmost and last point on the lake in the direct line of travel between Stony Point and the foot of Oneida Lake. The mouth of Salmon Creek lies west of that line, requiring a detour that would increase the travel without affording any corresponding advantage. Second. The mouth of Salmon River-the Otihatangué of the early French maps -has always been a noted place in Indian history. It is mentioned on the oldest Ms. maps of the Jesuit missionaries found in the French Archives at Paris. A trail is laid down on several of said maps, running direct from that point to the great fishery, called ” Techiroguen.” Franquelin, the celebrated geographer to Louis XIV., in his ” Carte du pays des Iroquois” of 1679, calls the trail ” Chemin de Techiroguen a la Famine.” La Famine was a name applied by the Jesuits to the mouth of the Salmon River, in allusion to the sufferings experienced there by Monsieur Du Puys and his companions, in July, 1656, from want of provisions. It has generally been called by later writers, “Cahihonoüaghé,” which may be a dialectical variation from Otihatangué. A Ms. map of 1679, says: “it is the place where the most of the Iroquois and Loup land to go on the Beaver trade at New York.” It is evidently an Onondaga word, and is given by Morgan as “Gä-hen-wä’-ga.” It bears a strong resemblance to the name applied to the place by Pouchot...
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