A map of extraordinary rarity and seminal importance, this is one of the earliest and most influential maps of the American southeast ever published. Drawn by the French artist Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues c. 1565 and published by Theodore de Bry in 1591, this magnificent map details the Florida peninsula and Carolina coast from Cuba to the Bahamas, to “Prom Terra flag” or, as it is known today, Cape Lookout near Beaufort, North Carolina.
The fascinating story of this map begins with the ambitions of the influential Huguenot Admiral Gaspard de Coligny. De Coligny, desirous of a French foothold on the American mainland sent the talented navigator Jean Ribaut to establish a colony. In 1562 Ribaut landed near the mouth of the St. John River, which he named F. Maij after the month in which he landed. Ribaut and his crew then sailed north along the coast until they discovered a large bay which they named Port Royal. Here they landed and established Charlefort after King Charles IX of France. This is the first mention of Port Royal on any map and is, along with Prom. Canaueral (Cape Canaveral), the only two sites in Florida to retain their French names through the following centuries of Spanish and English dominance. Having successfully established Charlefort, Ribaut returned to France to bring additional settlers and supplies. There he discovered his homeland to be in the midst of a religious war between the Catholic house of Valois and the Huegonot house of Bourbon, with whom he was associated. The conflict took Ribaut to England where involvement in a political plot saw him imprisoned. Meanwhile in less than a year the colony of Charlefort, beset by famine, an aggressive indigenous population, and a lack of supplies mutinied. Constructing a small adhoc sailing craft, the fifty or so mutinous settlers attempted to return to France. Lacking a proper navigator or notable sailing skills, the settlers would surely have died at sea had they not been picked up by a passing English ship. By 1564, a tentative peace had been established in France and, not one to see his ambitions thwarted, Admiral De Coligny planed a second expedition to the New World. With Ribaut imprisoned in England, De Coligny chose an under commander on the first voyage, Rene de Laudonniere, to lead the second expedition. Laudonniere landed and set up a settlement along the F. Maij (River May or St. John’s River) which he named Carolina. This second expedition also included the prominent French artist Jacques Le Moyne, who was commissioned to record and map as much of the region as possible Back in Europe, Ribaut had been released from prison and Coligny sent him, along with several ships and some 200 soldiers, to take command of the Carolina settlement. By this time the Catholic King of Spain, having heard about the French colony, dispatched the newly appointed Governor of Florida, Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, with orders to remove the “Heretic French”. After a brief skirmish with Ribaut’s ships, Menéndez de Avilés sailed south and established St. Augustine, the first permanent European settlement on the North American mainland. From St. Augustine, Menéndez de Avilés marched his troops overland to Carolina where they destroyed the fort and, in a shocking display of violence, slaughtered most of the settlers, including Ribuat. Laudonniere, Le Moyne, a few others managed to escape through the surrounding swamps and forests. Catching an English ship, the small group eventually made it to London where Le Moyne ultimately settled.