Topic: Exploration

Two Massacres at Matanzas

Survivors of Jean Ribault’s fleet staggered onto the beach south of St. Augustine with nothing but their torn clothes.  Eventually, the castaways clustered into two groups. One, numbering about a hundred were under the command of Ribault.  A smaller group came together on a beach farther south.  Neither group had food or water.  Apparently, none knew how to catch fish in tidal pools or which coastal plants were edible. Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. choose a state: Any AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE DC FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY INTL Start Now Ribault’s party staggered northward in search of potable water.  Eventually, the desperate men encountered a small search party dispatched by Menéndez to look for survivors of the French fleet.  Ribault assumed that his group of about 100 men would be treated decently and fed, since René de Laudonniére had treated two ship-wrecked Spaniards as guests.  This was not to happen. As soon as Menéndez heard about the surrender of the Frenchmen, he sent word to have their hands bound behind their backs.  They were then individually interrogated.  The few Catholics in...

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Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés Arrives at Fort Caroline

One September 2, 1565, just after Ribault had sailed in three of his small ships to Fort Caroline, six large Spanish ships appeared at the entrance to the May River.  It was the force commanded by Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés that the king of Spain had ordered to drive out the heretic French colonists.    The Frenchman, who had elected to stay behind at Charlesfort had been captured by the Spanish.  He had told the Spanish approximately where the other colony was located. Many of the tribes may have been in cahoots with the Spanish, not knowing that the Spanish would be far worse masters than the French. In fact, the invitation to travel to the Appalachian Mountains might well have been a trap.  The fort would have been weakened by the lost of a large party of soldiers headed north.   An attack on the gold-hunting party could have been planned once they were in the province of their enemies.  Whatever was planned, it turned out not to be necessary. During the 1500s the Spanish style of naval warfare was to grapple an enemy ship then board it with large numbers of soldiers.  English ships relied on superior cannon and gunnery skills. Probably, the French and Dutch Protestant ships were fairly similar to the English ones.  The big Spanish ships were probably galleons, for Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés...

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Jean Ribault Arrives at Fort Caroline

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...

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The Third Voyage to Fort Caroline

French combat teams went on expeditions several times to rival provinces, but only a few are specifically described by de Laudonniére. The relationships of the French with Native provinces upstream on the May River worsened when they became hungry.  The French then resorted to kidnappings of a king.  The leader was held hostage until food was delivered.  Of course, that was in contrast to the Spanish who frequently garroted or burned at the stake Native leaders they captured. On several occasions in his memoir, de Laudonniére mentioned that small parties of Frenchmen left Fort Caroline for several weeks to explore the region north, northwest and south of Fort Caroline.  For most of these ventures, he gives no specific information as to where they went.  There is also very little information concerning the outings of the small garrison at Charlesfort, once Jean Ribault and René de Laudonniére had left for Europe. As will be seen on the maps discussed in Part Six, considerable details appeared on European maps for the Edisto, Savannah, Altamaha and more southerly portions of the St. Johns River. Some maps of the Savannah River accurately describe its tributaries and its source in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The accuracy of the maps of the Edisto and Savannah River suggests that some members of the Charlesfort garrison traveled inland as far as the gold bearing mountains of Georgia...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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,...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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