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Fort Caroline National Memorial

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12713 Fort caroline road, Jacksonville, FL 32225, United States
Jacksonville Beach , Florida

Fort Caroline was the first French colony in the present-day United States, located on the banks of the St. Johns River in what is now Jacksonville, Florida. It was established under the leadership of Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere on June 22, 1564 as a new territorial claim in French Florida and a safe haven for Huguenots. The French settlement came into conflict with the Spanish, who established St. Augustine in September 1565, and Fort Caroline was sacked by Spanish troops under Pedro Menendez de Aviles on September 20. The Spanish continued to occupy the site as San Mateo until 1569.

The original location has been lost. In 1953 the National Park Service established the Fort Caroline National Memorial in the area, now part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.

History

A French expedition, organized by Protestant leader Admiral Gaspard de Coligny and led by the French Explorer Jean Ribault, had landed at the site on the May River (now the St. Johns River) in February 1562, here Ribault encountered the Timucuans who were led by Chief Saturiwa. Ribault then travelled to Present day South Carolina and with twenty-eight men built a settlement known as Charlesfort. Ribault then returned to Europe to arrange supplies for the new colony, but was arrested in England due to complications arising from the French Wars of Religion, which prevented his return.

Without supplies or leadership, and beset by hostility from the native populations, all but one of the colonists sailed back to Europe after only a year. During their voyage in an open boat, they were reduced to cannibalism before the survivors were rescued in English waters.

Fort Caroline (1564)

Meanwhile, Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere, who had been Ribault's second-in-command on the 1562 expedition, led a contingent of around 200 new settlers back to Florida, where they founded Fort Caroline (or Fort de la Caroline) on a small plain formed by the western slope of the high steep bank later called St. Johns Bluff on June 22, 1564. The fort was named for King Charles IX of France. For just over a year, this colony was beset by hunger, Indian attacks, and mutiny, and attracted the attention of Spanish authorities who considered it a challenge to their control over the area.

Fort Caroline (20th-century reproductions)

The original site of Fort de la Caroline has never been determined, but it is believed to have been located near the present day Fort Caroline National Memorial. The National Park Service constructed an outdoor exhibit of the original fort in 1964, but it was destroyed by Hurricane Dora in the same year.Today, the second replica, a near full-scale "interpretive model" of the original Fort de la Caroline, also constructed and maintained by the National Park Service, illustrates the modest defenses upon which the 16th-century French colonists depended.

Proposed alternative location

On February 21, 2014, researchers Fletcher Crowe and Anita Spring presented a theory at a conference hosted by Florida State University's Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies that Fort Caroline was located not on the St. Johns River, but on the Altamaha River in southeast Georgia. The scholars believe period French maps, particularly a 1685 map of "French Florida" from the Bibliotheque nationale de France, support the more northern location. They further argue that the Native Americans living near the fort spoke Guale, the language spoken in what is now Coastal Georgia, rather than Timucua, the language of northeast Florida.Other scholars have been skeptical of the hypothesis. University of North Florida archaeologist Robert Thunen considers the documentary evidence weak and believes the location is implausibly far from St. Augustine, considering the Spanish were able to march overland to Fort Caroline in two days amid a hurricane.Chuck Meide, archaeologist at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum, expressed similar criticism on the museum's blog, noting that other French and American scholars at the conference seemed similarly skeptical.

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