Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings
This memorial commemorates a French attempt in 1564-65 to establish a colony in the present Southeastern United States, at a time when no other European colony existed in the present United States. By planting this colony, France hoped for a share of the New World, claimed by Spain. This French move forced Spain to actby founding St. Augustineand brought on the first decisive conflict between European powers within the area of the present United States. At Fort Caroline, the battle between France and Spain for supremacy in North America was joined.
The patron of the French colony was Adm. Gaspard de Coligny, a Huguenot who planned the colony at Fort Caroline as a haven for his persecuted coreligionists and as the basis for a French claim to counter that of Spain in the New World. In 1561, the Spanish King had forbade any further attempts by his subjects to colonize Florida because of the previous failures there and his lack of interest in the area. Thus, the time seemed ripe for the French. Following the failure of an earlier attempt at settlement, under Jean Ribaut in 1562 at Port Royal Sound, S.C., in June 1564 three vessels under the command of René de Laudonnière brought some 300 colonists, mostly Huguenots, from Havre de Grace to the St. Johns River. The colonists settled about 5 miles from the mouth of the river on a broad, flat knoll on the river shore in the midst of Timucua Indian country. With Indian help, they built a triangular fort of earth and logs that enclosed several palm-thatched buildings and named it Caroline in honor of King Charles IX. They built other houses in the meadow outside the fort. Vainly searching for gold and silver, they clashed with the Indians, upon whom they were dependent for food, and some even mutinied.
The French fort was a threat to Spanish commerce, for the Spanish treasure fleets had to sail past it on their return to Spain. It was also a potential base for attacks upon the Indies. The French asserted that it was their territory; the Spanish, that it was a pirates' nest on their land. In August 1565, Jean Ribaut brought reinforcements. Shortly thereafter, the Spaniard Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded St. Augustine, captured and occupied Fort Caroline, killed almost all the Frenchmen, and renamed it San Mateo. In 1568, vengeful Frenchmen, who sailed from Bordeaux, with Indian allies they obtained in Florida, attacked and slaughtered most of the garrison.
The deepening of the St. Johns River in 1880 inundated the site of Fort Caroline. However, the carefully constructed replica of Fort Caroline at the National Memorial illustrates French defiance of a powerful enemy by establishing a colony on the edge of an unknown world.
Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005