Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Webpage: National Park
General Description: During the 16th century, France wanted to share in the riches of the New World which meant challenging Spain for a foothold. At first the venture was to be a commercial enterprise only, however, religious tensions modified the goal. The French Protestants, Huguenots, saw the opportunity to escape persecution they petition the crown to expand the mission. An exploratory mission was led by Jean Ribault in February, 1562 where he scouted a location on the May River (now the James River), but decided to establish a fort at Charlesfort north of Hilton Head, erecting only a monument on the May River. Rene de Goulaine de Laudonniere, who was Ribault second-in-command, returned in 1564 with soldiers and colonists to build a fort and town called Fort de la Caroline, after their king, Charles IX. For over a year the colony faced starvation, Indian attacks, and mutiny at attracting the attention of Spain because it threatened the sea lanes used to transport Central America riches back to Spain. Jean Ribault was released from English custody in 1565 and arrived with much needed supplies and additional soldiers and colonists. However, the recently appointed Spanish Governor of Florida, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, was given the task of removing the colony. After a brief skirmish, Menendez retreated south and established a fort and settlement at St Augustine. Ribault attempted to attack St Augustine by ship but ran into terrible storms lasting several days and stranding many of the soldiers south of St. Augustine. Meanwhile, Menendez marched his forces over land and took Fort Caroline on September 20, 1565, killing all the men and all but 60 women and children. Menendez then located Ribault and the remainder of his soldiers south of St. Augustine and killed all of them as well. Two years later, in April 1568, Dominique de Gourges led a fleet from France that retook Fort Caroline killing all the Spaniards in retaliation of the previous massacre, destroyed the fort, and returned to France. Thus ended France’s only attempt to establish a colony in Spanish controlled Florida and began the history of St. Augustine, the oldest settlement in the New World. The fort only lasted a few years, so there is no archeological evidence of its actual location. The National Park System has recreated a small scaled model of the fort in a likely location along the James River.
1) The Visitor Center at Fort Caroline is a mix between the fort and the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve and is not very large. There is good information on the history of Fort Caroline, but since there are no archeological evidence the displays are limited. I was surprised there was no movie about the Fort or the Preserve.
2) The reconstructed fort is interesting as far as it goes, but it is a small scale version based on historical sketches of the fort. Even though it is triangular in shape as shown in the sketches, it does not have the bastions at each corner that are shown in the sketches. It does provide a good location for presentation like the one to a grade school class that we had the joy to watch from the periphery.
3) There is also a short nature trail on the property that we did not take advantage of, preferring to cross the road and visit part of the Timucuan Ecological Preserve.