Our first stop on our way out of Jacksonville was Fort Caroline. In June 1564 Captain Rene Laudonniere arrived in New France (Jacksonville) at the mouth of the River May (St John’s River) with about 200 French noblemen and artisans.
There is nothing left of the original fort and archaeologists and historians aren’t sure exactly where it was. All they know is that it was fertile land with plenty of fruits, drinkable water, fish and was well supplied with building materials.
What the entrance to the Fort might’ve looked like.
Built in a triangular shape the Fort that we saw was built by the National Park Service based on an ‘educated guess’. However, it is known that it was built of earth and wood with the baking ovens outside the Fort so they couldn’t set fire to the powder magazine and blow the place up.
What the inside might’ve been like.
In September 1565 when Jean Ribault arrived with supply ships they were discovered by the Spanish. Deciding to launch a pre-emptive strike, Ribault and 500 soldiers sailed to St Augustine to confront the Spanish. Unfortunately a hurricane wrecked at least two ships, driving the remaining ships further south and wrecking another two near Cape Canaveral.
A view from the river.
The Spanish, realising that Fort Caroline was practically defenceless, quickly marched north and attacked. Afterwards they tracked down the shipwreck survivors and with the exception of 30 Catholics slaughtered them all. The inlet where the slaughter took place became known as Matanzas which is Spanish for ‘slaughter’.
Replica bread oven, just outside the Fort.
Three years later the French took their revenge when Dominque De Gourges, with the help of the Timicuan Indians, defeated the Spanish hanging 200 Spanish who survived the battle, and then, having accomplished their mission set sail back to France.
Imagine this view, without the present day port of Jacksonville in the background.
Despite historic maps and engravings providing clues about the size, location and shape of the Fort, mysteries abound. For instance, who were the African colonists mentioned briefly by the French? Where did the Spanish camp before attacking the Fort? Why didn’t the French supply ships fire their cannons at the Spanish?
As we followed the path through the trees we imagined what it must’ve been like for the settlers when they arrived, nowhere to live, no nipping down to the store for supplies, no running water or air conditioning. I’m not sure I’d’ve done very well as a settler back then.
Have fun, we are!