Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fort Caroline National Memorial - Jacksonville, Florida

Jean Ribault's 1562 exploration of the area around the mouth of the St. Johns River convinced Huguenot (Protestant) leaders in France that it was the ideal setting for their planned colony in the New World.

With approval from the King, 200 soldiers and colonists arrived in Florida in 1565 and built a triangular fort of earth and wood on St. Johns Bluff, within the limits of the modern city of Jacksonville. A village grew beside the fort, the first attempt to establish a settlement devoted to religious freedom in what is now the United States. The Hugenot settlers were fleeing persecution from followers of the Catholic Church in France, and hoped to open the way for more Protestants to follow.

The settlement was named Fort Caroline and the French referred to the surrounding area as La Caroline. Despite the initial promise of the settlement, life there quickly became difficult. Relations with the local Timucua Indians soured, provisions ran short and sickness and disease were rampant. Some of the settlers gave up and left, but others held on until Jean Ribault arrived with supplies and 600 more soldiers and settlers in 1565.

Despite the arrival of Ribault's massive relief expedition, the days of Fort Caroline were numbered. The French settlement on the St. Johns would soon come to a bloody end at the hands of Spanish admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles, who was sent by King Phillip II to expel the French.

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