Jean Ribault Claims Florida for France

This is the first chapter in the Castillo de San Marco!




Before the Pilgrims...

Ribault stopped at the Broad River, near present-day Parris Island, South Carolina. He called the spot "Port Royal" and in complete disobedience of his orders not to start a settlement, Ribault built a log blockhouse, he named "Charlesfort." Here, fifty-eight years before the Pilgrims, Ribault left thirty soldiers under Albert de la Pierria to start a colony.




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Jean Ribault Claims Florida for France

In May of 1562, Jean Ribault, in command of two small ships, sailed several miles up the St. Johns River and claimed the surrounding area for France. Two years later, in June of 1564, some two hundred French settlers, many of them Huguenots, established a colony under the leadership of René de Goulaine de Laudonniere. France wanted to control this new land and drive out the Spanish settlers.

Ribault landed near the St. Augustine area. As he sailed further north, he found a river that was called the St. Johns River. Because he did not like the river's Spanish name, he renamed it the "River of May." (Today, it is known again as the St. Johns River.) At the mouth of the river, Ribault built a stone monument to mark his visit (see picture at left) and claim it for France.

Ribault constructed a five-sided column featuring a bronze shield bearing the cost-of-arms of Queen Catherine, the very woman who had opposed the mission. Curious Timucuans under Chief Saturiba visited the Huguenot encampment. The French presented the Timucuans with gowns of blue embroidery. In return, Saturiba stocked the French with maize, beans, cucumbers, and fish. Ribault wrote glowingly of the friendliness of the contact.

Afterwards, Ribault continued north to a place in South Carolina that he called Port Royal. Here, the Huguenots built a fort and named it Charlesfort, in honor of their king. Before long, the supplies began to dwindle, so Ribault sailed back to France to gather more.

Much to his dismay, religious conflict had broken out and he was unable to raise any money for supplies. Ribault went to Queen Elizabeth of England for help. She had him arrested for establishing a French Colony in Spanish Territory. He was put in a London prison.

Rene Laudonnière builds Fort Caroline
During the time that Jean Ribault was in prison, Rene Laudonnière (wren AY day law dun YAIR) was sent to rescue Charlesfort in South Carolina. Laudonnière led an expedition of 304 Huguenot colonists. The Huguenots were excited about moving to a new colony where they would have freedom to worship. Life was difficult for the Protestant Huguenots in Catholic France.

When they arrived at the mouth of the St. Johns River in Florida, they stopped there and built a triangle-shaped fort for protection. They called it Fort Caroline.  The colony, comprising of a village and a small earthen and timber fortification, was named la Caroline -- literally the colony of Charles, king of France. At first, the colony prospered. The French ships were well stocked with cattle, supplies, and tools. On board were farmers, artisans, women, and children.

The French Huguenot settlement in Florida of 1564 is depicted in this view from Montanus, De Nieuwe en Onbe-kende Weerld.

Laudonnière set out to explore the interior of this new territory. Initially, he established good relations with the Timucuan Indians. Soon, however, supplies ran short and the French colony was unable to get food from the natives. Some of the colonists no longer believed in Laudonnière's leadership.

Rene Laudonniere organized a 300 person expedition, which included three warships, headed by the 300 ton galleon Islbel of Honfleur . His forces included rich noblemen and former criminals; Huguenots and Moors; women and single men. It was a bad blend of people for an aristocrat with limited leadership skills.

Laudonniere tried to govern the operation, but was not an effective leader. There was neither gold nor silver to entice the adventurous. Farming proved difficult. The restless young men stole the fort's longboat and sailed out the mouth of the St. Johns to become pirates and raid Spanish treasure ships. Most of the colonists at Fort Caroline decided to go home to France. The French colony was in trouble.

The colony was in poor shape when English sea dog John Hawkins stopped by and supplied the settlers with food. He warned Laudonniere that the Spanish knew of Fort Caroline. When Hawkins returned to Europe, he warned Coligny, the Huguenot leader, of the colony's disorder. Coligny sent Jean Ribault, recently released from prison, to replace Laudonniere before the Spanish arrived. Ribault left France in June of 1565 with a rescue mission of six hundred men, women, and children. Ribault planned to rescue and take control of Fort Caroline.

Jean Ribault returns to Florida
Meanwhile, a Spanish explorer named Pedro Menendez de Aviles arrived in Florida.
Spain had also claimed sovereignty over Florida. Menendez wanted to drive the French out of Florida. He built a fort at St. Augustine, just south of Fort Caroline, and prepared his men for battle. In September of 1565, Spanish forces, led by Menendez and consisting of 500 of his men, marched overland from their newly established settlement at San Agustín (St. Augustine), some 40 miles distant, and overran the French colony, killing many of the French defenders, and ending France's effort to build a permanent settlement in Florida. Rene Laudonnière was wounded in the Spanish attack. He managed to escape to France where he documented the events of his tragedy. Laudonnière died in 1582.

At the same time Menendez was attacking Ft. Caroline Ribault tried to capture St. Augustine!  It would be a most frustrating and life ending disaster. His ships were destroyed in a severe storm. Ribault's forces, crushed on the Daytona Beaches, had no other option but to march northward in hopes of attacking St. Augustine. The effort might have succeeded if they were not stopped at Matanzas Inlet, the southern entrance to St. Augustine Harbor. Without tools and sufficient lumber, the French could not cross the waterway.

Menendez found the worn French on the south side of the Inlet. Some rich Frenchmen offered payment for their lives, but Menendez refused. He brought Ribault across the Inlet in a rowboat and accepted formal surrender. Ten Frenchmen at a time were brought across the waterway, and with their hands tied behind them, marched behind sand dunes to be executed.

When it was Ribault's turn to die, he told Menendez he was proud to be a Lutheran. He was stabbed to death by Menendez' orders October 12, 1565. Only ten Catholic French and six cabin boys were spared from the ordeal. The Inlet became known as "Mantanzas" or "massacre" Inlet. That ended the French presence in this part of North America.


Nothing remains of the original Fort de la Caroline; a near full-scale interpretive rendering of the fort, together with exhibits in the nearby visitor center, provide information on the history of the French colony, their interaction with the native Timucua, and the colonists' brief struggle for survival. The gate to the present incarnation of Ft. Caroline is pictured here. It is near Jacksonville.