Sunday, September 6, 2009
Fort Caroline National Memorial - Jacksonville, Florida
It is a little known fact that America's first settlement for those seeking refuge from religious persecution in Europe stood on the St. Johns River in today's city of Jacksonville, Florida.
Established in 1564 by French Huguenots (Protestants), Fort Caroline was a triangular earth and timber fort built more than fifty years before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. The first wave of settlers consisted of 200 soldiers, craftsmen and even a few women. They expected to build homes, clear fields and prepare for the arrival of hundreds more Huguenots the following year.
Despite a promising start, hard times quickly befell the colony. Promising relations with the local Timucua Indians soured and the colonists suffered from hunger, disease and other hardships. Some went home to France, but a core of the most devoted clung to their North American foothold.
A relief flotilla brought supplies and 600 more soldiers and settlers the following year, but also attracted the attention of King Phillip II of Spain who claimed control of all of North America. He sent Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles to dispose of the French, a duty that Menendez performed with bloody efficiency. Fort Caroline was captured and 140 of the French found there were put to the sword as heretics.
A reconstruction of the fort can be seen today at Fort Caroline National Memorial in Jacksonville, a park that commemorates the early French settlement and the dramatic events that took place on the St. Johns. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortcaroline.