Gates of Fort Caroline
The French garrison of the fort
was slaughtered by Spanish
troops in 1565.
Walls of Fort Caroline
The reconstruction of the fort
was based on a drawing
prepared by a French artist
who was among the settlers.
Fort Caroline National Memorial - Jacksonville, Florida - Fort Caroline National Memorial, Florida - Fort Caroline National Memorial, Florida
Fort Caroline National Memorial
A reconstruction of the 1564 French fort is a popular
feature of Fort Caroline National Memorial in
Jacksonville, Florida.
A French Foothold in La Florida
A brutal episode in the contest of nations for
control of what would become the United
States is interpreted today at Fort Caroline
National Memorial in
Jacksonville, Florida.

Although Florida and indeed the whole East
coast of the United States had been claimed
by Spain since the first decades of the 16th
century, France issued a challenge for
control of the new continent in 1562. Leaving
France in February of that year, Jean Ribault
explored much of the Atlantic Coast and
erected a
monument at the mouth of the St.
Johns River, claiming the region for his king.

The French sought to enforce this claim two
years later when Rene de Goulaine de
Laudonniere arrived on the St. Johns with
200 soldiers and colonists to establish a
settlement of Huguenots (Protestants) that
was called
la Caroline.

A triangular fort of earth and wood was built
on the south side of the St. Johns River at St.
Johns Bluff and the French established good
relations with the surrounding Timucuan
Indians. Despite such early promise, life at
Fort Caroline proved difficult. Food supplies
ran short and problems grew with the
Indians. Some men abandoned the colony
and sailed away, but others clung to their
foot-hold on the St. Johns.

The Spanish, who claimed exclusive control
of Florida were infuriated by the French
presence and were even more angered by
the fact that the colonists were Huguenots or
Protestants. King Phillip II of Spain ordered
Admiral Pedro Menedez de Aviles to remove
these non-Catholic heretics.

Menendez established a fort at an Indian
village down the coast from the St. Johns on
September 8, 1565. His little stockade
became the city of
St. Augustine, the first
permanent European settlement in the
continental United States.

At the same time that Menendez arrived on
the coast, reinforcements also reached Fort
Caroline in the form of the French ships of
Jean Ribault. Learning of the Spanish
proximity, Ribault put to sea planning to
attack and destroy Menendez's settlement. A
storm scattered his ships, however, and the
attack never took place.

Menendez, meanwhile, began a difficult
march through the swamps and marshes of
Northeast Florida to destroy Fort Caroline.
Leaving St. Augustine on September 17th, he
led his men through the difficult terrain for
three grueling days. They finally reached
Spanish Pond near Fort Caroline after night-
fall on September 19th and paused to rest.
The French had no idea that Menendez was
in the vicinity and were not prepared for his
attack. The Spanish soldiers stormed
through the unlocked gates early on the
morning of September 20, 1565, easily
capturing the fort and many of its defenders.

It is believed that 40 or 50 of the French
escaped by leaping over the walls or taking
refuge on boats in the river. The Spanish
also spared 60 women and children. The
other 140 or so men in the fort were put to the
sword in a bloody massacre.

The taking of Fort Caroline was followed by
the brutal massacre at
Matanzas Inlet of
Ribault and another 350 French soldiers and
sailors. The French effort to claim La Florida
was over.

Fort Caroline National Memorial is located on
Fort Caroline Road in Jacksonville and is
open to the public daily.
Please click here to
visit the National Park Service website for
more information. There is no charge to visit
the park and reconstructed fort.
St. Johns River
The fort stood at St. Johns
Bluff, important high ground
near the mouth of the river.
The Open Gate
The French were surprised by
the Spanish troops of Pedro
Menendez de Aviles and
never had time to close their
Exterior of Fort Caroline
The moat and ramparts of the
fort were useless against the
Spanish surprise attack.
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.