Ft. Caroline 1564-2014

Did you know that in 2014, Jacksonville has a date of special significance in the world history calendar? On May 1, 1562, French Huguenot Captain Jean Ribault and three French ships under his command landed at the mouth of the St. Johns River, naming it the River of May. He claimed this bountiful and pristine land for France and named it New France, which subsequently appeared on maps of the time. According to his maritime journal, he met and exchanged gifts with the indigenous Timucua Indian tribes on the north and south banks of the river. On May 3rd, Ribault and his three ships, one captained by French Huguenot Captain Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere, sailed northward up the coast, then back to France.

The City of Jacksonville celebrated its first 450th anniversary in 2012 to commemorate Ribault’s landing with many events throughout the city. Thousands participated in various events, including a historical ceremony at Fort Caroline, the City of Jacksonville’s French Week, seminars at the Jacksonville Historical Society and a play at St. Mark’s School. Those involved included families with direct lineage to the Ribault and de Laudonniere families, Gaeten Ribault and Christophe de Goulaine.

In 1563, French Huguenot Captain Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere returned under orders of France’s King Charles IX. He along with 300 French family members landed with food and supplies, and began to build the first colony in America, naming it La Caroline (Fort Caroline) in honor of the King. On June 30, 1564, the French colonists invited the indigenous Timucua Indians, and together they shared a feast known as the “First Thanksgiving” in this land we now call America (Library of Congress: www.loc.gov/wiseguide/nov05/thanksgiving.html) – notably 56 years before the Pilgrims reached Plymouth Rock in 1620.

Prepare for a year of celebration!

Many public and private events are being planned by various entities, including the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, historical societies, and public and private schools. There will even be a rock opera theatrical production by Jenn Chase (www.facebook.com/pages/La-Caroline-A-Rock-Opera-by-Jennifer-Chase-and-John-E-Citrone/240719129318811) to commemorate this historic, “first colony” in America, which soon came to its demise by the Spanish in 1565.

More information regarding the City of Jacksonville’s list of community events will soon be available on www.coj.net/commemorate450/aspx. To find out more about Fort Caroline, your National Park right here in Jacksonville, go to www.nps.gov/foca/index.htm or www.nps.gov/timu/historyculture/foca.htm.

Fort Caroline National Memorial is located within the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, which is part of our National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Department of the Interior. The Fort is located on the St. Johns River in Arlington at 12713 Fort Caroline Road (32225). More information on Fort Caroline is available by calling the Park’s headquarters at 904-641-7155.

If you have not visited Fort Caroline, this is the year to go and bring the family. Relive one of the most important moments in Jacksonville’s history and learn about the genesis of French exploration of the New World – which started right here in Jacksonville. Inside the Fort, you will find a list researched by the NPS staff of some of the names of those immigrants who built Fort Caroline as a colony for refugee Huguenots. Of interest, one has the last name of…Duval.

About Joanelle Mulrain