Our picture of the week is an image of Fort Caroline, Florida, which was founded by French Huguenots on June 22nd of 1564. This print has a complicated, but interesting history. It is part of a 1591 imprint of Theodor de Bry’s work entitled, Brevis narratio eorum quae in Florida Americae provi[n]cia Gallis acciderunt, or A Brief Narration of what happened to the Gauls in the American Province of Florida. The edition depicted here is in German and was the second edition of the title to be produced in 1591. The first edition appeared in Latin. These prints are supposedly based on the work of a French artist named Jacque Le Moyne De Morgues, who accompanied the French settlers to Fort Caroline to paint the local Indian population and fauna. The trouble is the images contain a number of impossibilities which an eyewitness of life in America probably would not have included. For example, some of the prints depict the Indians using European battle formations, which were not familiar to them, and working with metal tools, which they did not have at that time. These and other examples, as well as the discrepancy in style between Le Moyne’s known works and the plates in this work, have led some scholars to hypothesize that these engravings were created by de Bry either as approximate recreations of Le Moyne’s work or as inventions out of whole cloth.
Plagued by internal strife, the colony had a brief and unsteady existence. Aristocratic colonists were disdainful of performing the manual labor necessary to survive on the frontier; other settlers deserted to take up a more profitable life of piracy; and relations with the neighboring Timucua Indian population upon whom the colonists often depended for food turned sour.
Although Fort Caroline was weakened by these factors, it was a Spanish military expedition that finally brought about its end. In 1565, King Phillip II of Spain sent a military force led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to eliminate the French settlement which he saw as an encroachment on Spanish America. Menéndez briefly met a small fleet of French ships led by Jean Ribault at sea off the coast of Florida. Jean Ribault had been dispatched by the King of France to resupply Fort Caroline, but the skirmish was not decisive. A hurricane drove Ribault’s ships south toward the site of modern day Daytona Beach. Menéndez, in the meantime, returned to the Timucuan village of Seloy, the site of modern day Saint Augustine, and marched his men overland through the hurricane to take advantage of Ribault’s absence to sack the lightly guarded Fort Caroline. Ribault’s ships sank in the hurricane and he and his men made their way to the beach and marched north. Ribault and many of his men surrendered to Menéndez, at what is now known as Matanzas Inlet, with the expectation they would be treated favorably. They were badly mistaken. King Philip II and Menéndez did not simply oppose the French settlement because it was a threat to the Spanish treasure fleet, they also set out to destroy it because the French Huguenots were deemed a threat to Catholic faith. Nearly all of the Ribault’s men, including Ribault himself, were executed by Menéndez. Only a few professed Catholics and artisans were spared.
The exact location of the French fort is still in dispute. Many scholars place it somewhere near modern day Jacksonville, while some have argued that it was actually as far north as Georgia on the Altamaha River. A shipwreck was recently discovered off the coast of Cape Canaveral that appears to have a fleur-de-lis on its cannon. Some believe this ship is one of Ribault’s fleet that was lost in the hurricane, while others contend it is a merchant vessel that holds French artifacts. The distinction is crucial to the outcome of a U.S. District Court case involving the State of Florida, the Republic of France, and Global Marine Exploration over the rights to the vessel. Some reports claim this ship holds a column with a fleur-de-lis, similar to the one depicted in the engraving above.