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Laudonniere & Fort Caroline: History and Documents

Laudonniere & Fort Caroline: History and Documents

by Charles Bennett

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This classic historical resource remains the most complete work on the establishment of Fort Caroline, which heralded the start of permanent settlement by Europeans in North America.

America's history was shaped in part by the clash of cultures that took place in the southeastern United States in the 1560s. Indians, French,
and Spaniards vied to


This classic historical resource remains the most complete work on the establishment of Fort Caroline, which heralded the start of permanent settlement by Europeans in North America.

America's history was shaped in part by the clash of cultures that took place in the southeastern United States in the 1560s. Indians, French,
and Spaniards vied to profit from European attempts to colonize the land Juan Ponce de Leon had named La Florida.

Rene de Goulaine de Laudonniere founded a French Huguenot settlement on the St. Johns River near present-day Jacksonville and christened it Fort Caroline in 1564, but only a year later the hapless colonists were expelled by a Spanish fleet led by Pedro Menendez de Aviles. The Spanish in turn established a permanent settlement at St. Augustine, now the oldest city in the United States, and blocked any future French claims in Florida.

Using documents from both French and Spanish archives, Charles E. Bennett provides the first comprehensive account of the events surrounding the international conflicts of this 16th-century colonization effort, which was the actual "threshold" of a new nation. The translated Laudonniere documents also provide a wealth of information about the natural wonders of the land and the native Timucua Indians encountered
by the French. As a tribe, the Timucua would be completely gone by the mid-1700s, so these accounts are invaluable to ethnologists and anthropologists.

With this republication of Laudonniere & Fort Caroline, a new generation of archaeologists, anthropologists, and American colonial historians can experience the New World through the adventures of the French explorers. Visitors to Fort Caroline National Memorial will also find the volume fascinating reading as they explore the tentative early beginnings of a new nation.

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Laudonniere & Fort Caroline

History and Documents

By Charles E. Bennett

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2001 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-8338-1


New Horizons

THE sixteenth century was not a time for trifles. Important people, both good and evil, marched through its decades and left their impress upon its image. History records the achievements and the failures of its famous and infamous men and women, but magnificent accomplishments were made by some individuals whose greatness went unheralded and almost unrecorded. Sixteenth century Frenchmen benefited from the changes which had taken place in Western Europe. Although vestiges remained of old and restrictive economic systems, manorial agriculture with its emphasis on custom and practice was almost supplanted by improved methods of cultivation, and towns and guilds gave men some freedom in the choice of occupation. Merchants and guild masters protected their vested interests by upholding the status quo and decrying change; but the spirit of economic freedom led many Frenchmen into the domestic system of production, free enterprise, and embryonic capitalism.

Trade and the growth of cities doomed feudalism. Traders and burgers demanded uniform laws for large geographic areas, fair-minded judges to interpret the laws, and capable officials to enforce them. The rising middle class supported kings who could control capricious feudal lords. By increasing their power and domain, the kings of Portugal and Spain created states, and those of France and England followed the lead of their Iberian rivals.

A monarch's resources enabled him to seize the opportunity afforded by an adventuresome sea captain. King John I of Portugal subsidized the work of Prince Henry the Navigator, and Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain sent Columbus on his historic voyage. England's Henry VII supported John and Sebastian Cabot in their explorations of North America. Not wanting to be outdone by his neighbors, Francis I of France financed Giovanni da Verrazano and Jacques Cartier in their explorations of the coast of North America from Cape Fear to the St. Lawrence River. Spain, however, first colonized the New World, and by 1550 her colonists lived in the Caribbean Islands, Mexico, Central and South America.

Perhaps the Age of Discovery was one offshoot of the Renaissance, an intellectual rebirth which had liberated the minds of many Europeans. Freed from numerous superstitions, the educated European probed the mysteries of mind and matter. He discovered the vastness of the universe and turned his thoughts to man's relationship with man and with his Creator. In various localities authors wrote in the vernacular, or language of the people, rather than in Latin which relatively few people could read or understand. Scholars translated the Bible into these common languages, and the invention of movable type and printing presses made the word of God available to those who could read. Many Europeans were struck anew with the teachings of Christ and with the importance of the individual in assisting God's will. Access to the Bible and resentment of the abuses in the Roman Catholic Church brought on the Reformation. From the writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others who protested against the concepts and practices of the Church came Protestant churches. Neither Catholic churchmen nor Catholic kings viewed this splintering of Western Christendom with favor. By the Counter Reformation the priesthood eliminated many of the abuses that had crept into the Catholic Church. Temporal rulers who remained faithful to the Church believed that God sanctioned the use of force against "heretical Protestants," and Protestant rulers fought to protect their subjects from Catholic force.

Thus the sixteenth century was an age of new horizons in economics, government, thought, discovery, religion, and freedom. Time and again men broke with tradition to accept new ideas and better ways of doing things. But, as in any age, the struggle for survival between the old and the new was fierce. Catholics fought Protestants with words and swords, and Protestants responded in kind. Kings sent their armies into battle to defend homelands or to add to their territory. Monarchs attempted to grab the best trade routes for their merchants and the richest lands for their colonists. And on occasion conditions within a country gave ambitious nobles hope of recovering power formerly held by their aristocratic ancestors.

This situation prevailed in France in the middle of the sixteenth century. On the death of Francis I in 1547 the throne passed to his son, Henry II, who worked throughout his twelve-year reign to stamp out Protestantism in France. Although supported by his wife, the Florentine Princess Catherine de Medici, Henry's persecution failed to rid France of the "heretics." The writings of French-born John Calvin drew thousands of Frenchmen into the new church; French students studied at the feet of their exiled leader in Switzerland and returned home as missionaries. Notwithstanding the danger involved, the Protestants grew in number, especially among the artisan class in urban communities, until the Huguenots, the name applied to French followers of Calvin, controlled a number of cities in France. In 1559 the Huguenots held their first national synod and their church was in fact an established institution.

That same year Henry II died and was succeeded by his sixteen-year-old son, the physically weak and mentally retarded Francis II. The Duke of Guise and his younger brother, Cardinal Lorraine, seized power and ruled in the name of their incapable monarch. Since they were ardent, intolerant Catholics, they continued Henry's policy of persecuting the Protestants. The princes of the House of Bourbon, "King Anthony" and his younger brother, the Prince of Condé, seized every opportunity to oppose the Catholic nobles. The persecuted Huguenots hated the Duke of Guise and threw their support to the Bourbons. In March, 1560, the latter planned an uprising, but the Guises, forewarned, pounced upon and soundly defeated their political and religious antagonists.

But the victory was fleeting. In December, 1560, Francis died and his mother acted quickly to assume the regency and rule in the name of her ten-year-old son, Charles IX. Perhaps Catherine was primarily a mother trying to preserve the throne of France for her child. Realizing the precariousness of her position, she attempted to win the support of both the Catholic and Huguenot parties. She not only stopped the persecution of the Huguenots but also gave them a limited right to worship as they pleased. These concessions embittered the Catholics, while the unsatisfied Huguenots demanded complete freedom for their form of worship. The passion of religious fanatics on both sides of the controversy foretold failure for Catherine's policy of moderation.

In 1562 some of the escort of the Duke of Guise happened upon a group of Huguenots assembled for worship in a large barn at Vassy. Sharp words led to violence. When Guise rode away, after some efforts by him to stop the fray, thirty Protestants lay dead and almost two hundred wounded. The Duke did not disavow his men's deed, and he was given a hero's welcome by Catholic Paris. Catherine admitted that she lacked power to punish him for the Massacre of Vassy, and the Bourbons sought vengeance in battle. Thus began a series of religious wars and intermittent peace settlements that would continue until 1598.

More and more, in the 1560's, the real leadership of the Huguenots was vested in Gaspard de Coligny, the worthy and gifted Admiral of France, who got along well with Catherine for almost a decade. Admiral Coligny was a convinced, sincere Huguenot but also a patriotic Frenchman. He belonged to the great noble family of Châtillon and, through his mother, was kinsman to the still greater Montmorency family. Although he gained the post of Admiral of France without going to sea, this purely honorary title belonged to a man whose solid character and outstanding ability placed him far above the factious leaders of his time.

Into this age of new horizons René de Laudonnière was born, and his destiny led him to become an active participant both in the religious wars and in the overseas expansion of France.


"The Dog" Violates the Law of Kingdoms and Christianity

RENE de Goulaine de Laudonnière came from a distinguished family which, according to French custom, sometimes used more than one name for its surname, usually a place name added to a family name; in this instance, "Goulaine" and "Laudonnière." These names were often used jointly by the family, as the American Du Pont family of French extraction at times adds "de Nemours." The Goulaines were longtime rulers in Brittany. From about 1440 they held manorial lands in an area designated as Laudonnière in the Province of Poitou.

The exact date of René de Laudonnière's birth is unknown; however, the two portraits of him, presumably painted during his lifetime, indicate that he was born in 1529. Perhaps his birthplace was Dieppe. The few records relating to his activities in the 1550's refer to him as a citizen of that city. His adherence to the Protestant faith also supports the contention that Dieppe was the place of his birth or rearing, for it was a stronghold of the Huguenots. Whether his parents were members of the new faith or he became a convert to it from Catholicism was not recorded or the record has been lost. In all probability he grew up a member of the persecuted sect. Whatever the ambitions of his youth, he was attracted to the sea and by the discoveries of earlier and contemporary explorers.

Laudonnière's contemporary, and antagonist in Florida, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, reported that the Frenchman was a relative of Admiral Coligny. The Spanish leader also claimed that Laudonnière once served as the administrative assistant of Coligny. Both references indicate the close tie of Laudonnière with the Bourbon and Huguenot faction of France.

Most of what is known of him prior to 1562 is found in the correspondence of 1561 between the Court of France and Sebastien de l'Aubespine, Bishop of Limoges and French Ambassador to Spain. According to this correspondence, a ship flying the royal flag of Charles IX and named Le Chien, or The Dog, was seized off the waters of Catalonia by Apariceo de Uquarte, lieutenant of Juan de Mendoça, captain of the Spanish galleys. The seizure was made on the pretext that The Dog was carrying a cargo to Algeria "contre la loi des Royaumes et de la Chrétienté," or against the law of Kingdoms and Christianity. The captain of Le Chien was Laudonnière.

His vessel was loaded with ten kegs of olive oil, cloth of wool and damask, cotton and yarn, spices, wine, and dried codfish. While these were normal commodities for a merchant ship, there were in the cargo seventy hundredweight of lead, some iron, and "above all" fifty oars or tent frames "which the Spanish considered contraband of war." The Spanish officials had previously accused the French of furnishing Algeria with munitions against "la loi universelle de la Chrétienté contre ceul qui portent armes aux infidels." Clearly the Spanish believed that certain of the supplies aboard The Dog violated the universal law of Christianity against providing arms to pagans.

The Dog was taken by the viceroy of Catalonia, its artillery brought ashore, and all of its merchandise was consigned to the proper agents, except the contraband which was officially confiscated. The officers and crew of The Dog were freed, including "Captain Diepa," or Laudonnière, as the captain of the vessel was alternatively designated in the documents. He was also referred to as "the gentleman of the Admiral," or Admiral Gaspard de Coligny's lieutenant. Captain Diepa undoubtedly alluded to The Dog's home port and Laudonnière's residence, Dieppe, France. The nautical instruments—three astrolabes, two cross-staffs for elevation studies, declination rules, and several charts—used on The Dog were characteristic of the period.

The Spanish officials made a detailed list of Laudonnière's personal property aboard The Dog. His belongings included some rather fancy clothes, fancy at least by modern seagoing standards. In his wardrobe were a short coat of black taffeta, a tooled-leather collar from Morocco, a doublet of white taffeta decorated with crimson silk, a gray cloak with a velvet border two feet in width, and a pair of black woolen cloth shoes trimmed with velvet. Also listed was armor for the upper body (cuirassine) and armor for the head and face (bourguignottes).

By far the most interesting of Laudonnière's possessions was a rare nautical clock in a gold case lined with crimson velvet. The clock was listed at such a high valuation that it could hardly have been the usual hourglass timekeeper. It must have been an extremely rare "ancestor" of a modern clock. Also itemized were a hunting gun, a silver whistle, a sword, and a book of his personally owned nautical charts. Among his other possessions were some pieces of cloth which he may have intended for his wife, a friendly girl, or even for the kind little old lady who may have lived at the end of his street in Dieppe. Or, perhaps, these materials were to be exchanged for the goods of Algerian natives. In addition, Laudonnière had some Alexandrian linen, some crimson damask, scarlet cloth, and other damask the color of "peach blossoms."

The only other evidence of Laudonnière's work prior to 1562 comes from his writing. In describing his 1564 expedition to Florida he stated: "My Lord Admiral [Coligny] being well informed of the faithful service which I had done as well unto his Majesty Charles IX as to his predecessors, Kings of France, advised the King how able I was to do him service in this voyage." Certainly Laudonnière was active in the nautical service of Charles IX and his predecessors, Francis II and Henry II. The captain from Dieppe was eighteen when Francis I died, but in an era when youths went to sea in their teen-age years, Laudonnière may have started his career during the reign of Francis I.

Certainly before he had reached his thirty-third year, he was an experienced commander and one of the outstanding sea captains of France. His financial success is attested to by the value of his personal possessions on his ship, The Dog. By 1562 France was ready to participate in the benefits to be derived from the Age of Discovery, and Laudonnière was also prepared to contribute the leadership needed by his country. He was representative of those impatient members of the human race who were to use the New World in their quest for opportunity and freedom. A capable seaman and an ardent advocate of the reformed religion, he exemplified the twin developments of his era: science and religion.


Exploring Florida with Ribault

BY 1562 Spain was well established in the New World. From her silver and gold mines in Mexico and Peru came precious metals to enrich her and to capture the imagination of the rulers of other European countries. Except for Spain, only Portugal, with Brazil in South America and trading colonies in the Orient, was reaping substantial benefits from overseas enterprises. The Netherlands were fighting mighty Spain for independence, England was moving toward stability under Queen Elizabeth, and France was torn by civil war. Audacious English sea raiders were capturing treasure-laden Spanish galleons, and the French were planning to settle on territory claimed by Spain.

Other than Mexico, the vast continent of North America was only touched by Spain. In 1513 Ponce de León had discovered and named Florida. In the following years Pánfilo de Narváez, Hernando de Soto, and other Spanish conquistadors explored the land. In 1559 a large colonization expedition sailed from Vera Cruz to Pensacola where for two years the Spaniards vainly attempted to establish a permanent settlement. This failure made Philip II of Spain issue a decree prohibiting additional exploration of and settlement in Florida, the name applied by Spain to all of North America lying north of the Rio Grande and the Gulf of Mexico. The King of Spain realized the geographic value of Florida, but too many of his subjects had died in futile efforts to find fortunes or found colonies in the wilderness.


Excerpted from Laudonniere & Fort Caroline by Charles E. Bennett. Copyright © 2001 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Charles E. Bennett is a historian and former Florida congressman. He was coauthor of the Moss-Bennett legislation and was instrumental in the establishment of the Fort Caroline National Memorial and the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve. Jerald T. Milanich, who provided a new Foreword to this reprint, is Curator in Archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History.


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