Proposals for the location of French Fort Caroline (1564-1565) Renamed Fort San Mateo 1565 by the Spanish
Walter R. Mattfeld, M.A. Ed.
Orange Park, Florida 32073
Corrections and comments are welcomed via email contact:
14 September 2012 (Revisions through 02 Nov. 2015)
I will be updating this rough draft article in the coming weeks and months, so do remember to revisit it if the subject interests you. Nothing here is set in concrete, all is speculative, I am open to learning about other dissenting proposals. This is an on-going work, not finished, always probing, always asking "why?" I am _wrestling_ with statements of circa 1562-1568, maps of 1591-1765, and engravings of Fort Caroline of circa 1591-1765, all of which seem at times to contradict the 1564-1568 depositions of eyewitnesses to the events in French, Spanish and English accounts. The Private Eye or Dectective often privately wonders: "This doesn't make any sense, why the contradictions?" Who's telling the truth? Who's lying? Who's confused? Why? Is the evidence or clues being misinterpreted by myself?
Please click here for old engravings showing Fort Caroline's arcing-shoreline to be today's St. Johns Bluff's arcing-shoreline. Please click here for maps of the 1500's-1700's showing Fort Caroline and the May River to be in Georgia rather than Florida between 31 degrees and 32 degrees North Latitude. Please click here for how archaeologists found England's 1607 Jamestown Fort in Virginia and their finds. Like Fort Caroline, it was of logs, triangular, and near a river's edge and bend. Their story may help find Fort Caroline?
Having recently moved to Florida just a year ago (14 September 2011) and being a retired Geography and History teacher, I became interested in the local Jacksonville historical accounts of the 1564-1565 French settlement at Fort Caroline on the St. Johns River. I was intrigued by some old maps on the internet showing these sites as clearly being in Georgia, not Florida, and wanted to explore this oddity. Why does current scholarship locate these sites in Florida when some maps (1500s-1700s) suggest they are in Georgia?
This anomaly lead me into investigating the evidence, pro and con, as to whether or not Fort Caroline and the May River were in Florida or were they in Georgia?
I eventually came to realize that confusion about the siting of the May River and its Fort Caroline begins with the earliest accounts dating to the period 1562-1565. My research revealed that French, Spanish and English ship's pilots gave conflicting readings for the location of these sites and this confusion apparently manifested itself in maps drawn up by Europe's Cartographers over a period of some 200 years.
To sum up this research in a nutshell, I came to conclude that several confusions were behind the mistaken belief that Georgia was where Fort Caroline and the May River were at on some maps.
A captured French mutineer from Fort Caroline, Stefano de Rojomonte, deposed on 28 January 1565 before Spanish authorites in Havana, Cuba that the French fort was at 31 degrees north latitude. I suspect he lied to protect his fellow Frenchmen from a Spanish attack. Today one degree of latitude is 60 nautical miles, the Spanish would be at the wrong location, searching in vain for the fort. Today 31 degrees is near St. Andrews Sound, south of Brunswick, Georgia.
In a letter to the King of Spain, Philip II, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the Spanish conqueror of Fort Caroline in 1565, stated that he had his men record the fort's latitude after its fall to him on 20 September and it was 30 and a quarter degrees (North), declaring that the French pilots were "wrong" in their latitude reckoning for this site. He did not state in his letter what the French reckoning was. I suspect that he was alluding to Rojomonte's 31 degrees which probably was passed on to de Aviles by the Havana authorites to help him locate and destroy the fort. Jacques Le Moyne's map of 1564/1565 published in 1591 by DeBry suggests that Fort Caroline was at 30 degrees North.
Bennett (1964), _in error_, has de Aviles say the fort was at 31 degrees (brackets [ ] are mine to show the letter was written at St. Augustine which is at 29 degrees 53 minutes today):
"This port [San Augustine] is 29 1/2 degrees, and the San Mateo which we captured is 31 degrees. The French and their pilots were mistaken. I have had it taken by the sun on land." (p. 137. Charles E. Bennett. Laudonniere and Fort Caroline, History and Documents. University of Alabama Press. Tuscaloosa and London. 2001. 1964, University of Florida Press)
Lowery (1905) quotes Menendez in Spanish and he said the fort was "in 30 and a quarter [degrees]," not 31 degrees (brackets [ ] are mine):
"El [puerto] del fuerte de Sant Mateo que ganamos esta en [in] treynta [thirty] y [and] un [a]quarto [quarter]; porque los franceses y sus pilotos se enganavan, e yo he hecho tomar el sol en tierra y averiguarlo."
(p. 390. Woodbury Lowery. The Spanish Settlements Within the Present Limits of the United States, Florida, 1562-1574. G. P. Putnam's Sons. New York & London. 1905)
Ribault said the May River was "in 30 Degrees north latitude" in 1562:
"The next morning we returned to land...carrying with us a pillar or column of hard stone, with the king's arms engraved thereon, to plant and set the same at the entry of the port...The situation is in thirty degrees north latitude..." (pp. 176,179. B. F. French. Historical Collections Louisiana and Florida, including translations of original manuscripts relating to their discovery and settlement with numerous historical and biographical notes, historical memoirs and narratives 1527-1702. New York. Albert Mason Publisher. 1875)
Many Cartographers misunderstood the written account of where gold and silver existed according to the Indians and French explorers. They said to go upstream on the May River then several days overland to Indians who had these precious metals, which were in turn, obtained from the Appalatchy Mountains. In error, maps showed the St. Johns' origin in these mountains, which is incorrect. The St. Johns flows north from lakes in lower Florida. However, Georgia possesses several rivers that do originate in these mountains (the Appalchians, in which gold has been found) whose mouths are near 31 degrees North. The Le Moyne map (published 1591 by DeBry) shows the May river draining from a large lake to the southwest, perhaps alluding to the large lakes south of today's Jacksonville that the St. Johns does have its source in. Apparently the southern lake was moved northwest to the Applachian Mountains by some later cartographers, they also moving Le Moynes' May River further north to drain from this imaginary lake in the mountains of Georgia. Perhaps the French meant to say that after going upstream from Fort Caroline, to the area of today's Jacksonville (?) they then marched overland (north?) for several days to reach the Applachies, a tribal confederation near the Okefenoke Swamp as appears on maps of circa 1764? I am aware some scholars question the Le Moynes map being really his, they claim it might be of DeBry's imagination. I believe it is Le Moynes'. Why? It is accurate on three important points: (1) The mouth of the May River is correctly shown at approximately 30 degrees north while later maps put it at 31 degrees north. (2) The source of the May River is shown as being a lake to the southwest of the river's mouth and the St. Johns River's source is today's Lake George to the southwest of its mouth, not later maps' showing a lake in the mountains of Georgia. (3) Fort Caroline is correctly shown as being on the southside of the river and flanked by rivers on its east and west sides as mentioned in the narratives matching St. Johns Bluff and its flanking rivers, today's St. Johns Creek to the east and Shipyard Creek to its west. De Bry issued an engraving showing the mouth of the May River to have an island in its midst. I note that the 1856 Coastal Survey shows a sandbar in the midst of the mouth of the St. Johns River labeled as "Middle Ground." Perhaps the 1856 "Middle Ground" was the 1565 island, worn away after some 300 years of abrasive currents? In other words, DeBry's engaving showing the mouth of the May River may be based on accurate eyewitness testimony of 1565 regarding the mouth of the river and its island in its midst. Alternately, DeBry's island in the midst of the May River might be today's Great Marsh Island which divides the St. Johns River into two arms, a northern arm and a southern arm. A Frenchman Stefan Rojomonnte said the Fort was on the bank of the southwest arm of the river. This would fit somewhat a fort near St. Johns Bluff, SW of southern arm of the St. Johns river divided by Great Marsh Island. DeBry's engravings and maps seem to be his attempt to render in a visual fashion the statements of eyewitnesses about the landforms they encountered.
How do we determine whether or not the May River and its Fort Caroline are in Georgia, afterall, Rojomonte who lived there said it lay at 31 degrees north?
This is determined by statements made by Menendez. He said that the two Indian guides who lead him to the French fort suggested to him the distance was about 8 or 10 leagues north of St. Augustine, and just a two days' march. But, on the road, with these Indians, they discovered the road was impassable in places due to flooding of rivers from tropical rains, so they had to take _a more circuitous route_ that in the end became a three day march and seemed more like 15 leagues rather than 8 leagues.
French accounts state that the River of the Dauphins (Dolphins) where St. Augustine was founded by Menendez was either 8, 10 or 15 leagues to the south of the May River by sea-going ships, noting the distance was sailed in two days' time, while Menendez stated that he thought he could reach Fort Caroline by a two day march overland from St. Augustine. In other words, whether by land or by sea, the distance between Fort Caroline and St. Augustine was reckoned as being two days, and a distance of either 8, 10 or 15 leagues.
A Spanish league is a estimate of the distance covered by a man in one hour's walking time, roughly 2.6 miles. So 2 leagues is about 5 miles, 8 leagues would be approximately 20 miles; 10 leagues about 26 miles; and 15 leagues would be about 39 miles.
Rojomontes' 31 degrees North reading for Fort Caroline in 1565 would today be near St. Andrews Sound, south of Brunswick, Georgia, roughly 100 miles (38 leagues) north of St. Augustine.
It is a stretch of the imagination to turn 15 leagues or 39 miles into 100 miles. At 39 miles north of St. Augustine, today, one is at the U.S. Naval Base at Mayport near the mouth of the St. Johns River. Hence, the St. Johns River is most likely the French River of May, which was calculated in 1565 by Le Moyne as being in 30 degrees North (Today it is 30 degrees 23 minutes North Latitude).
The English Privateer, Master John Hawkins stopped for freshwater at Fort Caroline just a short while (May 1565) before its fall to the Spanish on 20 September 1565. He gave two readings for its latitude. "30 degrees and better," and then "30 and 1/2 degrees." Menendez's reading of 30 and a quarter is a near match to Hawkins' 30 and a half degrees.
A map (circa 1585) by the Englishman John White shows the May River at just above 30 degrees North. On the map Fort Caroline appears on the southside of the May river as "Carline" and it is shown as being on a promontory jutting out in to the the river, the river dipping south and east of the promontory, just as the St. Johns River dips south and east at St. Johns Bluff promontory today. Strangely a red dot surmounted by a cross lies on the north side of the May River opposite the Carline promontory. Did White understand Fort Caroline was on the north side of the river? A map allegedly made by a Frenchman at Fort Caroline shows the fort to be on the north side of the May River. Is this why White has the fort as a red dot with cross atop it here? (cf. pp. 96-97. "La Virgenia Pars, a map of the east coast of North America from Chesapeake Bay to the Florida Keys." Kim Sloan. A New World , England's First View of America. Chapel Hill. University of North Carolina Press. 2007. Published in England by the British Museum Press, London. 2007)
A 1606 map titled in Latin: Virginiae item et Floridae Americae Provinciarm, Nova Descripto (also labeled : "The American Southeast in 1606") has the May River at about 31 1/2 degrees North.
In 1665, a French "Cartographer to the King," Pierre Du Val, located the May River and Fort Caroline at 31 degrees North.
As earlier noted, Menendez renamed Fort Caroline San Mateo after Saint Matthew, whose Feast Day it was when the fort fell to Spanish arms. It appears on various maps as S. Matheo, Sn. Mateo, San Mateo, St. Mateo, St. Matieu, St. Matthew, made by various Cartographers in different European countries (Spain, France, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy) until the 18th century when it disappears as a site in the 1770s to be replaced with other nearby sites' names like San Pablo (St. Paul), and San Juan (St. John).
Locating Fort Caroline on the St. Johns River:
The Spanish called the river before 1565 Rio de Corriente, "River of Currents," and located it at 30 Degrees North, the French in 1562 named it the May River as they discovered it on the first of May and Ribault said it was in 30 degrees. Menendez said 30 and a quarter degrees renaming it in 1565 Rio de San Mateo as the French fort fell to him on the Catholic Feast Day of San Mateo (St. Matthew). It appears on maps with this name (Rio de San Mateo) till the late 1700s. During the 1700s the river sometimes appeared on maps with two names, Rio de San Mateo and Rio de San Juan, deriving the latter name after a Spanish Mission called San Juan de la Puerta established at the mouth of the river on its north side.
Maps through the 1700s also show the mouth of the San Mateo river as Barra de San Mateo, later, it appears as Barra de San Juan (alluding the sand bars to be navigated through to get ino the river from the ocean).
Maps also show a settlement called San Mateo on the river. For example, a map made in 1737 by the Spanish, shows San Mateo as a fortress with four walls with a bastion at each corner the mouth of the St. Johns River being called Barra de San Juan, north of Barra de San Juan is Barra de Santa Maria (cf. map dated 1737 and titled Descriptio Geographica, de la part que los Espanoles poseen Actualmente en el Continente de la Florida. Cartographer: Antonio de Arredondo. It can be zoomified to enlarge the areas for study), so it was apparently in existence as a military settlement as late as 1737 despite some scholars claiming it had been abandoned by 1570:
"The Spanish briefly reoccupied San Mateo but abandoned it by 1570." (p. 255. Paul E. Hoffman. 1990, 2004. A New Andalucia, and a Way to the Orient, the American Southeast during the Sixteenth Century)
Fort Caroline was said to be "no more than 3 leagues" from the mouth of the river May by the Fenchman Rene Laudonniere in 1565. Later, Laudonniere stated that the fort is "no more than 2 leagues" from the river's mouth when he speaks of a stolen ship returned to him by starving French mutineers. John Hawkins in 1565 was told by Frenchmen aboard French vessels docked in the river's mouth that the Fort was about two leagues upriver from the harbor.
Two leagues is about 5 miles and at that distance, from the mouth of the St. Johns, River we are at an elevation called today (2012) St. Johns Bluff, which is on the south side of the river.
Laudonniere said he found in 1564 a small mount with a view of the sea from its top and said he could see the sails of his ships in the harbor mouth of the river from this height. Modern topographical maps show that the highest point on the bluff is around 80 feet. I, myself have stood near this point, at the modern Ribault Pillar Monument erected by the National Park Service. It is still a spectacular view, but the sea cannot be seen today.
The fort seems to have been erected at the river's edge or bank. From this fort Laudonniere said sentinels would climb a nearby small hill to look for sails in the harbor (the river's mouth or anchorage). So the river's mouth could not be seen from Fort Caroline.
He built a fort made of a combination of sawn timbers, logs and earthen ramparts (the fort's dimensions were not stated). The east side faced a river, the west faced land and a forested hill, the south had a munitions building. Here things get confusing. The houses were thatched in the Indians' manner and low in height to withstand hurricane winds.
How can Laudonniere say the east wall faced the river? We know the fort was on the south side of the river, it is shown thusly on Le Moynes map of 1564 and it was near a "small mountain," the 80 foot high St. Johns Bluff being the only possible site on this river. So, if the east wall faces the river this implies the river is east of the fort. How can this be? The river would have to be flowing north to south to be east of the fort. Amazingly, the Le Moyne map shows just this, the May is shown as descending from WNW to ESE on the fort's east side and perpendicular or parallel to the fort's east wall! What is the "reality" behind this map? One possible answer is that the St. Johns River dips to the south at the bluff's northernmost promontory heading for Pablo Creek where it then turns ENE and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Thus from this promontory (St. Johns Bluff), one could say the May River "is east of the fort" if the fort is near the shoreline of the bluff's promontory. I note that George R. Fairbanks, Vice President of the Florida Historical Society, in his book of 1858 located Fort Caroline at the northern the tip (shoreline) of St. Johns Bluff promontory, which would fit the river being at the fort's east side. He then speculated that as there was no wide enough shoreline there in his day (1858) to accomodate the fort and its out buildings and that the perhaps over 300 years the river eroded away the shoreline at this location and the fort was no longer recoverable (see his map showing the fort's location between pp. 50 and 51 in The History and Antiquities of the city of St. Augustine, Florida,. 1858, available on the internet under Google's Free Books Search).
Most scholars place the fort _west_ of the St. Johns Bluff promontory. The problem is that land lies to the east of the fort in this scenario, the St. Johns Bluff's promontory, not a river.
It just might be possible that Fort Caroline is today's Calypso Island, how so?
French accounts state the east side of the fort faced a river and the west side faced land, but elsewhere, we are told the French enlarged the fort's wall "from its gate to the river on its west side." The Le Moyne map shows the fort surrounded by a stream on all three of its triangular sides, east, west, and south. Does such an "odd" geographical feature exist today? Yes, its Calypso Island. The island abuts the St. Johns River on its north side. On its west side is Shipyard Creek. On its south side is Shipyard Creek. On its east side is a small stream which emerges from a marsh to the east of the island to connect with Shipyard Creek. In other words, Calypso Island is surrounded on all of its sides by streams, matching "somewhat," the situation shown on Le Moyne's map. Satellite photos on the internet show the island to be forested today. If this is where Fort Caroline is, then perhaps it should be investigated. The river on the fort's east side might be referring to the small stream emerging from the marsh east of the fort? The problem? Archaeological probes in the past found only indian pottery. This area strikes me as too far away from St. Johns Bluff to qualify for the statement that the fort was "very near" to the small hill (which I identify with today's Ribault Pillar Monument) the ships' sails could be seen from at the river's mouth.
Another possible location for Fort Caroline is near the northern shoreline slope of the St. Johns Bluff Promontory, that is, north of and below today's Ribault Pillar Monument erected by the Park Service. Fairbanks in 1868 located the site of Fort Caroline here, but thought it was on a shore which he speculated had eroded away.
Could the fort be north of and below the Ribault Pillar Monument, near the river's edge?
I understand that the Ribault Pillar Monument is built atop a small hill whose height on topographical maps is given as being 80 feet. This elevation appears on the 1791 map and a small plain exists below and north of it. Perhaps the fort is on this plain? The problem? The 1856 map shows no plain at the promontory, its west of the promontory, and accounts have the fort at the river bank below a small hill, and an open plain one bowshot in width was between the fort and the wooded hill top. A path from the fort ascended the hilltop to the woods and a spring (today's Spanish Pond?). The 1856 map shows a path from some houses in a plain, is Fort Caroline under these dwellings but nearer the river bank?
Laudonniere said that he had sentinels sent up daily from the fort to a nearby small hill to look for ships' sails at the mouth of the May River. He states that one day he was on this elevation and saw sails and sent a companion down to the fort to alert the men the ships had arrived. He says he could see from this elevation his men leap for joy and hear their shouting when they learned the good news as they were close to starving. If the small hill is today's Ribault Pillar Monument the fort north of and below the Monument's small hill is within view. The men could be heard and seen from this elevation.
Other accounts state the fort's east wall faces a river and so does the west wall. If the fort is below the Ribault Pillar Monument, it is on the promontory that juts out into the river. The St. Johns River exists east of and west of the promontory. So the fort's walls are indeed bounded on the east and west by the St. Johns River.
Another account stated that the fort was on a "high hill" or barranca alta, which in Spanish can also mean "high bluff." I understand this is the St. Johns Bluff promontory who's highest height is 90 to 80 feet and the ocean can be seen from it as the landforms to the east are no higher than 20 or 10 feet according to modern topographical maps (cf. map titled Mayport, 1:24,000 United States Geological Survey 1950).
Another account says the fort is where the river narrows and its built on stone and can fire a cannon which can hit the opposite bank of the river, preventing ships from going further upstream. The stone the fort was built might be the stone of the Bluff and the river does narrow at the Bluff. A cannon could hit the opposite bank from this location (see the cannon trajectories in red lines on the 1791 map at the bluff).
The 1585 map by the Englishman John White shows fort Caroline on the southside of the river and associated with a prominent promontory, it is labeld Carline. This suggests for me the fort was understood by some to be at the St. Johns Bluff Promontory. This would also explain why a river exists on its west and east sides as it juts out into the St. Johns River on the map.
The fort is a said to lie in a marsh and on the southwest side of an arm of the river. The "arm of the river on the southwest" might be today's St. Johns Creek, east of the Bluff and this creek has marsh on both sides of it. Small row boats could enter this creek and its marsh to drop off provisions to the fort north of and below today's Ribault monument. The east wall of the fort would face this marsh. Men unloading provisions for the fort on the west bank of the St. Johns Creek would pass through this marsh to reach the fort, hence the reason it is said to be in a marsh. Alternately, the SW arm of the river might allude to that part of the St. Johns SW of Great Marsh Island? This island divides the river into a north and south arm.
When Laudonniere rose from his bed to fight the Spanish he saw that they had created a breach on the southwest wall. If the fort is north of and below the Ribault Monument, its southwest side would be the first wall encountered by the Spanish as they ascended from the marsh (Spanish Pond is to the southwest of the fort) south of the western hill ridge then descended and attacked the southwest side of the fort.
Laudonniere says he escaped via the western breach, crossed an open plain and sought refuge in a wood at a higher elevation. Le Challeux leaped the fort's 9 ft high wall, ran across a plain one bowshot in length, to the edge of a wood from who's height he could see the Spaniards slaying Frenchmen within the fort. The western wall is described as being 9 ft high, so, his route was appartently the same used by Laudonniere.
Other Frenchmen fled to some small boats beached on the shore, which in DeBry's engraving of the fort is the west shore (Latin: Occidens), and row for safety to the two French ships anchored in the midst of the St. Johns River across from (north of) the fort. Others swam from the fort to the two anchored vessels. The Spanish fire one of the fort's cannons and sink one of these ships. A Frenchman had said the fort was on a river bank and could fire to the opposite bank, so hitting a ship would be within the range of the guns. I believe DeBrys is in error, the arc-shore is north of the fort, not west of it, and is today's arc-shoreline between St. Johns Creek and Shipyard Creek.
Laudonniere on a river to the west of Fort Caroline or is he meaning to say "the westside of the fort," from its gate to the river (the gate is in the west wall)?
"The next day after my return to the fort, I assembled my men together again, to declare unto them that our fort was not yet finished, and that it was needful that all of us should put thereunto our helping hands, to secure ourselves against the indians; whereupon having willingly agreed with me, they raised it all with turf from the gate unto the river which is on the west side." (p. 523. "The Voyage of Rene Laudonniere to Florida." in Barnard Shipp. The History of Hernando Desoto and Florida, or Record of the Events of Fifty-six Years from 1512 to 1568. Philadelphia. Robert M. Lindsay. 1881)
If Fort Caroline is west of St. Johns Bluff promontory could Shipyard Creek be the river west of the fort?
Laudonniere on the fort's side opposite the west side as toward a river, note that Le Moynes map shows the May River to be east of the fort, west of the May is the "landside" the fort was built on:
"Our fort was built in a triangle. The side to the west, the land side, was enclosed by a little moat under turfs turned up into the form of a parapet about 9 feet high. The other side, which was toward the river, was enclosed with a palisade of planks of timber in the manner in which dikes are made." (p. 72. Charles E. Bennett. Three Voyages, Rene Laudonniere. University of Alabama Press. Tuscaloosa and London. 2001. Reprint of 1975 The University Presses of Florida)
A Frenchman from Fort Caroline informed a Spaniard that it was in a marsh and I note a marsh exists at the mouth of today's St. Johns Creek and Shipyard Creek:
"...in the said river there was a marsh on which they built a tower of stone and wood which was very strong..." (p. 104. Charles E. Bennett. Laudonniere and Fort Caroline, History and Documents. The University of Alabama Press. Tuscaloosa and London. 2001. Reprint of 1964 The University of Florida Press)
However, St. Johns Bluff is also bounded by marshes on its east and west sides, the east being the marshes of Chicopet Bay and the west being the marshes of Mill Cove Bay.
In the course of the attack on Fort Caroline Laudonniere says he escaped via a breach in the west wall and ran for cover in the woods. This suggests a wood lies west of the fort. In this wood he later encounters another Frenchman, who said after he escaped the fort that it was about one bow shot from the fort accross an open plain to the edge of a hillside wood where he stopped and looked back to see the slaughter within the fort's walls. As these walls were 9 feet high the elevation he was on had to be above 9 feet.
A 1950 Topographical map of 1;24,000 scale (United States Geological Survey) titled Mayport reveals that a low hill-ridge some 50 to 40 feet in height extends westward from St. Johns Bluff promontory (80 feet high) towards Shipyard Creek; on on the south side of this ridge is a great marsh or swamp today called Spanish Pond. Perhaps this is the marsh that Menendez's 500 Spanish troops waited the night in, in knee-deep water, with their 20 scaling ladders, before ascending the hill-ridge north of them to descend upon Fort Caroline?
Where is Fort Caroline?
It appears on the Le Moyne map of 1565 as on the southwest shore of the May River. But, another map supposedly from a Frenchman's letter home to France shows it to be on the northeast shore (cf. p. 69 for the fort north of the river. Charles E. Bennett. Laudonniere and Fort Caroline, History and Documents. 2001, 1964).
I suspect Fort Caroline is on the treeless plain appearing on the 1791 and 1856 maps (cf. below for more info) west of today's Ribault Pillar Mounument, perhaps under the 1856 houses but nearer the river bank. This treeless plain appears in a 1943 aerial photo to have reverted to forest up to the river's edge. Today (2013) this area is still somewhat forested with private homes nestled among the trees.
Laudonniere describes a small hill as bordered by a high wood and an _open plain_ upon which Indians were growing corn or maize. I suspect that this open plain is the same treeless plain appearing on the 1791 and 1856 maps. The "spring" is probably Spanish Pond, which is elsewhere described as a marsh with reeds. Could the path crossing the hill-top be the road shown on the 1856 Map crossing the hill-ridge opposite and north of Spanish Pond? If so, then the fort might be at the end of this path/road near the bank of the St. Johns River (?):
"This was a comfortable place, not only because of the river on one side and the forest on the other (a quarter of a league) but also because of a beautiful plain bewteen the fort and the wood; and a pleasant hill covered with high and thick greenery through which they cut a narrow path leading to a spring in the woods." (p. 83. Charles E. Bennett. Laudonniere & Fort Caroline, History & Documents. University of Alabama Press. Tuscaloosa & London. 2001 reprint of University of Florida Press 1964))
Why did Fairbanks (1858) think Fort Caroline was on a "river bank" that had eroded away by his time? He apparently got the notion from the following statement:
"Where they built this fort the river is narrow, and they settled there in order to defend the passage with artillery against those who might want to pass ahead; because of this the fort is on the river bank and the range of the artillery easily covers from one bank to the other." (p. 90.Charles E. Bennett. Laudonniere & Fort Caroline, History & Documents. University of Alabama Press. Tuscaloosa & London. 2001 reprint of University of Florida Press 1964)
The fort is said to be very near a hill (knappe) from which sentinels (centinels) watch for ships' sails at the mouth of the May River:
"During which time the poore souldiers and handicraftsmen became as feeble as might be, and not being able to woorke did nothing but goe one after another in centinel unto the clift of an hill, situate very neere unto the fort, to see if they might discover any French ship." (p. 60. Richard Hakluyt. The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, Volume IX. Glascow. James MacLehose & Sons, Publishers to the University. MCMIV )
"...the third of August I descried four sayles in the sea, as I walked upon a little hill, whereof I was exceedingly well paid; I sent immediately one of them which were with me to advertise those of the fort thereof, which were so glad of those newes, that one would have thought them to bee out of their wittes to see them laugh and leap for joy. After these ships had cast anker, we descried that they sent one of their ship boates to land..." (p. 77. Richard Hakluyt. The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, Volume IX. Glascow. James MacLehose & Sons, Publishers to the University. MCMIV )
I regard the above statement to be an important clue for locating Fort Caroline very near to the St. Johns Bluff Promontory. Why? The promontory is 80-90 feet high at today's Ribault Pillar Monument and the "small hill" it sits atop and the mouth of the St. Johns River can be seen from it as the elevations east of the promontory are for the most part 10-20 feet in hieght. For Laudonnniere to state that he could see and hear his men in the fort leaping for joy at the news sails have been sighted from this promontory implies the fort is very near the bluff-promontory. If the fort was at Shipbuilder's Creek or Calypso Island it would be too far away for Laudonniere to see men leaping up and down and hollering within the fort.
Laudonniere mentions a little knappe (a small hill) his sentinels are posted at to look for sails at the river's mouth, perhaps the 1791 map's smaller riverside hill or knoll at the northernmost promontory of St. Johns Bluff is this knappe? His sentinels atop a cliff apparently call out "Who goes?" challenges to the advancing soldiers but get no response. As the soldiers are from the ships at the river's mouth they are marching westward towards the east side of St. Johns Bluff's cliff-face perhaps across the sandbar on the northside of today's Buck Island? Fort Caroline has to be near this cliff-face.
"...Captaine Vasseur...began to descry certaine sayles at sea, whereof they advertised mee with diligence...I also sent to the centinels, which I caused to be kept on a little knappe, to cause certaine men to climbe up to the toppe of the highest trees to better discover them. They descried the great boate of the shippes...seemed to chase my boate, which by this time was passed the barre of the river; so that we could not possibly judge whether they were enemies...The next day in the morning about eight or nine of the clocke I saw seven boates (among which mine owne was one) full of souldiers enter into the river, having every man his harquebuze and morion on his head, which marched all in battaile along the cliffes were my centinels were, to whom they would make no kind of answer, notwithstanding all the demandes that were made unto them..." (pp. 82-83. Richard Hakluyt. The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, Volume IX. Glascow. James MacLehose & Sons, Publishers to the University. MCMIV )
Another clue that Fort Caroline is west of St. Johns Bluff's promontory is that the French fleeing east from the fort to their ships at the river's mouth encounter the high brow of a mountain with a steep east-face that they, at the peril of their lives, must descend and enter the marshes. From this mount they can see the ocean in the distance. This steep descent is probably the east side of the St. Johns Bluff promontory abutting today's Buck Island which has marsh between the island and the cliff-face. It could also be the cliff face of the bluff south of Ribault's Pillar Monument as this is a higher elevation, 90 feet versus 80 feet.
"For having gone out of the wood, as they descended to the fort they were immediately seized by the Spaniards...They were at once killed and massacred, and then drawn to the banks of the river, where the others killed at the fort lay in heaps. We who remained in the wood continued to make our way, and drawing towards the sea...we soon arrived at the brow of a mountain and from there commenced to see the sea, but it was still at a great distance; and what was worse, the road we had to take showed itself wonderfully strange and difficult. In the first place, the mountain from which it was necessary for us to descend, was of such height and ruggedness, that it was not possible for a person descending to stand upright, and we should never have dared to descend it but for the hope we had of sustaining ourselves by the branches of the bushes, which were frequent upon the side of the mountain, and to save life, not sparing our hands which we had all gashed up and bloody, and even the legs and nearly all the body was torn. But descending from the mountain, we did not lose our view of the sea, on account of a small wood which was upon a small hill opposite us; and in order to go to the wood it was requisite that we should traverse a large meadow, all mud and quagmire, covered with briars and other kinds of strange plants; for the stalk was as hard as wood, and the leaves pricked our feet and our hands until the blood came, and being all the while in the water up to the middle..." (pp. 42-43. George R. Fairbanks. The History and Antiquites of the City of St. Augustine, Florida, founded 1565...)
Fairbanks (1868) suggested that De Challeux's steep mountain face he descended might be the steep east face of St. Johns Bluff, suggesting to me that he thought Fort Caroline was west of this promontory as De Challeux was fleeing eastward to the French ships anchored at the mouth of the May River:
"...St. John's Bluff. On the eastern face the bluff is quite high and precipitious- being possibly the ''brow of the mountain' mentioned by De Challeux..." (p. 35. George R. Fairbanks. The Spaniards in Florida, comprising the notable settlement of the Huguenots in 1564 and the history and antiquities of St. Augustine founded A.D. 1565. Jacksonville, Florida. Columbus Drew, 1868, 2d edition)
Hakluyt's account states the fort was built on a plain used by the indians to grow maize and adjoining a "mean hill" and later calls it a "mountain." Is this Le Challaux's mountain with a high brow? From the top of the hill he said the sea could be seen. The 1791 Spanish map says the Barra can be seen from the pequena altura, a "small height" (today's Ribault Pillar Monument parking lot). The marsh of reeds I understand to be Spanish Pond and in other accounts a spring of fresh water. Depending on rainfall, the pond can shrink to spring size or expand into a marsh.
"...I had not sayled three leagues up the river...but I discovered an hill of meane hight, neere which I went on land, hard by the fieldes that were sowed with mil, at one corner whereof there was a house built for their lodging which keepe and garde the mill...I rested myself in this place.. and commanded... my sergeant to enter into the woodes to search out the dwellings of the indians; where after ..they came unto a marish of reeds, where finding their way to be stopped, they rested...I was determined to search out the qualities of the hill...the Sea may be seene plain and open from it...wee determined to returne unto the place which we had discovered before, when we had sayled up the river. This place is joyning to a mountaine, and it seemed unto us more fit and commodious to build a fortresse..." (pp. 8-15. Richard Hakluyt. Vol. IX. The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques & Discoveries of the English Nation. Glascow. James MacLehose and Son. Publishers to the University. MCMIV )
Note, the landing of the boats was not at the hill/mountain the sea can be viewed from, it is land near fields of Indian planted corn, apparently the slope west of St. Johns Bluff promontory. The French fort is in an area commodius and near the hill/mountain, suggesting the base of the slope near the bank of the St. Johns River.
The Frenchman le Challeux gives us some valuable information for locating the Fort in that when he fled the Spanish massacre he said after leaping over a wall he ran to hide in the nearby woods which were on an elevation above the fort, he said it was "one bow shot" from the woods' edge to the Fort. The hill-ridge west of the promontory being 50 to 40 feet in height would allow Le Challeux to see inside the fort's 9 foot high parapet walls the slaughter and bodiess at the river bank:
"I do not know how it was, unless by the grace of God, that my strength was redoubled, old man as I am and grey-headed, a thing which any other time I could not have done, for the rampart was raised eight or nine feet; I then hastened to secrete myself in the woods, when I was sufficiently near the edge of the wood at the distance of a good bow shot, I turned towards the fort and rested a little time, finding myself not pursued; and as from this place all the fort, even the inner court was distinctly visible to me, looking there I saw a horrible butchery of our men taking place, and three standards of our enemies planted on the ramparts." (p. 38. Fairbanks. 1858)
As the fort is described as being a triangle with three walls I assume each wall bore a Spanish flag?
Another clue to the fort's distance from the woods is made by the Spanish commander de Aviles, based on a Frenchman's statement, that from the fort to the woods where they can hide is but a quarter of a league (perhaps Le Challeux's "bowshot"?). A league is roughly 2.6 miles, 1/2 a league would be 1.3 miles, 1/4 of a league would be 1/2 mile, which is pretty wide open plain from the fort at the river's bank to the woods' edge:
"I have with me a Frenchman who has been more than year at their fort, and who says he knows the ground for two leagues around the fort. If we shall arrive without discovery, it may be that falling upon it at daylight we may take it, by planting twenty scaling ladders, at the cost of fifty lives. If we are discovered, we can form in the shelter of the wood, which I am assured is not more than quarter of a league distant..." (p. 25. Fairbanks. 1858)
Apparently the Spanish left the marsh (today's Spanish Pond?) by way of a path to ascend the hill and then took this path to the fort. Might this be the path Laudonniere's men used in 1564 that took them to a forested hill and a marsh where they found Indians? Was the Frenchman one of the party in 1564 who came across this path and marsh in 1564, he had been in the fort for one year (1564-1565)? Thus the reason he recognized the place (the marsh they were in) and the hill and path? Was the fort 3 bowshots from the crest of the hill? Le Challeux said it was one bowshot from the fort to the woods "edge" he hid in.
"Their French prisoner was placed in the advances; but the darkness of the night and the severity of the storm rendered it impossible to proceed, and they halted in a marsh, with water up to their knees, to await daylight. At dawn, the Frenchman recognized the country, and the place where they were, and where stood the fort; upon which the Adelantado ordered them to march...coming to a small hill, the Frenchman said that behind that stood the fort, about three bowshots distant, but lower down, near the river. The General put the Frenchman into the custody of Castaneda. He went up a little higher, and saw the river and one of the houses, but he was not able to discover the fort, although it was adjoining them...he wished to go lower down, near the houses which stood behind the hill, to see the fortress and the garrison, for, the sun was now up, they could not attack the fort without a reconnaisance...he went alone with Ochoa near to the houses, from whence they discovered the fort; and returning with their information, they came to two paths, and leaving the one by which they came, they took the other." (pp. 30-31. Fairbanks. 1858)
As regards the statement of "two paths" near the fort, I note that the 1791 Spanish map (drawn up at St. Augustine) shows a road from St. Augustine and Fort San Diego to the area of today's St. Johns Bluff "_circling_" a Spanish fortress, by-passing Spanish Pond on its east side. Could these two roads to the fort be what is being remarked on as being "two paths" in 1565? The "second path" might be the 1791 map's road from the Fort by-passing Spanish Pond on its northwest side, and headed ultimately for the Spanish Fort of San Nicolas (today's city of Jacksonville) which appears on the map at a ford over the river (Jacksonville being earlier called Cowford, perhaps after this 1791 Ford?). If the "two paths to Fort Caroline" of 1565 are the 1791 map's two roads, one to Fort San Diego and on to St. Augustine, whilst the second path is the road to San Nicolas, then Fort Caroline may lie nearby? Both roads on the 1791 map are near Spanish Pond and skirt its margins and the Spanish spent the night in this marsh waiting to attack the fort the morning of 20 September 1565.
Le Challeux's account states that the Spanish entered the fort _unopposed_ via its "open" gate (DeBry's engraving shows the gate as being in the south wall), whereas Laudonniere's account claimed the Spaniards had overwhelmed his men on the southwest wall and planted their battle flags there:
"The number of persons in the fort was 240, partly of those who had not recovered from sea-sickness, partly of artisans, and of women and children left to the care of Captain Laudonniere, who had no expectation that it was possible that any force could approach by land and attack him. On which account the guards had withdrawn for the purpose of refreshing themselves a little before sunrise on account of the bad weather which had continued during the whole night, most of our people being at the time in their beds sleeping. The wicket gate open, the Spanish force, having traversed forests, swamps, and rivers, arrived at break of day, Friday, the 20th of September, the weather very stormy, and entered the fort without any resistance..." (p. 37. George R. Fairbanks. 1858. The History and Antiquities of the city of St. Augustine, Florida, founded 1565...)
In contradiction to Le Challeux (De Challeux) the Spanish Chronicler, Barcia, claimed that a Spaniard slew a Frenchman as he opened the postern gate to see what the commotion was outside and then a few more Spaniards entered the fort and opened the gates for the rest of their comrades:
"Those in the environs of the fort, seeing this tragedy enacted, set up loud outcries; and in order to know the cause of the alarm, one of the French within opened the postern of the principal gate, which he had no sooner done than it was observed by the Master of the Camp; and throwing himself upon him, he killed him, and entered the gate, followed by the most active of his
followers...Immediately the standards.. were brought in, and set up...and bands of soldiers who had entered, opened the gates and sought the quarters, leaving no Frenchman alive...Such is the Spanish chronicle, contained in Barcia, of the capture of Fort Caroline." (pp. 33-34. George R. Fairbanks. 1858. The History and Antiquities of the city of St. Augustine, Florida, founded 1565...)
For me, the present location of the scaled down model of Fort Caroline that the National Park Service first erected in 1964 is too far to the west of the Bluff-promontory to be "near" to the Bluff. A Spanish map of 1809 labels today's St. Johns Bluff as Barrancas de San Mateo and shows a rectangular building atop the bluff. Did the Spanish later rebuild Fort San Mateo at a higher elevation, on the Bluff, instead of below it at the river's shore? Barranca has several meanings, a " bluff, gully, ravine, precipice, a hill," and as a eupehimism, "an obstacle." A Spanish map of 1737 shows San Mateo to be a fortress with four bastions at its corners, and I note that the 1809 Spanish map shows a rectangular building atop Barrancas de San Mateo "Bluff of San Mateo." Is this the San Mateo fort of 1737? In other words there may be _three_ Fort San Mateos: (1) the French built Fort Caroline of 1564-1565 on the treeless plain near the river, (2) a later Spanish built Fort San Mateo atop the Bluff on the 1791 map, and a fort (?) on the 1809 map?
A Spanish made map of the St. Johns River from its mouth to San Nicholas (today's Jacksonville) drawn up at St. Augustine in 1791 shows a fortress atop St. Johns Bluff with 8 cannons and a road going to St. Augustine. Below the fort are 12 houses. I don't know if this fort was built by the English or by the Spanish. The 12 houses might be the remnants of the 100 houses built at St. John's Town between 1782-1784 while Florida was under English control? Many Americans and English left Florida upon its reversion to Spanish control in 1784. This map is important for showing a fort at St. Johns Bluff and a settlement. Unfortunately neither the fort or settlement are named. However, the 1809 Spanish map called this area Barrancas de San Mateo ("Bluff of San Mateo"), and the time span elapsed from 1791 to 1809 is just 18 years. An earlier Spanish map of 1737 shows San Mateo as a fortified settlement with four bastions at each corner, the mouth of the river being called Barra de San Juan. So, perhaps the fortresses shown on Spanish maps of 1737 and 1791 are "later" Fort San Mateos? The 1791 map shows the fort atop its western hill-ridge, _not_ below the crest of the hill-ridge, as described in accounts of 1564-1568 for French built Fort Caroline. These maps, 1737, 1791 and 1809 suggest, for me, that Fort San Mateo had its location moved under the Spanish to a higher elevation, so we are looking for not one fort but the remains of at least possibly three forts (the 1809 map shows a building which is unlabeled as near the east face of the bluff whereas the 1791 map shows the fort further to the west of the bluff's promontory). For the 1791 fort at St. Johns Bluff see the Spanish map dated 24 December 1791, titled Plano numero 1. de la barra, y Rio de San Juan desde su entrada hasta dos milias mas arriba del paso de San Nicolas, manifestandose e su curso todos los baxos, sacatales, canos, y ys las que comprehende, y tambien la de la barra chica, situacion do los reductos, y colocacion de los barcos para su defenza, y caminos que deven tomarse para la retirada los defensores. Available on the internet at the U. S. Library of Congress. This map can be zoomed to enlarge it for easier reading. The 1737 and 1809 maps are also available on the internet. A map made in 1856 shows a road crossing the hill-ridge which extends west from St. Johns Bluff promontory, might this be the track made by Laudonniere's men in 1564 which took them to a wooded slope and thence to a marsh where they encountered Indians? The marsh would be today's Spanish Pond, where in 1565 500 Spaniards waited the night to attack Fort Caroline. See map (click on the high resolution link) titled Annual Report 1856. No. 27 Preliminary Chart of St. Johns River from Entrance to Browns Creek. Available on the internet at the NOAA Photo Library, Image ID: cgs05940, NOAA's Historic Coast and Geodetic Survey (C&GS) Collection.
Is the fort recoverable for archaeological excavations?
Maybe? The issues:
In 1772 this area was surveyed and subdivided into building lots. Between 1782-1784 over 100 buildings are believed to have been erected in this area and called St. John's Town, a refugee settlement for Loyalists fleeing Georgia and the Carolinas after the 13 British colonies got their independence in 1783 from England. It is possible that these buildings were erected unknowingly over the remains of the fort which would have been no more than a triangular ditch with earthen ramparts. Still later in the 1980s the land was cleared of forest to build homes on and the bull dozers could have destroyed the fort's ramparts and defensive ditches. There should exist a well in association with the fort for drinking water. In the 1500s-1800s it was common custom to use wells as dumping sites for unwanted items such as broken pottery and broken glass (such a custom goes back to ancient Roman times). Perhaps ground penetrating radar could identify the well and then its contents should be excavated to see if it has French and Spanish pottery and glass items circa 1564-1568?
Over 400 years the area could have had hill slides or mud slides, carrying away the fort and its remains, dumping it into the St. Johns River. Only archaeological excavations, a series of long test or probe trenches need to be dug across the area to see if anything exists from 1564-1568.
Today the U.S.A. has satellites that can send beams that can penetrate the subsoil to reveal buildings erected thousands of years ago in Egypt and even a few previously unknown bases of pyramids have been discovered. So, if such a satellite could be used to scan the former open plain of the 1856 map maybe it might detect parts or remnants of the triangular fort's earthen ramparts and ditches. The satellite would have to be able to penetrate first, the tree canopy in the area, secondly the remains of houses from 1782-1784, thirdly the 1564-1565 fort beneath these buildings' foundations. That is a tall task, and I don't know if this kind of satellite can accomplish all this or not.
Mention is made of as many as 8 French ships being sunk in or near the St. Johns river and its mouth between 1564 and 1565, their remains might be recoverable. The issues? Over the past 100 years the St. Johns River has been subject to extensive dredging to deepen its channel and mouth to allow ships of deep draft access the area of Jacksonville as an inland sea port. If by some miracle these ships have escaped the jaws of the dredgers, they might be recoverable via the use of sidescan sonar. Such a device has been successfully used in the recent past to identify several sunken ships: the Union Navy's ironclad Monitor, the Hunley Submarine of the Confederate Navy, and the Spanish treasure Galleon the Atocha.
Eyewitness accounts regarding Fort Caroline:
Pedro Menendez de Aviles, commander of the Spanish forces, on the distance from St. Augustine to Fort Caroline and the May River in degrees of North Latitude in a letter sent to King Philip II of Spain, composed at St. Augustine and dated 15 Oct. 1565 stated Fort Caroline was at 30 and a quarter [degrees north latitude], Bennett (1964), in error, translated 31 degrees:
"This port [St. Augustine] is 29 1/2 degrees and the San Mateo which we captured is 31 degrees. The French and their pilots were mistaken. I have had it taken by the sun on land." (p. 137. Charles E. Bennet. Laudonniere and Fort Caroline, History and Documents. University of Alabama Press. Tuscaloosa and London. 2001. A reprint of the 1964 University of Florida Press edition)
Lowery (1905) quotes in Spanish Menendez, saying Fort San Mateo is 30 and a quarter degrees:
"El [puerto] del fuerte de Sant Mateo que ganamos esta en treynta y un quarto; porque los franceses y sus pilotos se engnavan, e yo he hecho tomar el sol en tierra y averiguario." (p. 390. Woodbury Lowery. The Spanish Settlements Within the Present Limits of the United States, Florida, 1562-1574. G. P. Putnam's Sons. New York and London. 1905)
The English privateer Sir John Hawkins who visited Fort Caroline shortly before its fall to the Spanish locates it at 30 degrees N "and better "(today the mouth of the St. Johns near Mayport is 30 degrees 39 minutes, perhaps. the 39 minutes may be Hawkins "and better."
"...he found them, who inhabited in a river called May, standing in 30 degrees and better." (p. 120. cited from John Sparke, The Voyage made by M. John Hawkins Esquire, 1565, Henry S. Burrage, editor. Original Narratives of Early American History. English and French Voyages, Chiefly from Hakluyt, 1534-1608. Charles Scribner. New York. 1906)
"...they kept on their way along the coast of Florida, and on the 15th day came to anchor, and so from 6 and 20 degrees to 30 and 1/2 degrees, where the Frenchmen abode..." (p. 119. cited from John Sparke, The Voyage made by M. John Hawkins Esquire, 1565, Henry S. Burrage, editor. Original Narratives of Early American History. English and French Voyages, Chiefly from Hakluyt, 1534-1608. Charles Scribner. New York. 1906)
Hawkins learns from the French ships at anchor in the mouth of the May River that their fort is two leagues upstream:
"In this river of May aforesaid, the captain entering with his pinnesse, found a French ship of fourscore ton and two pinnesses of fifteen ton a piece, by her, and speaking with the keepers thereof, they told him of a fort two leagues up, which they had built..." (p. 122, cited from John Sparke, The Voyage made by M. John Hawkins Esquire, 1565, Henry S. Burrage, editor. Original Narratives of Early American History. English and French Voyages, Chiefly from Hakluyt, 1534-1608. Charles Scribner. New York. 1906)
Menendez on the distance from St. Augustine to Fort Caroline:
"Not knowing the way, we hoped to get there in two days, it being distant about eight leagues or so, as we were told by two Indians who went with us as guides. Leaving this Fort St. Augustine...we found the rivers so swollen from the copious rains that it was impossible to ford them and we were obliged to take a circuitous route which had never been used before through swamp and unknown roads to avoid the rivers." (p. 131. Charles E. Bennet. Laudonniere and Fort Caroline, History and Documents. )
Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales' ( a Spanish priest at St. Augustine in 1565) account differs on the distance, it is 5 leagues instead of 8 or 10 leagues:
"According to the practice of those Indians and by the signs they made, we understood that it was five leagues to the fort of the enemies, but on the road it appeared to be more than fifteen.." (p. 156. Charles E. Bennet. Laudonniere and Fort Caroline, History and Documents. )
"Our fort [St. Augustine] is about fifteen leagues from that of the enemy." (p. 154. Charles E. Bennet. Laudonniere and Fort Caroline, History and Documents)
Fifteen leagues by sea is the distance from Fort Caroline and St. Augustine:
"These, seeing the said six French ships bearing down straight upon them, took to their heels so that they were lost from sight, for they entered a stream fifteen leagues distant from the fort. And the French ships returned to the said harbor of the said fort..." (p.100. Charles E. Bennet. Laudonniere and Fort Caroline, History and Documents)
Another account states it is 8 or 10 leagues by sea from St. Augustine to Fort Caroline:
"Then the Spaniards, apparently thinking that they could not capture our ships...and not wanting to leave the coast, pulled back and went ashore on the Seloy River, which we had named the River of Dolphins. It was some eight or ten leagues from our place." (p. 158. Charles E. Bennett. Three Voyages, Rene Laudonniere. University of Alabama Press. Tuscaloosa and London.2001. Reprint of 1975 University of Florida Presses)
A Frenchman, Stefano de Rojomonte, who was of Fort Caroline in a deposition to Spanish authorities mentions the location of the fort:
"The site of the fort: Questioned as to what parts of the said port the site and fort are established, he said that it may be two leagues from the mouth of the said river, at a high hill, which is above one arm of the said river on the southwest bank." (p. 97. Charles E. Bennett. Laudonniere and Fort Caroline, History and Documents. 2001)
I wonder if "the high hill above one arm of the river on the southwest bank" might be today's St. Johns Creek, under the east face of St. Johns Bluff Promontory?
Rojomonte's deposition is given by Lowery in Spanish, I note that in Spanish the "high hill" is rendered barranca alta and the 1809 Spanish map of the St. Johns River shows the area of St. Johns Bluff as Barrancas de San Mateo, "Bluffs of San Mateo" (?) or "Hills of San Mateo" (?) clearly showing a number of hills atop the bluff extending westward to the marsh near today's Shipbuilder's Creek (cf. map dated 1809 and titled Boca y Barra Del Rio San Juan. Cartographer: T. Gonzalez, Bureau of Hydrology, Madrid, Spain, available on the internet)
Note: Barranca or Barrancas has several meanings in Spanish, it describes a land form, as (1) a bluff, (2) an escarpment, (3) a precipice, (4) a steep bank, (5) a ravine, (6) a steep wall of rock (cf. the online Merriam Webster Dictionary and other online Spanish Dictionaries). Fort San Carlos de Barrancas at Pensacola, Florida built in the 1700s, is translated as "Fort Charles of the Bluffs." Thus, it is possible that Barrancas de San Mateo could also be translated as "Bluffs of San Mateo," (rather than "Hill of San Mateo") alluding to today's St. Johns Bluff Promontory, in which case, the rectangular building at this site on the 1809 map might be Fort San Mateo of the Bluffs, it is positioned atop the bluffs, I note two peaks, 80 ft. and 90 ft. side-by-side, are these behind the plural term barrancas? On its east face St. Johns Bluff Promontory is very steep. A black and white aerial photo from 1952 on the internet at Florida Memories shows a very steep earthen incline facing today's Buck Island which is east of the bluff. Le Challeux mentions sliding down this steep incline at the brow of a mountain which could be the east face of the bluff at either the 90 ft. elevation south of the Ribault Monument or the 80 ft. bluff east of the Monument?
Lowery (emphasis mine in italics):
"Rojomonte, in his deposition (Noticias de la Poblacion, etc., p. 3), says of the situation of Fort Caroline: "Puede estar de la boca del dicho Rio dos leguas y sobre una barranca alta sobre un braco del dicho Rio a la banda del Sudueste." (p. 405. "Appendix G, Fort Caroline." Woodbury Lowery. The Spanish Settlements within the present limits of the United States, Florida, 1562-1574. G. P. Putnam's Sons. New York and London. The Knickerbocker Press. 1905. Available on the internet under Google Free Books Search)
Rojomonte deposed before a Spanish authority on 28 Jan. 1565 that Fort Caroline and the May River are at 31 degrees:
"Questioned as to when they had arrived in Florida...he said that they had departed France two months ago, had arrived at the coast of Florida without touching any other land, and had entered a stream which they call the River of May which is, according to what they say, at 31 degrees latitude, and that they jumped on land there and built a fort of earth and faggots...in it they had put seven pieces of artillery and the ammunition and provisions...with roughly 200 men." (p. 95. Charles E. Bennet. Laudonniere and Fort Caroline, History and Documents. 2001)
Laudonniere states Fort Caroline is 2 leagues (roughly 5 miles) from the mouth of the May River in describing the return of French mutineers in a ship they stole from him to attack Spanish ships and settlements:
"The brigatine, oppressed with famine, came to anchor at the mouth of the river May...Now they were not more than two leagues distance from the mouth of the river, where they cast anchor, to the fortress." (p. 522. "The voyage of Rene Laudonniere to Florida." Barnard Shipp. The History of Hernando Desoto and Florida, or Record of the Events of Fifty-six Years from 1512 to 1568. Philadelphia. Robert M. Lindsay. 1881)
The 1791 map's scale is titled in Spanish as Escala de una Milla, meaning "Scale of one Mile," I have set my calipers on this scale and applied them to this map. The distance from the mouth of the Rio de San Juan to St. Johns Bluff is 5 miles, the equivalent of 2 leagues, as mentioned by three eyewitnesses: Laudoniere, Rojomonte, and Hawkins. This 1791 map scale confirms for me that Fort Caroline is west of St. Johns Bluff an east of Shipyard Creek.
Menendez understands that by sailing upstream on the San Mateo (May River) he can reach the bay of Juan Ponce, which lies on the southwest coast of Florida. The St. Johns does turn south, but not to Juan Ponce Bay, rather it is to lakes in the midst of Florida, but the Spanish had not explored this river yet to realize they were in error. This statement by Menendez, implying that the Bay of Juan Ponce can be reached by the May River, or San Mateo, as he called it, clearly identifies the St. Johns River as being the May River as none of Georgia's rivers flow south toward the lower peninsula of Florida's west coast.
"...your majesty can send a hundred mariners and their equipment and let them bring everything necessary to found a town in the Bay of Juan Ponce, as this river is part of San Mateo, which we captured from the enemy." (p. 138. Charles E. Bennett. Laudonniere and Fort Caroline, History and Documents. University of Alabama Press. Tuscaloosa and London. 2001. Reprint of 1964, University of Florida Press)
Two errors in Menendez's below account: (1) the St. Johns does not flow into Juan Ponce Bay, (2) the river flows north then east, not southeast, New Spain is today's Mexico:
"The River San Mateo, running by the fort we captured, goes seventy leagues inland and turns to the southeast emptying into the bay of Juan Ponce, and from there to New Spain..." Pedro Menendez de Aviles [15 Oct. 1565, St. Augustine] (p. 136., Charles E. Bennet. Laudonniere and Fort Caroline, History and Documents)
Four French ships sink in the harbor at the mouth of the May river due to a storm, while two escape into the open sea to ride out the storm:
"And the said French ships returned to the said harbor of the said fort, where an extremely violent storm blew up. Seeing this, and that the said storm was becoming more violent, the said Captain Jehan Ribault disembarked, accompanied by a number of his men, and went to the fort in boats. They having arrived there about midnight, the storm increased in violence so much that the hawsers of the ships at anchor broke. Four of these broached to and were lost and all the men were drowned, except three seamen and one cabin boy...The two other ships...seeing how violent the storm was, cleared harbor and put to sea and the storm lasted two days and two nights." (pp.100-101. Charles E. Bennet. Laudonniere and Fort Caroline, History and Documents)
The French sink three of their own ships at the mouth of the May River after the fall of Fort Caroline to prevent their falling into the hands of the Spanish:
"I have already mentioned that, as Ribaud found that there was not water enough at the mouth of the river to admit his four largest vessels, he sent in his three smaller ones...his son Jacques de Ribaud being in command of the biggest of the three. He had taken his vessel up to the fort and lay there at anchor while the Spanish were perpetuating their butchery...Jacques got his ship to the mouth of the river where he found the other two smaller vessels nearly emptied of men, for the greater part of them had gone with Jean de Ribaud. Laudonniere therefore decided to fit out and man one of the two with armament and crews from both...he further observed that it would be well to sink our vessels left at the mouth of the river lest the Spanish should get possession of them...Laudonniere...sent his own ship-carpenter who scuttled and sunk the ships in question; namely, one which we had brought from France, one which we had bought of the English commander Hawkins, and one of the smallest of M. de Ribaud's fleet, this done, we set sail from Florida, ill manned and ill provisioned." (pp. 19-20. William Appleton, translator. Narrative of Le Moyne, An Artist who accompanied the French Expedition to Florida under Laudonniere, 1564. [translated from the Latin of De Bry]. Boston. James R. Osgood and Company. 1875)
The Spanish, after capturing Fort Caroline, turn its artillery on three French ships anchored in the river and near the fort and sink one of the vessels, the other two escape to the mouth of the river.
So, eight French vessels sit at the bottom of the St. Johns River, one near the Fort (today's St. Johns Bluff) the other seven at the mouth of the St. Johns River in the harbor.
Gissendaner (1996), after a review of earlier proposals for the location of Fort Caroline, proposed that Fort Caroline might lay in the vicinity of Spanish Point, south of St. Johns Bluff at his site IV-A:
"Site IV appears to be the only location in the general area of St. Johns Bluff that accounts for all the given information about the location of Fort Caroline. The problem is, there are two specific locations that could be the fort site. Which specific site (IV-A or IV-B on figures 11 and 12) is the better location?...Based on the above analysis, it is my conclusion that Fort Caroline was located at Site IV-A; in other words, on the north bank of Mount Pleasant Creek, on the high, flat plateau, on the west side of the hill, between the northwest fork of the creek and the round pond to the northwest, near the small stream that flows southeast into Mount Pleasant Creek. Therefore, this site would be the ideal location to start looking for archaeological evidence of Fort Caroline." (pp. 146-147. Paul H. Gissendaner. "Proposed Location of the 1565 French Huguenot Fort Le Caroline." The Florida Anthropologist. Vol. 49. No. 3. September 1996. pp. 131-148)
My objection to Spanish Point being the location for Fort Caroline is that a Frenchman told a Spaniard the fort was near the shore of a river, where it was narrow in breadth and artillery could reach the opposite shore of this river to prevent ships' passage past the fort. The north shore of the St. Johns River is too far away from Spanish Point for artillery to prevent a passage upstream past this location.
(Note: Gissendaner in October of 2012 informed me it is near the high ground about Mud Creek, which flowed into Pleasant Creek, that Fort Caroline should be sought)
Gissendaner noted that Davis had proposed Fort Caroline had been at the river's shoreline which had since eroded away. After having inspected this area Gissendaner rejected it. Why? He said the bluff rises almost vertically from the river, it was too steep for Spanish troops to descend and then attack the fort on the riverbank:
"Davis (1911:12) suggested that the site of Fort Caroline was located in an area that is now in the St. Johns River (Figure 1), and that the site has been eroded away over the years. Thus, the actual Fort Caroline site no longer exists. The main problem with this line of reasoning has to do with the topography of St. Johns Bluff. The top is 13 meters (70 feet) above mean high water and it drops off into the river in an almost vertical cliff. When the Spanish attacked and captured Fort Caroline at dawn on September 20, 1565, it was during a hurricane that had wiped out the French fleet off the coast of central Florida three days before. To any person who has tried to climb down this cliff it becomes clear that the Spanish would not have been able to do this in a hurricane, much less do it without alarming the French garrison. When all the evidence is considered, this site has very few of the qualifications needed to be considered a suitable fort location." (p. 143. Gissendaner. 1996)
Gissendaner's argument I believe, is important. He is right, the vertical rising edge of the bluff along the river's edge could not be navigated in a rainstorm, the 500 Spaniards would be falling down this steep river-face on their butts, in the mud, in trying to reach a fort on a shoreline or beach below the steep face. The problem? Davis (See p. 12 photo of St. Johns Bluff to Fulton and Menendez's position. T. Frederick Davis. History of Jacksonville, Florida and Vicinity, 1513-1924. Press of the Record. St. Augustine, Florida. 1925) locates the fort west of the steep cliff-face on the gentler slope. Sources state the fort was below a small hill that the Spanish ascended, from a marsh and near the river bank. For me, this marsh is today's Spanish Pond, shown on modern topographical maps and satellite photos as being a marsh. The "low hill" is, for me, the low hill-ridge extending westward from St. Johns Bluff's eastern promontory. The 1791 and 1856 maps show this area, the northside of the low hill-ridge, to be deforested and a plain upon which houses were erected (12 houses in 1791 and 6 houses in 1856). Fort Caroline is described in 1565 as having houses outside the fort's wall. No steep cliff-face exists opposite Spanish Pond, is the fort here or nearby?
Davis (1911) on Fort Caroline:
"All traces of old Fort Caroline have long since disappeared, but its location seems to certainly have been at St. Johns Bluff, on the south side of the river, a few miles below Jacksonville. Its location was described by Laudonniere and others of his time; and Buckingham Smith, who did a great deal toward clearing up the misty early history of the Spaniards in Florida, after a careful study of the original archives in Spain, came to the conclusion that the fort was at St. Johns Bluff. It was not on top of the bluff, but at its base, near the water's edge -a curious selection of a site for a fortification. In 1856 a handful of old Spanish coins cast prior to the year 1555, was found near the supposed site of Fort Caroline." (pp. 9-10. Davis. 1911)
Fairbanks (1868) mentioned some bronze Spanish coins dated to the reign of Johanna and Carlos I (Charles the Fifth of the Hapsburgs) of the 1550s were found at Mayport Mills, not at St. Johns Bluff. I wonder, if Davis is wrong here and is recalling the Mayport Mills coin find? It is Buckingham who suggested that Mayport Mills was the site of Fort Caroline:
"About the year 1856 a handful of small copper coins were accidentally found near the eastern margin of this marsh, in the rear of what is now known as Mayport Mill...They were distributed among several gentlemen in Florida, and Mr. Buckingham Smith, at that time and more recently made the history of the coins a subject of special inquiry in Spain:
"Madrid August 15, 1868, My Dear Sir: I brought with me from Florida, as I proposed, three copper coins of those found with others of the same sort many years ago on the St. Johns River near the old site of Fort Caroline, in what the French three centuries ago called the Vale of Laudonniere, that I might have them examined in Europe...they were struck for Dona Juana and Carlos I, Emperor Charles V, between the years 1516 and 1555...The IIII (on some 4) means four maravedises, the value of which varied: at present 25 of these would be the value of a real." (pp.35-36. George R. Fairbanks. The Spaniards in Florida, Comprising the notable settlement of the Huguenots in 1564 and the History and Antiquities of St. Augustine, founded A.D. 1565. Jacksonville, Florida. Colombus Drew. 1868) Click here to see similar coins. Being a coin collector myself since 1961 I noted that similar 4 Maravedises coins were excavated in St. Augustine (on display at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park where St. Augustine first existed) and in a shell-midden at Cape Canaveral.
James Craig Morris, a Park Ranger at the Fort Caroline Memorial near Jacksonville, has proposed that Fort Caroline is today buried under a modern housing tract or subdivision near Fulton Point (west of today's reduced scale model of the fort on Park land):
" Morris narrowed it down to a couple of subdivisions in the Fulton Point area west of the national park, Riverwoods and St. Johns Landing...Morris pulls his jeep to a stop, amid houses on Ravenel Place, just off Kingsley Manor Way. "Right here, Bingo. If there's anything left of the fort it'll be right here at this cul-de-sac." (Matt Soergel, "Fort Caroline: History buried in mystery, Will the exact location of the original settlement ever be unearthed?" The Florida Times Union, Jacksonville.com, on the internet. Article dated 24 August 2008)
The problem I have with Morris' 2008 proposal is that it is too far away from St. Johns Bluff Promontory where I have Laudonniere looking down from this height, to behold the spectacle of his men shouting and leaping up and down in joy, within the fort, at the news that French ships have been sighted from "the small hill" (the promontory's 80 ft. elevation near today's Ribault Monument). In other words from the promontory (today's Ribault's Pillar Monument) men cannot be seen or heard in a fort at Fulton Point. Another problem is that modern topographical maps reveal that the highest elevation near Fulton Point is 40 feet and St. Johns Bluff is 80 feet high, blocking the view of the river's mouth and ships' sails.
Laudonniere mentions that his sentinels from a small hill (knappe in the English translation of Hakylut) can see ships' sails at the bar, the shoals near the entrance to the May River. I have consulted a map titled Mayport, made in 1950, and published by the United States Geological Survey, scale 1:24,000 and note that the highest elevation on the St. Johns Bluff promontory is given as 80 feet. The area east of this point all the way to the Atlantic Ocean is no where higher than 20 feet (in only a few small areas), while most of the elevations are no more than 10 feet. So, it is quite likely that at 80 feet atop St. Johns Bluff Promontory one does have an unimpeded view of the Sea or Atlantic Ocean and the mouth of the St. Johns River as claimed by Laudonniere.
Dr. Robert Thunen of the University of North Florida has also sought the location of Fort Caroline using sophisticated ground penetrating radar devices within the boundaries of the Park without any success.
Soergel (2008) on Thunen:
"Robert "Buzz" Thunen, an archaeologist at the University of North Florida, is among many who have dug in vain for the ancient settlement. He's hoping to launch another search next summer, using land-penetrating radar that he thinks, might find the ghostly outline of the fort where a middle-class subdivision now stands...There's little chance though that the settlement was on the original 140 acres of the national park...Thunen's led extensive digs on that property in 2004 and found nothing at all to indicate that the French had lived and died there." (Matt Soergel, "Fort Caroline: History buried in mystery, Will the exact location of the original settlement ever be unearthed?" The Florida Times Union, Jacksonville.com, on the internet. Article dated 24 August 2008)
Today's St. Johns River is established as being the French May River and Spanish Rio de San Mateo based on eyewitness depositions and maps of the period and _not_ Georgia as championed by Richard Thornton in his articles on the internet. This is not to deny Thornton's assertion that some maps do show the May River and Fort Caroline to be in Georgia between 31 and 32 degrees north latitude. He is correct on that point. Thornton understands that because the St. Johns River is shallow, that deep-draft sea-going vessels such as Spanish Galleons, could not reach Fort Caroline at St. Johns Bluff. He argued that Georgia possessed rivers that could accomodate these vessels, ergo Fort Caroline must be there. The problem? French accounts state that the River of May was very shallow, deep-draft ships had to anchor outside the mouth of the river in "the Road," and only smaller vessels with shallow draft could navigate upstream to Fort Caroline. Provisions were accordingly unloaded beyond the Bar (Spanish Barra) at the Road (a Road is an unprotected anchorage near land) and transferred to small boats that brought them upriver to the fort. While Thronton correctly noted that the May River appears on some maps of the 1500s-1700s in Georgia, he failed to realize that some of these maps showed the San Mateo River as being in Florida and just north of St. Augustine. Some maps in the 1700s even give two names for the St. Johns River: Rio de San Mateo and Rio de San Juan, and Menendez renamed the River May in 1565 Rio de San Mateo. The 1809 map produced in Madrid, Spain shows Barrancas de San Mateo "Bluff of San Mateo" at the St. Johns Bluff Promontory revealing that the name lingered still at this location into the early 1800s under Spanish rule.
Thornton, based on his study of the maps, understood Fort Caroline was on the Altamaha River, near Darien, Georgia:
"All offical French maps from the 1580s through 1783 labeled the Altamaha River as being the May River or Secco or Setto River, names used for a period of time by the Spanish. Most of these maps also specifically locate Fort Caroline on the west side of the Altamaha River, slightly upstream from Darien, Georgia." (Richard Thornton. "The Non-search for Fort Caroline and a Great Lake." citing from his Sixteenth Century French Exploration of the Southeast, People of One Fire. Blairsville, Georgia. 2012) Fort Caroline is somewhere between St. Johns Bluff and Shipyard Creek. Its remains may lie hidden under modern private dwellings. Permissions will be needed from these home owners to explore their yards for the remains of the fort with ground penetrating radar devices. Such devices have been used on Park Lands without finding the fort by Dr. Robert Thunen, a trained archaeologist, of the University of North Florida (cf. Jeff Klinkenberg, "A 1564 Visitor to Florida leaves a Trail of Mystery." Tampa Bay Times. 07 Feb. 2010, on the internet). A part of the fort was accidently burned in 1565 by the Spanish, and in 1568 the French razed the fort. If they set it on fire, the charcoal remains should have withstood 450 years of decomposition whereas unburnt wood would have rotted away. Laudonniere also said he sent parties of his men out to collect clay from river banks to make into bricks or tiles so these should have survived decomposition as well. European pottery shards would survive decomposition too. There might even be a buried hoard of French and Spanish coins of the period 1564-1568.
The possibility exists that there may be three different Fort San Mateos, based on my study of maps showing fortifications in three different locations. (1) The 1565 French fort on the bank of the St. Johns River (2) the Spanish (?) 1791 fort atop the western hill-ridge, (3) an unlabeled rectangular building atop the Bluff on the1809 map which calls the area Barrancas de San Mateo, "Bluff of San Mateo."
McGrath understands that in 1567 Fort San Mateo (French Fort Caroline) was set on fire, if he is correct then the charcoal remains of the burnt timbers should have survived 450 years of decomposition:
"In the summer of 1567, Dominique de Gourgues...led a reprisal expedition...With the aid of Indians who were hostile to Spanish rule, de Gourgue's force of more than two hundred men destroyed three Spanish forts on Florida's east coast, including San Mateo. The last was burned to the ground..." (p. 163. John T. McGrath. The French in Early Florida, In the Eye of the Hurricane. University Press of Florida. Gainesville. 2000)
Lawson's translation (1992) of Rene de Laudonniere's account suggests that some houses erected at Fort Caroline were, in part, constructed of brick and mortar, made from riverbank clay, brought in _daily_ by small boats from a site a league and a half from the fort. Thus some of Fort Caroline's buildings might today (2013) still exist, as baked brick wouldn't rot away over a period of 450 years. The below mutiny is dated 13 November 1564:
"They decided that when they went on my orders to the village of Sarravahi, about a league and a half from our fort and on an arm of the river (where, according to my custom, I send them every day to get clay to make bricks and mortar for our houses)..." (p. 79. Sarah Lawson. A Foothold in Florida. East Grinstead, West Sussex, England. Antique Atlas Publications.1992)
As many as 8 French ships in 1565 appear to have been sunk in the St. Johns River, one near the fort opposite St. Johns Bluff, and 7 near the mouth of the river.
We may today (2013) possess the sophisticated technology to locate all of the above, the forts and the ships.
Ground penetrating satellites may be able to identify the remains of possibly as many as 5 Forts (note: The bluff was fortified by the Confederate Army in the Civil War of 1861-65 and the Spanish American War of 1898, so perhaps we are looking at 5 forts' remains?).
Side Scan Sonar may be able to identify the remains of the 8 French ships in the St. Johns River if the dredgers haven't destroyed them.
Degree Readings for Fort Caroline (Fort San Mateo) and vicinity according to witnesses in 1565:
One degree equals 60 minutes, half a degree is 30 minutes, a quarter of a degree is 15 minutes:
(1) John Hawkins' 30 and a half equals 30 degrees 30 minutes North Latitude ("...where the Frenchmen abode..." Fort Caroline?). Today's Fort Caroline Museum and Reception Center, 12713 Fort Caroline Road, Florida 32225 is 30 degrees and 22 minutes North Latitude, but the St. Johns River and its bank lies in 30 degrees 23 minutes North Latitude and the Fort was near the south bank.
(2) Pedro Menendez de Aviles' 30 and a quarter equals 30 degrees 15 minutes North Latitude (Fort San Mateo/Fort Caroline).
(3) Stefano de Rojomonte's 31 degrees.
Hawkins' 30 degrees 30 minutes puts Fort Caroline on a parallel with Nassau Sound near Georgia. (see Map 41. Florida Atlas & Gazetteer. Delorme Publishers. Freeport, Maine. 1997)
De Aviles' 30 degrees 15 minutes locates the Fort on a parallel with Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
(see Map 58. Delorme.1997)
Rojomonte's 31 degrees has the Fort on a parallel with St. Andrews Sound south of Brunswick, Georgia. (see Plate 104, "USA Southeast." The Times Atlas of the World. Random House. New York City. 1999)
In this research for locating Fort Caroline I often wondered "why" scholars didn't use the degree statements of Hawkins, de Aviles, and Rojomonte? Now I know "why," their readings were inaccurate by modern standards and too vague to be of any real use in exactly pinpointing Fort Caroline.