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Fort Caroline—Don't Get Too Excited

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This year we have the commemoration of the establishment of the French colony of Fort Caroline, 450 years ago. It did not last long. After the French wore out their welcome with the local natives, the Spanish got word of the colony, and Pedro Menéndez de Avilés came and wiped them out, while establishing the town of St. Augustine.

Below: Image from the Florida Archives from the LeMoyne/DeBry engravings, of the Spanish destroying Fort Caroline. (And much more dramatic than what actually happened--there was no battle and siege.)

rc07314

Fort Caroline is a national park that you can visit today in Jacksonville. We do not know where the actual site was, but it was believed that the reconstructed fort is not far from it.

Last December, there was an interesting article in the Florida Anthropologist journal that I mentioned. Here is my earlier blog: http://seminolewar.livejournal.com/195993.html

It gives compelling evidence that the actual site was wiped out by the Army Corp of Engineers dredging the St. Johns River channel. Examining one of the spill piles from the dredging, they found a single piece of ceramic that is the type the French would have had. It is not much, but the article gives a compelling argument.

Unfortunately the news ignores this, while jumping on the less plausible theory.

Recently at a symposium about the French in Florida, for the 450th anniversary of Ft. Caroline, a paper was submitted giving an alternate theory that Fort Caroline was actually in Georgia.

This is an interesting theory, but no one is holding their breath over this. No artifacts have been found, and the person proposing this theory based conclusions on interpretation of “hidden evidence” from studying the French maps of Fort Caroline. So far, this is just speculation.

Now Menendez marched his men 40 miles in just a couple days during a hurricane to kill the French in Fort Caroline. So with the new theory that it was in Georgia, the Spanish would have to go twice that distance in the same time and ford a couple rivers that would be impossible to do without ships, and in driving rain that was remnants of a hurricane. This seems a lot less possible, unless you also believe the unsubstantiated claim that St. Augustine was also further north. With recent excavations at the Fountain of Youth that show the earliest settlement of St. Augustine was there, this new theory of early St. Augustine being in Georgia does not seem as likely.

Architect Richard Thornton has been promoting this idea of Fort Caroline in Georgia; as well as St. Augustine. Maybe I just need to buy his over-priced book for $80 from his self-publishing website to see the evidence that no one else seems to have.

Thornton was quoted as saying in the Athen Banner-Herald newspaper that, “All evidence points to the French fort being in southeast Georgia, not Jacksonville.” Then the article says that, “Thornton said that he cannot say with absolute certainty that he knows the location of Fort Caroline.” Which one is it? First it says that all the evidence points to there, but then he says he cannot say with absolute certainly. Maybe because the only evidence that has been presented is not evidence at all, but total speculation.

The Guale and Timuquan Indians of the coast were wiped out within 50 years of the French Fort. Not just from disease and slave trade, but a total demographic collapse that destroyed a culture and society. And Thornton indicates he has oral history from people that Fort Caroline was in Georgia? If such stories exists, how reliable can they be from people who suffered demographic collapse and no longer actively kept Guale and Timuquan cultural practices? Unless there is a group claiming they are descendants of Guale and Timuquan tribes who are trying to obtain federal recognition. (Which would not surprise me--while they are selling dream catchers and dressed in odd looking generic Indian outfits.)

Not only is proof needed that the French dropped artifacts in the ground for us to find centuries later, but that they also had a permanent settlement there. Saying there is proof of Spanish settlement is not exactly proof of the French Fort Caroline; either. Remember that the Spanish mission chain extended all the way up to the Carolinas.

Then Thornton goes even further, and makes an absurd claim of iron age bronze artifacts found all over the place, so this is obvious proof that the Spanish were here in the 16th century. Really? So alleged bronze points prove that the Spanish were there 2,000 years later, so therefore Fort Caroline was there. I have yet to see this written up in any archaeology journal. Maybe even a bibliography of sources?

I will certainly entertain a hypothesis that Fort Caroline may be in Georgia. But right now, we have no evidence other than some claims. As yet, there is nothing to indicate the fort was anywhere other than somewhere on the St. Johns in Jacksonville. So why are these fringe theories with no evidence even entertained in the press?

Thornton has made claims that the Mayans built the Ocmulgee Mounds and were the original mound builders. (Even though we have mounds that are a few thousand years earlier than the Mayans.) Now he says alleged bronze artifacts (that nobody else has seen) prove Spanish were there 2,000 years later, which means French Fort Caroline was also there. I am looking forward to see his claims of the lost continent of Atlantis mixed up in all of this as well.
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