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1562 stone monument, claiming South Carolina and Georgia for France, found in shipwreck off Cape Canaveral

1562 stone monument, claiming South Carolina and Georgia for France, found in shipwreck off Cape Canaveral

In 1562, King Charles IX of France ordered Captain Jean Ribault to sail to the southeastern coast of North America to determine locations for establishing French colonies.   In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazzano had explored and mapped that region  . . . claiming it for France.  Spain had explored the Florida peninsula, but did not establish a doomed colony farther north at the mouth of the Altamaha River in Georgia until 1526.   The French king also ordered Ribault to carry with him three stone monuments, engraved with the king’s coat of arms, to plant in conspicuous locations on the coast, which would formalize France’s land claims to what is now South Carolina and Georgia. 

The government of France always claimed and labeled this region,  Florida Française, until losing the French & Indian War with Great Britain. The southern boundary of Florida Française,  was always the St. Marys River . . . which is now the boundary between Florida and Georgia.

One monument was erected at the mouth of the May River, while another was erected across the western river channel from Parris Island, SC.  The memoirs of Captain René de Laundonnière, commander of Fort Caroline (1564-1565) do not mention placement of a third monument, but this may have occurred.   According to eyewitness accounts, the Spanish removed the stone monuments when they destroyed Charlesfort and Fort Caroline.  These monuments were assumed to be long lost, perhaps broken up by the Spaniards and tossed into the Atlantic.

Global Marine Enterprises, Inc. of Tampa, FL has announced the discovery of a wrecked 16th century ship off the coast of Cape Canaveral, which appears to contain one of those stone monuments.  The shipwreck also contains at least three bronze cannon, one of which has the fleur-de-lis symbol of France cast on to it.  To read the most recent article on this discovery, go to CAPE CANAVERAL SHIPWRECK.

Featured Image: This is an engraving by Teodor de Bry, based on a water color by Jacques Le Moyne, who was a colonist at Fort Caroline. It portrays Sati-uriwa (Colonists-King) of the Sati-le People, showing René de Laundonnière the stone monument erected by Jean Ribault at the mouth of the May River.  The Sati-le were a Georgia tribe and spoke a Panoan language that can be easily translated by a Shipibo dictionary from Peru.  No Florida tribes spoke this language, but it was common in Georgia from the Middle Woodland Period onward. 

Florida academicians, in keeping up a long tradition in the Southeast, did not bother to translate the Native American words recorded by René de Laundonnière.  They call this tribe the name of its king . . . not knowing the meaning of his name.  Yet they are puzzled by the fact that the Spanish never mention the Sati People after St. Augustine was moved from its original location.  

You are about to find out why. It is going to blow your mind.  Is there nothing sacred these days in our history books? 


The spring after Fort Caroline was massacred, Spanish Royal Geographer, Geronimo Chaves, drew a map showing Fort Carolina to be on the south bank of the mouth of the Altamaha River. All Spanish, French, English, Dutch and German maps during the Colonial Period showed Fort Caroline to be at this location in Georgia.

The spring after Fort Caroline was massacred, Spanish Royal Geographer, Geronimo Chaves, drew a map showing Fort Caroline (by then Fort San Mateo) to be on the south bank of the mouth of the Altamaha River. All Spanish, French, English, Dutch and German maps during the Colonial Period showed Fort Caroline to be at this location in Georgia. All French, English and Dutch maps label the Altamaha as the May River until 1722.  The Spanish always called it the Rio Secco.  As can be seen from this map, the first location of St. Augustine was also in Georgia on St. Andrews Sound, about 25 miles north of Capo dela Cruz, which the French called Cape François, and which today is known as the northern end of Amelia Island, FL.


The 1718 map of North America by John Senex also shows Fort Caroline's ruins to be on the

The 1718 map of North America by John Senex also shows Fort Caroline’s ruins to be on the south side of the mouth of the Altamaha River. The famous botanist and explorer, John Bartram, visited the ruins of a fort at this location in 1776. What he described in his book matches the design of Fort San Mateo, which was built near the ruins of a much larger Fort Caroline.


What the Florida newspapers and TV stations won’t tell you

I first became intrigued with the Fort Caroline story in 2007 while preparing architectural drawings of Mission Santa Catalina de Guale (St. Catherines Island, GA) for the American Museum of Natural History.  The archaeologists there gave me a box full of Spanish Colonial archives to digest before drawing any lines.  

Two friars at the Sta. Catalina mission and a future Franciscan monk, who was shipwrecked at the mouth of the Altamaha River, described the ruins of Fort Caroline being a modest canoe ride southwest of their mission.  That could not possibly be a location on the St. Johns River about 50 miles to the south. When the first attempt to place a mission on St. Catherines Island was made around 1570, the same Native American tribes that were living around Fort Caroline lived on the mainland, west of St. Catherines Island.  However, they were driven off in wars with the Spanish and either moved to the Chattahoochee River near Eufaula, AL or northeast Georgia in Jackson County.  In 1600, the Spanish moved Indians from near Ossabaw Island (south of Savannah) to populate the island.

Further sleuthing revealed that the Fort Caroline you see in Jacksonville is a 1/12th scale model of the real fort.  Whoever designed this scale model botched it and put the entrance on the wrong side.   It was built in the early 1960s after the federal government had spent a large room full of your tax money in search of Fort Caroline near Jacksonvile and hadn’t even found a Spanish or French artifact from that period.  In fact, both the myth about St. Augustine’s Fountain of Youth and Jacksonville’s Fort Caroline were created by the same man in the 1840s, George R. Fairbanks, when he wrote the first history of Florida.  He was a real estate speculator from New York, who had bought large tracts of land near St. Augustine and Jacksonville.

The only currently published English language book that present’s Captain René de Laundonnière’s memoirs was written by Representative Charles Bennett,  who also wrote the bill in Congress that created Fort Caroline National Monument in 1950.  Bennett’s introduction claims that is book is a translation of the original French.  It is not!   I found that he had actually started with an inaccurate translation by English scholar, Richard Hakluyt, in 1578.  He merely modernized the English, but also has the same translation errors, verbatim.  Bennett, however, removed any words or phrases that might negate a Florida location for Fort Caroline. 

For example, the original French text translates,  “One must paddle up the May River from Fort Caroline in a northwestward direction to reach the Apalache Mountains.”   The Bennett translation reads, “One must paddle up the May River from Fort Caroline to reach the Utina capital.

There were three final nails in the coffin of the Fort Caroline myth.   First, the St. Johns River was impassible to sea-going ships until the 1850s, when the US Army Corps of Engineers dredged a channel.  James Adair wrote in 1776, that even a Creek dugout canoe could not pass through the river’s entrance a low tide.  They Spanish did not even know that the St. Johns entered the ocean there until a couple of decades after they destroyed Fort Caroline and then built a smaller fort beside it.  How could they have attacked Fort Caroline, if they didn’t even know where the “May River’s” mouth was? 

Secondly,  I found depositions written by survivors of Jean Ribault’s fleet that wrecked off the South Atlantic Coast, just as Fort Caroline was being massacred.   They were French Roman Catholics, who lives had been spared because they were not “heretic pirates.”   They said that many of the Ribault’s ships wrecked off what we now call Cumberland and Amelia Islands.   Some ships sailed much farther south and were grounded below St. Augustine, FL.   Not knowing that Fort Caroline had been massacred, Ribault’s party walked back to Fort Caroline!  You are not told this in official National Park Service and Florida histories.  Although the Frenchmen greatly outnumbered a Spanish patrol outside of Fort Caroline’s smouldering ruins, they dropped their weapons and surrendered, since they were starving.  They expected to be fed and treated at least as prisoners of war, since France and Spain were officially at peace.  Instead, the Protestants and Jews were tied together then their throats were slit.  

THEN . . . I remembered that as a Georgia Tech student I had worked on the survey of Cumberland Island in preparation for it becoming a national park.   On the south end of the island was a graveyard.  A sign said that these were the graves of drowned French Protestant sailors from Fort Caroline, who ship had grounded.  Of course, the National Park Service quickly removed the sign and the graves.  The location is now the South Beach campground.

Finally, I found the original Spanish language copies of reports that Spanish commander Pedro Menendez had made to the King of Spain during that era.  The original site of St. Augustine was a hundred miles north of its current location.  Menendez gave the latitude, longitude and physical description of St. Andrews Bay as where the first St. Augustine was built.  That location is a few miles south of Brunswick, GA!

The Satile Indians liked the French, but hated the Spanish.  They made life living hell for the colonists at the original St. Augustine.  It was so bad that the Spanish soldiers, who hadn’t been killed by the Satile living in the nearby towns of Seloy and Satipo, mutinied.   Menendez realized that a Spanish colony would not survive in a location where they were greatly outnumbered by culturally advanced Natives.  Therefore, in March of 1566, he relocated the entire colony to St. Augustine Bay, where there were just a few hunter-gatherers. 

The English translations of these letters by Menendez that you read in Florida history books and Wikipedia have been altered to give the latitude of modern day St. Augustine, rather than St. Andrews Bay.  However, look hard enough on the internet and you will find the original, accurate Spanish versions.

That’s right.  St. Augustine was originally built on a peninsula between the Satilla and Little Satilla Rivers overlooking St. Andrews Bay, Georgia.  Then it becomes obvious . . . the Satilla River is named after the Sati-le Indians, who originated in Satipo Province, Peru.  That is why they named their capital, Satipo. Indeed . . . life IS a box of chocolates.   

And now you know!


PS:  I have written a heavily illustrated book about my search for Fort Caroline.  It is entitled, Fort Caroline, the Search for America’s Lost Heritage, and published by Lulu Publishing Co.  (

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

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