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Facts left out of the PBS special on Florida and Georgia history

Facts left out of the PBS special on Florida and Georgia history


For those of you, who have watched the PBS Special on the “Secret History of Florida,”  you probably figured out that any discussions in the film concerning the history of Georgia, South Carolina and their indigenous peoples was from the selective perspective of Florida academicians. We saw an effort by the professors to present the Spanish as always being victims of brutal French and English invaders.   The program’s portrayal of Spanish-English-French relations and of Spanish-Indigenous American relations were so one sided as to only be considered propaganda. Throughout the latter half of the 16th century, Spain constantly sought to crush England by multiple assassination attempts of Queen Elizabeth and through direct invasion. Spain was directly responsible for the killing of many, many thousands of Protestant and Jewish men, women and children in Spain, Portugal, France, Switzerland, Ireland, Italy and the Low Countries. Many were burned at the stake.  Numerous Native Americans in Florida and Georgia were also murdered or even burned at the stake by the Spanish. The film producers should have interviewed some Sephardic Jewish scholars! LOL  The Spanish army and navy brutally crushed any Native American tribe in Florida and southern Georgia, which refused to accept missionaries or to become serfs.   Both South Carolina James Moore’s invasion of Florida in 1703 and Supervisor James Oglethorpe’s invasion of Florida in 1742 (not 1738 as stated in the documentary) were responses to initial Spanish aggression and part of wars between Spain and England in Europe.  The history of St. Augustine after 1668, becomes increasingly accurate in the documentary.  However, here is some other critical information left out of the program.


This is a precise architectural rendering of Fort Caroline, based on its detailed description by Captain Rene de Laudonniere. The real fort was designed to hold 1000 people and was twelve times larger than its facsimile in Jacksonville, FL.  The facsimile in Jacksonville is not accurate and is oriented in the wrong direction.

In 1566 Captain Juan Pardo supervised the construction of Fort San Mateo near the much larger ruins of Fort Caroline, plus an identical fort at Santa Elena, SC.


The ruins of Fort San Mateo (1565-1567) are still visible on the banks of the South Channel of the Altamaha River in Glynn County, GA. In 1776, William Bartram stayed on a plantation at nearby Broughton Island. His hosts took him to the nearby ruins of “a 16th century French or Spanish fort.” I followed the specific directions to those ruins in 2012 that are IN HIS BOOK, BARTRAM’S TRAVELS. They still exist. In 1934, a very  young Smithsonian Institute archaeologist, James Ford, found numerous 16th century Spanish and French artifacts near these ruins – even French china – but assumed that the earthworks were constructed by Native Americans.  What a tragic misjudgment.  Georgia had nominated a large tract of land it owned, which contained a cluster of Indian village sites, plus 16th, 18th and 19th century ruins as a National Park!

(1)  Maps –  All Spanish, French, English and Dutch maps until 1721 located Fort Caroline on the south side of the Altamaha River in Georgia.  All of these same maps, except those from Spain, labeled the Altamaha River, the May River.  The Spanish re-named the May River, the Rio Secco, to make clear that it was their territory.  In 1722, Colonel John Barnwell prepared a map of the Southeast, while he was commander of Fort King George in present day Darien, GA  . . . at the mouth of the Altamaha.  It was he who first changed the name of the river from “May River” to “King George, Altamaha or Coweta River.”

France NEVER claimed any land south of the current Georgia-Florida Line, but consistently claimed the Coastal Plain of Georgia and South Carolina until 1763.  This is very powerful evidence that everybody concerned knew that Fort Caroline was not in what is now the present State of Florida.

(2) The St. Johns River was impassible – No sea-going vessels could even enter the mouth of the St. Johns River until 1858, when the US Army Corps of Engineers finished dredging a channel.  The Spanish had been living in St. Augustine for several decades before they realized that the mouth of the St. Johns River was actually the mouth of a river.  Until then Spanish maps showed the St. Johns River flowing into the Okefenokee Swamp.

(3) Artifacts and ruins – Since 1930, the City of Jacksonville, FL, the State of Florida and the federal government have spent well over a million dollars trying to find any evidence of Fort Caroline and Fort San Mateo being on the St. Johns River. The have found NO 16th century artifacts in or near the fort and only two potsherds, which might be part of a 16th century jar in the entire Jacksonville Area.   Meanwhile 16th and 17th century artifacts are endemic at the mouth of the Altamaha River, both on the surface and under the ground.  I have seen some on the surface, but it is against the law to disturb them.  As seen above, the ruins of Fort San Mateo are still visible, both at ground level and in satellite imagery.

(4) Corn – The mouths of the Savannah, Ogeechee and Altamaha Rivers are the only locations along the South Atlantic Coast at which Indian corn (maize) will thrive. These rivers have sources in the Appalachians or Piedmont soils, which contain minerals vital for the corn plants.  In his memoir, Captain René de Laudonnière stated that in 1562 the first French colonization fleet sailed northward along the coast of La Florida, looking for locations where there were dense Native populations and extensive agriculture.  The first location where they observed corn growing in abundance was at the mouth of a river, which they called the May, but in fact, was the Altamaha.  He said that the mouth of the May River was slightly north of 31 degrees Latitude . . . that’s the Altamaha.  The French planted a marble column at the mouth of the May so that the second colonizing fleet could find it again.   A small French fort was constructed on Parris Island, SC, but De Laudonnière decided to build Fort Caroline at the mouth of the May River, since the 28 man garrison at Parris Island almost starved to death, because of the scarcity of agricultural products in that region.

Florida Congressman Charles Bennett’s book on Fort Caroline left out this key information. In fact, his “exact translation from the original French” left out anything that would call to question a Florida location for Fort Caroline.  Bennett lied about translating from the original French text.   I found proof that he merely modernized the Elizabethan English of a translation by Richard Hakluyt in 1588.  Both books have the same translation errors and the same sentences.  We ran this discovery by an Ivy League professor, who is a recognized expert on Renaissance French.  He agreed.   In 1951, Bennett submitted the bill before Congress to place the Fort Caroline Memorial in Jacksonville.

However, the Spanish also knew that the Atlantic Coast of present day Florida was not a good location for food production.  Their first missions were NOT in present day Florida, but near the mouth of the Altamaha River in Georgia, because both St. Augustine and Santa Elena were dependent on food from the Altamaha to Savannah River corridor for their survival.   The Natives at the mouth of the Altamaha traded vast quantities of corn, pumpkins and squash for religious trinkets. Beans would not grow on the coast.  The Natives on the Georgia coast were required to transport their free food to St. Augustine in their own canoes then work for several months without pay on public works projects.  Many Georgia Native American serfs died of European diseases there before returning home.

(5) Santa Elena, San Mateo and San Augustine – Late 16th century Spanish maps show these three towns, with Santa Elena being the largest town and St. Augustine the smallest.  The program didn’t even mention San Mateo.  The first Fort San Mateo was on the Altamaha River, but after it was massacred by the French, a new San Mateo was founded on the St. Marys River, which is now the boundary between Georgia and Florida.  Santa Elena was the capital of La Florida. San Mateo was planned as an agricultural market, while St. Augustine was to be nothing more than a “coast guard station.”   St. Augustine only had about 100 residents until 1587, when the population of Santa Elena was moved there.  Notice that the commentator of the documentary called St. Augustine a “town” immediately and within a decade, a “city.”

(6) Spanish treatment of Native Americans – The PBS program failed to mention that throughout Spain’s presence in Florida the Native peoples repeatedly rebelled against Spanish tyranny.  The Florida academicians obviously assume that Spain had an innate right to seize the territories of Native peoples and make them emasculated serfs.  The French and English usually paid for Native lands.  The Spanish did not.  During the century that Spain controlled the Georgia Coast, its Native population dropped from over 100,000 to 52!  This holocaust was managed by a relatively small number of friars and Spanish soldiers.  Spain never founded a town there.  That fact says it all.

Few Spanish women were willing to come to St. Augustine, although some did settle in the milder climate of Santa Elena.  A horrific percentage of Spanish women, who did migrate to St. Augustine died young.  Most of the survivors were mestizos.  The preponderance of marriages between Spanish soldiers and Native or free Black women had nothing to do with enlightenment.  They were the only females around.

French Huguenots and French Roman Catholic missionaries treated the Native Peoples of Southeast very differently than did the Spanish Roman Catholic missionaries. The five friars, who were murdered, had banned the playing of stickball,  the movement of villages away from the coast during cholera-hurricane season,hunting trips to the interior during the winter to get venison and the growing of crops, which the Spanish didn’t like to eat.  The Guale were dying like flies from lack of protein and a balanced diet.  Many Southeastern tribes had a tradition, straight out of the Old Testament, that a man was required to marry his wife’s widowed sister within one year, if she could not find another husband to help feed her family. This is why the Guale chief married his wife’s sister.

When several of the academicians interviewed in the TV program began pressuring for the “Five Georgia Martyrs” to be made saints,   astounding bits of artistic propaganda were produced by Florida artists, who knew nothing about Georgia’s indigenous peoples.  They showed Georgia Natives as being short, naked and culturally, barely beyond the level of Neanderthals.  Their communities were portrayed as being like small hovels in the Amazon Jungle.  In fact, as the French Huguenots at Fort Caroline pointed out, the Natives averaged about a foot taller than the French . . . even taller than the Spanish.  They were sophisticated town dwellers and mound builders.  In addition, Georgia Natives were always portrayed by the church artists as bowing in supplication to their Spanish masters!

(7) Yamasees in Florida – Maps of Georgia until the 1750s show that most of the Yamasees still lived in the region south of the Ogeechee River.  A few did settle near St. Augustine, Florida in 1717, but to show Yamasee villages scattered all over the Florida Peninsula as this program did, is delusional.  The Yamasees were the descendants of the Yamakora (Yamacraw).  I suspect that Yamacora was an alternative name for the Apalachicora and that most surviving Yamasee ended up in Alabama.

(8) Spanish Florida never achieved self-sufficiency – St. Augustine only existed because of large subsidies from the Spanish Crown, plus the serfdom of any Native Americans brought into the mission system.  Spain did very little to economically develop Florida, except in the vicinity of St. Augustine.  Spaniards very seldom ventured into interior of central and southern Florida.   The Spanish kept St. Augustine alive for 200 years merely to prevent England or France from using Florida as a base to raid treasure fleets from Mexico.  

You can see why the People of One Fire must shift to a multi-media website and the production of educational films.  The printed word no longer has much impact on the public mindset.  Otherwise, myths will continue in perpetuity.

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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.



    While viewing the PBS program on Spanish Florida I spent a lot of time yelling at the TV about major & sometimes minor inaccuracies such as the ones you mentioned in your article. Right off the bat they started with ignoring De Luna’s Colony of 1559 in Pensacola. Not a mention of it. Because of a hurricane a month after it was founded it only lasted two years until rescue party arrived from Mexico. The site of original colony was located a year ago no where near to where everyone has been looking for it all these years. It is under a residential area & was found by accident. If not for a storm we would have had the first permanent colony here not in St. Augustine. The business of St, Augustine having first thanksgiving is also questionable as some believe that De Soto’s expedition held a mass of thanksgiving while camped in the area that is now in Tallahassee, FL. Of course PBS & Florida academics tried desparately to locate Ft, Caroline in FL closer to where Jacksonville is today. It just went on & on, so just because its on PBS don’t accept it as gospel truth.

    • Marcie, I was wondering about that. Why didn’t they mention Pensacola? There were Spanish towns at Pensacola and San Marco in the Florida Panhandle. They were never specifically mentioned. By the way, I am convinced that there is a Chontal Maya port town under the water near Pensacola. There are also several mounds, which have been covered by rising waters of the Gulf. Thank you for commenting.


    Richard, You are Right!!!…this map has the true location of Fort Carolina and seems to inform us as who was living by the Flint river in 1721…the “Tokah” people of the “Toa/ Toalli” town mentioned by De Soto’s men in 1540. Albany, GA appears to be the area that De Soto’s army turned and traveled North East….to a river that flowed toward the East (Ocmulgee). Desoto with 40 Calvary men leave the army behind and attacked the island city called “Chisi”, perhaps a colony of the Chiska people or Yuchi people. What was left of the Itza people seem to be living by the “Vasiza” river, in and around, the swamps of Thomas County, Ga. in the 17th century. The Apalacha Kingdom of 16th century (Apalache, Tokah / Yuchi, Chisca, Itza/ Issa peoples), it would seem, extended into South West Georgia at one time. The original dynasty of Palenque (Lakamha nobles) were from a city called “Toktan” and “Hi-tan-achi” was the name used by the Apalacha Nobles for a river… a Apalache /Tokah / Yuchi connection with that Itza /Maya city. Perhaps later on “Toktan” city was called Kolomoki (1000 BC-750 AD) the largest city North of Mexico for hundreds of years. Thanks for the articles.

    “On the sixteenth of March they left from Capachequi and spent the night at White Spring. This is a very beautiful spring, with a great abundance of good water, and it has fish. And the following day they spent the night at the river of Toa, where they made two bridges, and the horse of Lorenzo Suarez, son of Vasco Porcallo, drowned.”

    Note: There is a spring in the Albany Georgia area:

    “And early on Tuesday they arrived at Toa, a large town, and the Governor wished to go farther, but they did not let him. Wednesday, the twenty-fourth of the month, the Governor left from there at midnight, secretly, with up to forty noblemen and gentlemen on horseback, and those whom for diverse reasons he had not wished to put under another Captain. And they traveled all that day until the night, when they found a bad and deep crossing of water, and although it was at night, they crossed it, and they walked that day twelve leagues; and the next day, which was Maundy Thursday, in the morning, they arrived at the province of Chisi and crossed a branch of a large river, very broad, some of it on foot, and even a good part of it swimming, and they attacked a town that was on an island in this river, where they captured some people and found food.”

    • The Toa were Arawaks from Cuba or Puerto Rico. The Toa River runs through the heart of computer. Actually, we even have a Toa glossary from the late 1700s. By then, it was a mixture of Arawak and Muskogee . . . but you are right. All the maps put Fort Caroline on the Altamaha River. No map ever showed Fort Caroline in Florida until Congress designated a vacant tract of land as the Fort Caroline Memorial.


    Richard, Thanks for the reply. It is possible the Toa people of Cuba are connected to the Tokah /Yuchi people in the ancient days? They both created round houses and have a cultural connection to being Sea fairing people. These same type of round houses are found from Georgia to Central/ South America. They may also be connected to the “Cofaqui” people noted living on the Eastern side of Georgia in 1540…some who became known as Caribs / “Cofachi” as they were called by the Paracussis of North Georgia. “Coyaha” is one of the names the Yuchi people use? Cofa…Coya similar sounds for those two names. One of De Soto’s men wrote:

    “Monday, the twelfth of April, they departed from Ocute and arrived at Cofaqui, and principal Indians came with gifts. This cacique Cofaqui was an old man, full-bearded, and a nephew of his governed for him.”

    • The Ocute were mostly Water Clan Uchee. Their elite were a mixture of Uchee, Muskogean and Itza Maya.


    I’m always fascinated by your writing, and after reading this it reminded me of the Harris Neck Army Airfield in McIntosh County, Georgia. I thought you’d find it interesting that aerial photographs seem to look as though it was built directly on top of Fort Caroline’s ruins.
    -Geoffrey Joynt

    • Thank you! I will look at it. It could also be another fort built by the Spanish, French or English. Most people don’t know that the “Fort Caroline” in Jacksonville was a 1/12″ scale, inaccurate scale model. The real Fort Caroline was 1600 feet long and 1400 feet across.

    • I looked up the Wikipedia article on Harris Neck Army Airfield. The mile long sides of the the triangle are runways built during World War II.


        Yes, after recently reading your reply I realized that the airfield resemblance is just a coincidence since it is way too big.


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