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Fort Caroline . . . the Search for America’s Lost Heritage

Fort Caroline . . . the Search for America’s Lost Heritage

Infrared  and LIDAR imagery, furnished by a regional planning agency, and high resolution satellite images, provided by NASA, revealed history that has been lost for over 400 years.  In the process, remote sensing revealed the footprints of Native American towns, Spanish mission sites, Federal Period factories and Antebellum rice irrigation systems. Even the original location of St. Augustine was discovered.  

At the end of this article, you will be provided more information about the book, which describes this seven year long journey into the past.

The emperor has no clothes

It has been one of the biggest cover-ups in American history.  Millions upon millions of dollars has been spent by the federal government to give legitimacy to a historic site that never was.  The process began in the 1920s.  Business leaders in Jacksonville, FL were looking for an attraction to draw automobile tourists, headed to St. Augustine and Miami, off the newly completed US Highway 1.

They quickly settled on promoting the city’s French Huguenot heritage . . .  that never was.  Throughout the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s their archaeologists vainly looked for some evidence of Fort Caroline, which was built by French Huguenot colonists in 1564 and massacred by Spanish conquistadors in September of 1565.   They found nothing.

However, during the process, the city gave land to the US Navy on the eve of World War II, to build a badly needed naval base at the mouth of the St. Johns River.   The federal government would foot the bill for finally making the St. Johns accessible to modern ships.  Florida historians told the Navy that the original name of the St. Johns was the May River, so the Navy named the new facility, Mayport.  Meanwhile, all manner of roads, subdivisions, schools, parks and even an exclusive country club in the Jacksonville Area were named after Fort Caroline or French explorer, Jean Ribault.

Ribault had nothing to do with the construction of Fort Caroline.  He visited Fort Caroline for about 2 1/2 days prior to its demise.  His incompetence as a naval commander was the direct cause of Fort Caroline and most of the 900+ people in his fleet being massacred.   How ironic that much of Jacksonville should be named after him.

Having never found Fort Caroline by 1950,  Jacksonville’s leaders decided to donate a small tract of land to the National Park Service , where their historians thought the fort was supposed to be.  Congressman Charles C. Bennett submitted a bill in Congress to create the Fort Caroline National Monument there.  His peers changed the label to “Memorial”, when they learned that there was no structure on the site.   The bill passed without opposition.

There was NOTHING about the St. Johns River that resembled the May River described by the French and the location chosen for the National Monument bore no resemblance to the environs of the real Fort Caroline.   Nevertheless, the bureaucrats in Washington assumed that Florida would not have promoted the site for a national monument, if it was not legitimate.

The May River was described as a long river that snaked its way from the Appalachian Mountains, southeastward to the Atlantic.  It had two major tributaries that joined together at Lake Tama.  Near its headwaters was a region, where gold was abundant.  At its mouth was a large, labyrinth -like  delta with three islands at the point of entering the Atlantic.  That described the Altamaha River perfectly.


The site of Fort Caroline was 11 miles inland from the Atlantic, on the southern most channel of the May River.  It was at the head of an oxbow in this channel.   The Fort Caroline Memorial was six miles inland on the wide, straight, single channel of the St. Johns.  There were no islands in its mouth.

No French, Spanish, English or Dutch map ever showed Fort Caroline or the May River to be in Florida.  Most showed Fort Caroline to have been on the south side of the mouth of the Altamaha River in Georgia. Nevertheless, the federal government immediately began funding extensive archaeological expeditions to find Fort Caroline in the Jacksonville area.  They couldn’t even find a 16th century artifact along the mouth of the St. Johns.

There was a reason,  until 1858, the St. Johns River was impassible to ocean-going vessels.  James Adair tells us that in the 1770s, even the paddlers of Creek dugout canoes had to get out of their canoes and pull them for a half mile to enter the river.  The Spanish had controlled Florida for several decades before they even noticed the St. Johns’ mouth.   No 16th century French ship could have entered that river.

For 12 years, there was nothing to see at the Fort Caroline National Memorial.  Then in 1962, the majority of the Florida congressional delegation agreed to support the Civil Rights Act in return for President Lyndon Johnson releasing executive funds to build a 1/12th scale replica of Fort Caroline.   The architects did a poor job.  Neither the orientation of the fort or its details match the description of Fort Caroline by Captain René de Laudonnière,  the designer and commander of Fort Caroline.

Successive Republican and Democratic administrations have poured millions of dollars into expanding the original memorial in order to secure the votes of Floridians.  It has grown from about 22 acres to over 46,000 acres and is now called the Timucuan Historical and Ecological Preserve.  More irony . . . no Native American tribe ever called themselves Timucuan.  Its a Spanish word.

In 2000, Charles Bennett wrote Three Voyages, which claims to be a new translation of the original French of René de Laudonnière’s memoir.  It is NOT.  I found absolute proof that the ghost writer for Bennett instead modernized the English of a translation by Richard Hakluyt in 1588.  Bennett’s book has exactly the same French translation errors as Hakluyt’s book.  However, in addition, Bennett deleted any statements by De Laudonnière that would make a Jacksonville location for Fort Caroline impossible.

A legion of institutions and government agencies now have vested interest in keeping the status quo.   They will all look like fools, if the truth is known.   Even the National French Huguenot Society often holds its meetings there . . . on a landscape in which 16th century French Huguenots never tread.    The books of many Florida anthropology and history professors will become invalid because they used a Jacksonville location for Fort Caroline as a benchmark for explaining all the Native Americans in northern Florida.

There was another surprise.  While reading the original Spanish language chronicles of the period around Fort Caroline,  I discovered that the original location of St. Augustine was at the latitude of St. Andrews Bay in Georgia.  The description of its location exactly matches the confluence of the Satilla and Little Satilla Rivers at St. Andrews Bay.

The dense concentration of culturally advanced natives on the Georgia coast forced the Spanish to move St. Augustine to a bay, thinly populated by hunter-gatherers in March of 1566.   The Spanish then spent the next three decades exterminating many of the Georgia Natives so that the survivors would be sufficiently beaten down to accept friars in their midst.

There is an amazing example of how complete the deception about Fort Caroline has been.  In early 2011, I called my friend Roger Kennedy,  former Director of the National Museum of American History and Director of the National Park Service during the Clinton Administration, about some 16th century French artifacts found near Brunswick, GA.   At the time, neither he nor I were aware that Fort Caroline, a property of the National Park Service, was a fake!  I would not find this out for several more months.

Remote sensing images

The following infrared images show the probable locations of Fort Caroline (1564-65),  Fort San Mateo (1567-1569) and the first St. Augustine (1565-1566).  They must be confirmed by archaeological investigations.  Fort Caroline was a fortified town, designed for 1000 colonists,  surrounded by triangular earthen and palisade walls.  Fort San Mateo was much smaller, and designed for a garrison of less than 200 soldiers.

Site plan of Fort Caroline

Site plan of Fort Caroline

Site plan of Fort San Mateo

Site plan of Fort San Mateo

This light spectrum is on the boundary between visible light and infrared.

This light spectrum is on the boundary between visible light and infrared.


This is the location on the isthmus between the Satilla and Little Satilla River that seems to match the surviving architect's drawing for the original St. Augustine.

This is the location on the isthmus between the Satilla and Little Satilla River that seems to match the surviving architect’s drawing for the original St. Augustine.


Fort Caroline . . . the Search for America’s Lost History (book)

The book was first published in February 2014.  It contains 239 pages (81/2″ x 11″) and over 300 full color photos, architectural drawings and maps.   Fort Caroline is an extremely comprehensive study of the South Atlantic Coastline from the Ogeechee River southward to St. Augustine Bay.   It includes historical, environmental, geological and architectural analyses of the region.   I tried to include as many eyewitness accounts of Fort Caroline and Fort San Mateo as possible, plus reviewed books in the 18th, 19th and 20th century in order explain how the assumed location for Fort Caroline moved from Altamaha Delta to the mouth of the St. Johns River.  Four archaeological zones are analyzed in detail.

There were many surprises.  The mouth of the Altamaha River is the location of the oldest shell rings and pottery in North America.  It was the probable location in 1521 of the Spanish attempting to found their first colony in North America.  It was the probable location of the French to found their colony.  There is a reason.  Between Cape Cod and the tip of Florida,  one is least likely to get a direct hit from a major hurricane at the mouth of the Altamaha.

The book is published by Lulu Publishing out of Raleigh, NC.  My website at LULU is .

The  price for the PDF electronic edition is $15.  The full color printed book is $77.  Color printing is expensive, but worth the money in this case, if you enjoy architectural graphics and maps.


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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.



    Richard – The two posts sent today (7 January 2016) are the best yet! Really great historical research.

    Question: Does the English map go far enough west to show the Coosa and Tallapoosa Watersheds?

    Thanks, Glenn

    • Yes it does! It also shows the names of major towns. During that time period, the Abeika Creeks were the dominant branch of the Creek Confederacy in that region. Most of the Cussata (Kusate) were still in Tennessee and occupied all the land up to the Little Tennessee River. The Etowah River Basin was then occupied by the Apalachicola Creeks. The Tallapoosa Creeks occupied the upper Tallapoosa, while the Alabama occupied the Lower Tallapoosa. At that time, the Alabama were still members of the Creek Confederacy, but the Chickasaw had separated.

      By 1725, a later map by Herbert would show the Cherokees occupying the Little Tennessee River. The Cussata Creeks until the mid-1780s.


    …”No French, Spanish, English or Dutch map ever showed Fort Caroline or the May River to be in Florida. Most showed Fort Caroline to have been on the south side of the mouth of the Altamaha River in Georgia….”

    Hi Richard, could you show any online links to any of these maps that show Ft Caroline on the south bank of the Altamaha/River of May?



    On the satellite view of the Altamaha delta, you labelled Little St Simons Island as Sea Island. Sea Island lies south of the Hampton River. Also, it is St Simons Sound instead of Brunswick Sound.
    The south channel of the Altamaha River flowed along the western side of St Simons Island, which is now called the Frederica River. Does the 11 mile measurement start in St Simons Sound?

    • Sorry about the mislabeling Russell. I am allowed one mistake per day. Rene de Laudonniere measured the “plus de cinq lieus anciens” (11 miles) from the eastern edge of an island in the middle of the mouth of the May River, which I assume was Egg Island’s location in 1564. The French mapmakers considered the Frederica River to be an outlet of the May River (Altamaha.) Later European mapmakers exaggerated the length of this river southward. This has confused many scholars because they cannot read maps. They dis this southward extension of the Altamaha because they see the tidal marshes with the Frederica River flowing through them, and assume that the location is all marshes. As you know many of those tidal rivers can be quite wide and deep. They form the Intercoastal Waterway.

      A lieu anciens (Old French Common League) was about 2.1 miles. The Late Medieval French term “plus de” would be translated as “a little more than.” So the distance was not precise and I don’t think that de Laudonniere used a surveying instrument to measure it. However, he was a skilled sea captain and navigator.


        Hi Richard,
        I found a link to the de lisle map from1717. It is at the Library of Congress website. For any interested;

        The cool thing is anyone with a big printer can now download from the website and have a large, easy to read wall sized map. The digitized version here has lots of “chiggerbites” for good clarity.

        Still looking for the Herbert, English version

        • I was going to send you a whole bunch of maps. If it is not a problem, I will send you Herbert’s map then others.

          Richard T.


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