On February 21, 2014 Florida State University issued a press release to news agencies around the United States which claimed that a team of Florida professors had determined that the location of Fort Caroline on the Altamaha River in Georgia. For several years prior to this announcement, Florida academicians have tried to marginalize and refute the reports of Georgia researchers, who already had placed Fort Caroline on the Altamaha River. Apparently unable to stop the tide of overwhelming evidence, the FSU press release gives full credit to Floridians for making the discoveries already announced in late 2013 by a research organization, based in Georgia. The article also stated that Florida archaeologists would be doing the excavation of the site.
Fort Caroline was constructed by French Huguenot colonists in 1564. It was a massive triangular fort that intended to house at least 600 colonists. Fort Caroline was sacked by Spanish troops in 1565. The Spanish soon built four-sided Fort San Mateo near Fort Caroline and two smaller forts closer to the ocean to protect Fort San Mateo. The three Spanish forts were sacked by French forces in 1568.
In 1951, the City of Jacksonville, FL gave a track of land to the National Park Service to be the site of Fort Caroline National Monument. In 1962, after the National Park Service could find no evidence of Fort Caroline anywhere in the Jacksonville area, President Lyndon Johnson authorized construction of a fake fortification at the site in return for Florida’s congressional delegation voting for the Civil Rights Act. The name was changed to Fort Caroline Memorial.
The article written by FSU news writer, Barry Ray, took direct quotes from newsletters published internationally by the People of One Fire research alliance during 2012, 2013 and early 2014 and also in the Examiner in 2012 and 2013, but attributed them to professors in Florida. The Florida professors acknowledged reading the Examiner articles, but did not mention that the team of Native American professionals at POOF had been researching the Georgia Coast for seven years.
In early 2013 an associate of the professors sent an unsolicited email to POOF that announced that his group had proof that Fort Caroline was on the St. Johns River, not Georgia, and that they had a grant for archaeologists to locate it that year. The funds were expended by the archaeologists before any evidence of a French presence in Florida was found.
Shortly after the original November 2013 announcement of the Fort Caroline discovery in a POOF newsletter, a group of Florida archaeology professors and students took a boat into the mouth of the Altamaha River. Afterward they sent an email to POOF stating that Fort Caroline couldn’t be there. At some point between mid-December 2013 and February 20, 2014 the professors changed their opinions. However, those interviewed by the Jacksonville newspaper stated that they had been studying a potential Georgia location for several years.
The discovery of Fort Caroline’s location by a team of POOF researchers was announced to the public in the Examiner on December 23, 2013. At that time a commercial film company had already started filming the location for a program on PBS. A 16 page illustrated report on the discovery of Fort Caroline (1564) and Fort San Mateo (1567) was distributed nationally on January 11, 2014.
On February 21, 2014, the Florida Times-Union newspaper in Jacksonville, FL and Science Daily News published articles on the FSU professors claim to have discovered the true location of Fort Caroline. Both of these articles state that the information came from official FSU news reports. The Science Daily article may be found at:
The Florida-Times Union article by Matt Soergal may be found at:
Seven year research project by Native American scholars
In 2006 Georgia historian, Michael Jacobs, identified numerous French artifacts found on the coast of Georgia that appeared to date from the late 16th or 17th centuries. He contacted several Georgia archaeologists about these discoveries in hope that they would look for Fort Caroline. None showed any interest.
Jacobs is of Catawba and Lumbee Indian ancestry. In early 2007 Jacobs contacted the People of One Fire, a recently formed Native American research alliance with the same information. Later in the year, one of the founders of POOF was contacted by archaeologists at the American Museum of Natural History to prepare architectural drawings of Mission Santa Catalina de Guale. The mission was located near the mouth of the Altamaha River.
Photocopies of Spanish Colonial archives provided by the AMNH as references for the architectural drawings contained eyewitness accounts of the coast of Georgia during the late 1500s and early 1600s. Several passages severely conflicted with locations of rivers and Native American provinces as promulgated by several authors, particularly from Florida universities. Late 20th century historians had shifted names southward, in order to make the St. Johns River appear to be the May River, visited by French explorers in the 1560s. Also, in 1595, a Spaniard traveling southward in a Native canoe from a mission near present day Darien, GA had soon turned into a river channel to view the ruins of Fort Caroline. Fort Caroline’s ruins were clearly on the coast of Georgia.
The initial focus of the Native American researchers was to obtain absolute proof of the true locations and ethnic identities of Native American provinces. While academicians could make statements without any proof and be perceived as credible, private sector researchers had to assemble multiple, correlating proofs, before being taken seriously. POOF researchers worked closely with regional planning agencies, local governments, and the site manager of Fort King George State Historic Site in Darien, GA. All research was shared with these Georgia agencies.
It was the locations of Native American tribes that finally collaborated all of the French, Spanish and British colonial era maps which placed Fort Caroline on the Altamaha River. The important Native town of Seloy was located on the Satilla River in Georgia. It is a major 16th century archaeological site that has been studied professionally by Georgia archaeologists. However, they didn't realize that it was Seloy, because Florida-authored books placed Seloy near St. Augustine.
The biggest surprise was concerning the Timucua. This is the name that the Spanish and contemporary anthropologists label all the Native Americans in northeastern Florida. The people of the over dozen provinces in that region never called themselves by that name. The Spanish derived their name from a tribe called the Thamagoa, who lived a little upstream from Fort Caroline. The last known existence of the Thamagoa was in northeast Georgia at a source for the Altamaha River. Jefferson, GA the county seat of Jackson County, was originally named after this tribe.
The POOF researchers were assisted during this period by the South Georgia and Coastal Georgia Regional Commissions. Staff members provided researchers with rare maps and eyewitness accounts of the Georgia coast during the Colonial Period. Historian Michael Jacobs, now Senior Regional Planner at the South Georgia Regional Commission, continued his Fort Caroline research on weekends. He found a map produced by Pierre du Vall, Royal Geographer of France, which placed Fort Caroline at the exact latitude and longitude of where the ruins were actually. This map was published in the POOF newsletter. A professor from Florida told the media that HE had found the map recently.
In 2013 Cherokee historian, Marilyn Rae, discovered that William Bartram had visited the ancient ruins of a French or Spanish fort on the Altamaha River, and gave specific directions how to reach the ruins. With that information, the Glynn County, GA government was able to provide recent infrared and LIDAR images, which enabled the researchers to locate the footprints of a large triangular fort and a smaller tetragonal fort. Fort Caroline was triangular in shape. Fort San Mateo was a tetragon like its sister fort, Fort San Filipe on Parris Island, SC. The tetragonal footprint on the Altamaha is the same dimensions of Fort San Filipe.
The People of One Fire has been in constant communication with archaeologist in Brunswick, GA. He planned to initiate on-site inspections of potential French and Spanish Colonial archaeological sites in March of 2014. That someone in the Georgia state bureaucracy has been secretly working with the Florida archaeologists in regard to the Fort Caroline site now complicates these plans. Local governments and regional agencies, involved with this project, had assumed that a Georgia archaeological firm would get the honor.