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Fort Caroline site discovered

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The ruins of two famous French and Spanish forts from the 1560s appear to be located near each other and adjacent to the South Channel of the Altamaha River in Georgia.

On December 22, 2013, exactly a year after the History Channel proved correct their theories on the Mayas coming to Georgia, researchers with the People of One Fire matched dimensions of earthworks, revealed by NASA infrared images, with descriptions of French-built Fort Caroline and Spanish-built, Fort San Filipe II. Fort San Filipe II was designed by the same Spanish engineer, who designed Fort San Mateo, and was constructed on Parris Island, SC the same year as Fort San Mateo was constructed on the Altamaha River. The location of the Altamaha River earthworks exactly matches a map drawn by Pierre Du Val, royal geographer for the King of France, plus eyewitness descriptions by Fra. Andrés de San Miguel in 1595 and botanist, William Bartram, in 1776.

Triangular Fort Caroline was constructed in 1564 by approximately 300 Frenchmen as the base for their nation’s colonization of North America. Most of the colonists were French Protestants, but the project was entirely funded by King Charles IX of France. Once a second contingent of about 600 colonists arrived in 1565, the commander of the fort, Captain René de Laundonnière, planned to establish a permanent capital of New France at the headwaters of freight canoe transportation on the Oconee River in northeast Georgia. The location of the planned capital was roughly where the University of Georgia is situated now. Fort Caroline was a massive structure whose three sides were each over 1000 feet long.

Just as the second contingent of colonists arrived in September of 1565, a Spanish fleet commanded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés anchored in the Altamaha River. Menéndez had orders from King Filipe of Spain to destroy Fort Caroline and kill all the French Protestants in North America. That he eventually did. However, this documented fact of history is one of the absolute proofs that Fort Caroline could not have been in Florida. Until the 1850s when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dug the first channel in the St. Johns River, it was impassible to sea-going vessels. The last seven miles of the St. Johns was so shallow that humans and livestock could walk across it. That is why the original name of Jacksonville was Waterford.

The martyred Frenchmen were left hanging from the trees around Fort Caroline. All of these men were artisans, farmers, fishermen or laborers, not professional soldiers. Its buildings and timber palisades were burned. Books since then have stated that Fort Caroline was rebuilt as Fort Mateo in 1566. That turns out not to be the case. The reason is obvious. The massive size of Fort Caroline would have mandated a garrison of perhaps 5-600 soldiers to be adequately defended. Spain was short of manpower, and so built a fort that covered about 1 ½ acres immediately east of Fort Caroline.

From 1568 until the late 20th century, all French, Spanish, British and Dutch maps consistently equated the river that the French called the May River, with Georgia’s Altamaha River. Most French and British maps and a few Spanish maps, also specifically showed Fort Caroline to be located on the south side of the Altamaha River about 10-12 miles inland. The official map produced by Pierre du Val not only precisely showed Fort Caroline and two smaller forts later built at the mouth of the Altamaha by the Spanish, but also provided the latitude and longitude of Fort Caroline. Those coordinates are exactly the same as the ruins indentified by infrared imagery.

History re-written for economic development

All references and government produced literature today state that Fort Caroline was on the St. Johns River in Florida, within the present day city of Jacksonville. The supposed site of the French fort contains a 16th century style fort and is the Fort Caroline National Memorial, a property maintained by the National Park Service. The original tract of land that was given to the federal government by the City of Jacksonville in 1951 has been expanded to several thousand acres with the goal of one day creating a Fort Caroline National Park. The United States Navy base nearby is named Mayport, after the original French name for the St. Johns, the May River. Three generations of Florida anthropology professors have interpreted the state’s Native American past, using the presumed location of Fort Caroline as a benchmark. Fort Caroline National Memorial has all the trappings of legitimacy. It is not. It is a stack of cards that was always destined to fall.

In the 1930s Jacksonville’s economic leaders decided that they needed an attraction that would draw tourists, bound for St. Augustine and Miami, off of U.S. Highway 1 and into Jacksonville’s motels. Someone, somewhere, decided that Fort Caroline was in Jacksonville. There is not one colonial era archive that shows Fort Caroline in the Jacksonville area. However, no historian in Florida or Georgia stood up to tell the business leaders ”that the emperor had no clothes.”

Soon thereafter, the citizens of Jacksonville bought a large tract of land at the mouth of the St. Johns River and gave it to the US Navy, under the condition that the naval base be named Mayport . . . after the May River where Fort Caroline was located. Thus, at the beginning of World War II, the U.S. Navy unknowingly confirmed the false history being fabricated.

In the mean time, archaeologists and historians feverishly hunted for the actual site of Fort Caroline. They couldn’t even find a 16th century French artifact. In lieu of scientific facts, a tract of land was purchased on the St. Johns in the suburbs that would make a nice location for a tourist attraction. In 1951 it was given to the federal government and designated a national monument. It was later reclassified as a National Memorial. For 12 more years, archaeologists with the National Park Service searched for Fort Caroline in the Jacksonville area and could not find it. Then, in 1962 President Lyndon Johnson authorized funds to build a scaled-down replica of Fort Caroline in return for support from Florida’s congressional delegation for the Civil Rights Act. In the six decades since then, archaeologists have continued to look for Fort Caroline in Florida, but “not found a thing.”

Breakthroughs by a team of researchers

Teamwork produced the information to find the real location of Fort Caroline. Several members of the People of One Fire discovered critical pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that made the discovery possible. A historian of Catawba ancestry found Pierre du Val’s map in a New England university library. It was drawn to accompany the 16th century French and English versions of René de Laundonnière’s memoir. He also discovered the long forgotten memoir of Fra. Andrés de San Miguel. A Creek Indian researcher analyzed the geography and Native American tribes of René de Laundonnière’s memoir and determined that the French leader was describing Georgia, not Florida. A Choctaw, who works as a volunteer at archaeological sites, obtained a book containing dozens of forgotten maps from the 1500s and 1600s. All of these maps equated the May River with the Altamaha River. Most also showed the location of the fort.

Perhaps the most important discovery of all was by a Cherokee historian, Marilyn Rae. While scanning the memoir of botanist, William Bartram, for information about the Cherokees, she stumbled across a passage where he visited an ancient earthen fort in 1776 on the south channel of the Altamaha River that locals labeled “either French or Spanish.” Bartram also gave specific directions to the fort site. From that point on, it was merely a matter of time to when the fort would be discovered.

The images seen on the infrared satellite photos exactly match multiple eyewitness descriptions and historic maps, but they are just the first stage of an archaeological investigation. One can not be absolutely sure about buried history until it is studied professionally. Fort Caroline was apparently only occupied 1 ½ years. It is not known how long Fort San Mateo was occupied or if it played a role in American history after the Spanish left. A Native American town and Spanish mission were located somewhere near the fort sites. Many years of study by archaeological teams will be required before this section of the Altamaha River’s history is fully understood.

On site investigation by a resident living on the Georgia coast, determined that some earthworks were still visible at both sites. Some excavation has occurred in a portion of the Fort Caroline site in the past few decades. The conditions under the soil surface are unknown. In the past 240 years since Bartram viewed Fort San Mateo, the area around the site was under intensive rice cultivation and may have also been used by the military in the American Revolution, War of 1812 or the Civil War. Both fort sites are on government owned land. By law, any disturbance of the soil must be done by a professional archaeologist. Any other person who attempts to obtain artifacts from these sites will be subject to arrest.

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