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Historians behaving badly, Parte Deux

This is a detail of a map drawn by French Royal Geographer, Pierre du Vall.  It shows Fort Caroline being on the south side of the Altamaha River near Darien, GA.
This is a detail of a map drawn by French Royal Geographer, Pierre du Vall. It shows Fort Caroline being on the south side of the Altamaha River near Darien, GA.
Pierre du Vall

What is probably one of the most successful hoaxes in American history is backed up by a book, published by the University of Alabama and sold by Amazon.com.

Typically, when Native American scholars have problems with the orthodoxies of academicians, the situation can be traced to a senior professor, who made a speculation on Native American culture without consulting Native Americans. His followers, over time, converted the speculation to a fact. Subsequent generations of academicians quoted each other as references rather than checking the original facts.

In American History, it has been assumed in the past that there were so many professors and interest groups, who were watching the content of publications that is was impossible for inaccurate history to become established. In reality, over the past two decades the control and manipulation of history has increasingly been viewed as a political tool. George Orwell, author of the novel, “1984,” predicted that this Marxist concept of history would be adopted by neo-fascists. The internet enables the creators of fabricated history to saturate online references so that the lie is soon accepted as the truth.

The “Big Whopper” of all fabricated histories began in Jacksonville, FL in the 1930s. Economic leaders needed a historical attraction to draw St. Augustine bound tourists off U.S. Highway 1. They created “New History” by suddenly claiming that the French Huguenot colony of Fort Caroline (1564-1565) was in Jacksonville. That would make the Jacksonville attraction two years older than St. Augustine. They also created the fact that the May River on which Fort Caroline was built, was one and the same as the St. Johns River that flows through Jacksonville.

All French, Spanish, English, Dutch and American maps equated the May River with the Altamaha River until 1951 when the National Park Service accepted an empty tract of land from the City of Jacksonville, FL and declared it to be Fort Caroline National Monument. All Colonial Era maps that mentioned Fort Caroline showed it to be on the south side of the Altamaha River, opposite Darien, GA. The map that accompanies the memoir of the René de Laudonnière, commander of Fort Caroline, was prepared by French Royal geographer, Pierre du Vall. It placed Fort Caroline at the same latitude as the south channel of the Altamaha River in Georgia.

In 1939 the City of Jacksonville gave a massive tract of land to the U. S. Navy for a naval base under the condition that it be named “Mayport” in honor of “the original name of the St. Johns River.” Ten years later they gave the land to the National Park Service for what was planned to be the core of a Fort Caroline National Park, once archaeologists finally found the actual site of the French colony. After 70 years archaeologists still have not found the fort’s site in Florida, nor have they found any 16th century fortification in the region. Meanwhile researchers have found the footprint of a large triangular fort on the South Channel of the Altamaha River, exactly where French maps said it would be.

By the 1960s having a visitor’s center on an empty tract of land had proved to be a weak tourist attraction. President Lyndon B. Johnson agreed to appropriate money in 1962 for construction of a museum and replica of Fort Caroline in return for yes votes from Florida’s congressional delegation on his Civil Rights Act. The name of the site was changed to Fort Caroline National Memorial. Similar political deals since then have expanded federal lands associated with the original tract to include several thousand acres.

In the meantime, three generations of Florida historians and archaeologists have written books on the Early Colonial Period and Florida’s Native Americans that are benchmarked on the Jacksonville location for Fort Caroline. They just can’t understand why the Indians described by the 16th century French colonists are different from Florida’s Indians, but resemble the Native peoples of the Georgia and South Carolina coasts. Nevertheless, all references in the United States state unequivocally that Fort Caroline was located on the St. Johns River in Jacksonville.

The not so accurate modern translation of De Laudonnière’s book

In 2001 a book entitled “Three Voyages” was published under the name of Congressman Charles C. Bennett by the University of Alabama Press. The book was represented as an accurate translation of the original memoir of René de Laudonnière with annotations. Bennett was the Florida politician, who introduced the bill in the House of Representatives which created Fort Caroline National Monument. It is now the standard used by hundreds of thousands of students and professionals when studying the 1500s in the Southeast.

Bennett’s annotations, of course, presume a Jacksonville location for Fort Caroline, but make no mention of that fact that no evidence has ever been found by the National Park Service that Fort Caroline was located in the Jacksonville Area. Like other Florida historians and anthropologists, Bennett explained the incompatibility of much of the geography described by De Laudonnière with Florida on the Frenchman’s insufficient skills at geography. This would seem to be unlikely since the fort’s commander was a highly respected sea captain and navigator.

The notes by Bennett state that Cape François was either St. Augustine, Florida or Cape Canaveral. However, De Laudonnière’s description of the cape was very different that either of these locations in Florida, but match the northern tip of Amelia Island, FL on the Georgia line. He mentioned Cape Canaveral in his text as being a different geographical feature than Cape François.

Surprisingly no publication has ever before compared Bennett’s translation with the original French text by Captain de Laudonnière. This was done recently and it produced a shock. Whoever the real author of “Three Voyages” was, altered the text to conceal many proofs that Fort Caroline could not have possibly been in Florida. In particular, cardinal directions were deleted or altered, unless they pertained to locations in the southern end of the Florida Peninsula. De Laudonnière repeatedly discussed sending expeditions northwestward up the May River to the Appalachian Mountains of present day Georgia to look for gold and silver. Bennett and other Florida scholars have scoffed at those statements, stating that obviously there were no mountains or gold deposits in Florida, so De Laudonnière fabricated the stories.

The following is an example of how “Three Voyages” altered the information on cardinal directions to change the meaning of the text. Interestingly enough, Florida archaeologists now place the Utina tribe in central Florida, not knowing that De Laudonnière’s original text was altered.

De Laudonnière:Nous avons pagayé le nord-ouest dans nos canots sur la rivière Mai de Fort Caroline pour rejoindre la capitale de la Paracusa Outina.”

English Translation: “We paddled northwestward in our canoes up the May River from Fort Caroline in order to reach the capital of the Paracusa (King) Utina.”

Three Voyages: “We paddled up the May River in our canoes from Fort Caroline in order to reach the capital of the Paracusa Outina.”

De Laudonnière actually visited the mouth of the St. Johns River prior to arriving at the mouth of the Altamaha. His sea-going ships could not enter the river because it was too shallow. The entrance of the St. Johns River could not be navigated by large sea craft until the 1850s when it was channelized by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. Bennett certainly did not want the reader to know either fact.

The distances described below by De Laudonnière exactly match the distances today between the mouth of the Altamaha River, Cape François (North Cape of Amelia Island) and the mouth of the St. Johns River. By reversing the cardinal directions, the author made the text incomprehensible because they did not match Florida’s coastline. De Laudonnière’s words were altered to make them confusing and irrelevant.

The mouth of the St. Johns is about 21 miles (10 leagues) south of the north tip of Amelia Island (Cape François) and 62 miles (30 leagues) south of the mouth of the Altamaha River. There is NO river between St. Augustine Bay and the mouth of the St. Johns River.

De Laudonnière:Nous avons atterri à une petite riviere, laquelle et distante de trente degrez loin de l’equater, et dix lieuses au dessus du cap François, tirant à la part meridionale, et environ trente lieus au dessus de la riviere de Mai.”

Three Voyages: “We landed near a little river that is 30 degrees distant from the equator and 10 leagues north of Cape François, measuring from the south, and about 30 leagues from the May River.”

Literal Translation: “We landed near a small river, which is thirty degrees far removed from the equator, measuring to the south (from Fort Caroline) over ten leagues to Cape Francois, and over thirty leagues to the River May. Note that Bennett changed “south” to “north” of Cape François and mistranslated the French letter,” à”.

Modern Translation: “We landed near a small river, which is thirty degrees, latitude, north of the equator, about ten leagues south of Cape Francois, and about thirty leagues south of the May River.”

On initial revelation, this fabrication and fudging of 440 year old history would seem to be more in the range of American History trivia. It does not relate to most contemporary concerns of the “average Joe on the street” as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt liked to say. However, over the past 63 years the federal government has expended over 100 million dollars in the operation of a bogus national historic site and its expansion into a future national park. It is now known as the Timucuan National Ecological and Historic Preserve.

By the way, the Timucua Indians never called themselves the “Timucua.” The Spanish gave the name "Timucua" to a cluster of many Native provinces with similar customs in northeast Florida and southeast Georgia. The Spanish name was derived from Tamakoa, which means “Trade People.” The Tamakoa lived in a small province about 20 miles up the Altamaha River from Fort Caroline. They were the arch enemies of France's Indian allies living around Fort Caroline. The Tamakoa were last heard of in the late 1700s, living in Jackson County (Northeast Georgia) north of present day Athens on the headwaters of one of the Altamaha River's main tributaries. Wouldn’t you know it?

Readers wishing to ask Richard Thornton questions concerning architecture, urban planning or Native American history may contact him at NativeQuestion@aol.com.