On May 21, 1722, Jesuit explorer and historian Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix visited Fuerte San Marcos de Apalache on Florida’s northern Gulf coast. Author of Histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle France avec le journal historique d’un voyage fait par ordre du roi dans l’Amérique septentrionnale (1744) and many other works, Charlevoix was among the first French historians of New France.
Charlevoix described his approach to the remote Spanish outpost: “About ten o’clock we perceived a small stone-fort, of a square form, with regular bastions; we immediately hung out the white-flag, and immediately after were told in French to proceed no farther.” After a few tense moments, the soldiers allowed Charlevoix and his captain to “speak with the governor: we went, and were very well received.” The defenders of Fuerte San Marcos de Apalache had reason to worry, as French pirates were known to frequent the region in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The commander of the fort invited the “officers and the principal passengers to dinner.” Before dining, however, the Spanish confiscated their “arms and ammunition,” promising to return them upon departure.
In his book, Charlevoix briefly recounted the recent perils of the Spaniards and Apalachees at the hands of English colonists and their Creek Indian allies who, in 1704, destroyed numerous settlements in the province. According to Cherlevoix, these raids reduced the Apalachee population from 7,000 to only 400 living near the fort.
Charlevoix described the land he encountered as “full of buffaloes and horses,” and the rivers as “narrow and full of alligators, but…well stocked with fish.” The Spaniards cautioned the French travelers to be wary upon leaving Fuerte San Marcos de Apalache. They warned that the “Indians at the Isle of Martyrs” had reportedly “empaled [sic] and eaten” marooned Spanish sailors.
The following day, the French expedition departed San Marcos de Apalache and headed west towards Pensacola and Mobile, then on to the Mississippi River to continue their survey of New France.
All quotes attributed to Charlevoix taken from Pierre de Charlevoix, Journal of a Voyage to North-America (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1966).