On April 30, 1562, French explorer Jean Ribault led an expedition ashore near the mouth of the St. Johns River. They continued north to what is now South Carolina before returning to Europe. Ribault returned to the Americas in 1564 and was among those killed during the Spanish – French struggle for control over La Florida.
“The French Sail to the River of May,” from an engraving by Theodor de Bry
Between the time he returned to Europe and before the second French expedition sailed in 1564, Ribault published an account of his journey titled The Whole & True Discouerye of Terra Florida. His brief account provides insight into his perception of the land and people he encountered. The below spellings retain those that appear in an early English-language printing of Ribault’s account.
On June 22, 1564, French explorer René de Laudonnière (ca. 1529-1574) landed in Florida. Days later he established the settlement of Fort Caroline. The fort was situated near the mouth of the St. Johns River, known to the French as the River May, north of present-day Jacksonville. The French had previously explored the region during the expedition headed by Jean Ribault (1520-1565) in 1562.
Etching of Fort Caroline (1591)
Upon learning of Spanish ships landing south of Fort Caroline, the French launched a military expedition on September 10, 1565. A hurricane battered the French ships before they reached the upstart Spanish settlement of St. Augustine. The survivors came ashore several dozen miles south of their intended target.
Fort Matanzas, built about 1740 near the site of the Fort Caroline Massacre
Throughout September and October 1565, Spaniards under the command of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés (1519-1574) attacked French survivors returning to Fort Caroline. The Spanish assaults occurred near an inlet 15 miles south of St. Augustine, later named Matanzas (massacre in Spanish). The Fort Caroline Massacre, as the attack has come to be known, halted French colonization of Florida and ushered in a period of Spanish control over the peninsula that lasted until 1763.
Artist and cartographer Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues (1533-1588) accompanied René de Laudonnière (ca. 1529-1574) to Florida in 1564. Laudonnière hoped to established a French settlement in the vicinity of the River May (St. Johns River), first explored by Jean Ribault (1520-1565) in April 1562. By June of 1564, the French had constructed Fort Caroline near the mouth of the St. Johns River.