French Rivalry, 1562-1565
Spain was not the only European nation that found Florida
attractive. In 1562 the Huguenots (French protestants),
including Jean Ribault, explored the area. In 1564 fellow
Frenchman René Goulaine de Laudonnière established
Fort Caroline at the mouth of the St. Johns River, which
the French called River May, near present-day Jacksonville.
The fort was a direct challenge to Spain's claims over
La Florida. Fort Caroline was not fated to last long in
These French adventurers prompted Spain to accelerate
her plans for colonization. Pedro Menendez de Avilés
hastened across the Atlantic, his sights set on removing
the French and creating a Spanish settlement. Menendez
arrived in 1565 at a place he called San Augustín
(St. Augustine) and established the first permanent European
settlement in what is now the United States. He accomplished
his goal of expelling the French, attacking and killing
all settlers except for non-combatants and Frenchmen who
professed belief in the Roman Catholic faith. Menendez
captured Fort Caroline and renamed it San Mateo. This ended
French attempts to settle in eastern Florida.
French response came two years later, when Dominique de
Gourgues recaptured San Mateo and made the Spanish soldiers
stationed there pay with their lives. However, this incident
did not halt the Spanish advance. Upon Mendenez's return
from Spain, he ruthlessly suppressed French efforts to
secure another foothold in Florida. Spain's pattern of
constructing forts and Roman Catholic missions continued.
Spanish missions established among native people soon extended
across north Florida and as far north along the Atlantic
coast as the area that we now call South Carolina.
Text from: A Short History of Florida
Used with the permission of Florida's Division of Historical