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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 French hands.

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 Resources

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