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LAMP disputes new Fort Caroline claims

Posted by: Chuck Meide in In the News, LAMPosts

For further information on this controversy, including a detailed summary of its evolution in regional and national media, click here.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: Feb. 22, 2014
Press Contact: Shannon O’Neil (904) 377-2643/soneil@staugustinelighthouse.org

St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeologist Disputes New Ft. Caroline Claims

Archaeologist Chuck Meide disputes new claims asserted about the location of Ft. Caroline at a conference in Tallahassee on Friday and maintains that evidence supports location in Jacksonville.

ST. AUGUSTINE, FL. – Academic scholars opened a lively debate at a conference in Tallahasee, Fla., on Friday, Feb. 21st, with a claim that Ft. Caroline, long believed to have origins in Jacksonville, was in fact founded in Georgia. Chuck Meide, Director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, was at the conference and led the rebuttal disputing these claims.

“There are a number of problems with the evidence that was presented at the conference,” said Meide. “First, it is problematic to use 16th century maps to determine an exact geographical location with any precision, as they are notoriously inaccurate and often mistakes were copied and re-copied by cartographers who had never even visited the New World. For every map presented that seemed to show the River of May further north, we can find another in which it is depicted in the Jacksonville area.”

Meide, an Atlantic Beach native, has studied the French history of Northeast Florida for decades, both in and out of the water. This summer, Meide and his archaeology team from the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum are planning an expedition to find the lost fleet of French captain Jean Ribault. Meide and several other historians have spent years researching French and Spanish records from the 16th century to determine where Ribault’s fleet sank while trying to sneak into St. Augustine in 1565. The relationship between St. Augustine’s location and that of Ft. Caroline plays heavily into Meide’s dispute of the new claims issued by scholars Fletcher Crowe and Anita Spring at the conference, La Floride Francaise: Florida, France, and the Francophone World.

“The most glaring problem with the Altamaha River theory is the location of St. Augustine,” said Meide. “We know that Menendez marched his men from St. Augustine on September 18 to attack the French, and they successfully sacked Fort Caroline on September 20. That is a two-day march through hurricane-force winds and rain. It’s not conceivable in those or any conditions that the soldiers could have made it to the Altamaha River from St. Augustine in two days.”

Meide brought this point up with Spring and Crowe during the debate that followed their presentation in Tallahassee. The researchers’ response indicated that they believe St. Augustine was actually founded further north, at the mouth of the St. Mary’s River.

Though it is well-known that the Spanish moved the settlement of St. Augustine twice, first from its original location at the Indian village of Seloy to Anastasia Island, and then from the island to its final location at present-day downtown St. Augustine, there is no evidence that the original site was as far north as the St. Mary’s River, which forms the Florida-Georgia state line.

“If Crowe and Spring’s theory is correct, then the Spanish would have moved the St. Augustine settlement 70 miles south, from the St. Mary’s River, to its present location. There is simply no evidence for this,” said Meide. “This new theory doesn’t stand up to the archaeological and historical information that has been amassed by scholars over the past fifty years. From the post-presentation debate at the conference, it seemed to me that most of the scholars attending from France and the U.S. were likewise not convinced that this theory holds water.”

Along with LAMP’s team of archaeologists and field school students, Meide has been diving and researching local shipwrecks that tell the story of St. Augustine’s roots for almost a decade. Recent dives on a 1782 British wreck have uncovered the history of evacuees who fled Charleston, S.C., bound for St. Augustine near the end of the American Revolution.

Meide hopes with the help of grant funding from the state of Florida that the expedition to find Ribault’s fleet will provide further evidence on the origins of Ft. Caroline, St. Augustine and the nation as a whole.

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A pivotal navigation tool and unique landmark of St. Augustine for over 140 years, the St. Augustine Light Station is host to centuries of history in the Nation’s Oldest Port (sm). Through interactive exhibits, guided tours and maritime research, the 501(c)(3) non-profit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum is on a mission to discover, preserve, present and keep alive the stories of the Nation’s Oldest Port (sm) as symbolized by our working lighthouse. We are the parent organization to the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.


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As the press release above states, I was a presenter at the conference in Tallahassee, along with other scholars from the U.S., France, Canada, and Argentina. The alternative theory that Fort Caroline was actually located on the Altamaha River in Georgia was presented there by a historian and a cultural anthropologist named Fletcher Crowe and Anita Spring. This was followed by a rigorous debate, and it appeared that most if not all scholars in the room remained unconvinced. We know that it took Menendez' men two days to march to Fort Caroline when they attacked the fort. It would be impossible to reach the Altamaha River in that time. Crowe and Fletcher explain this by proposing Menendez actually founded St. Augustine on the present-day Florida-Georgia line, and then sometime later moved that settlement 70 miles south to St. Augustine's present location. There is absolutely no evidence for this, yet there is ample evidence from Kathy Deagan's excavations at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park that St. Augustine was indeed founded right here. We believe Crowe and Spring’s theory has no merit.

Also attending the conference were archaeologist and UNF professor Dr. Buzz Thunen, and Center for Historical Archaeology archaeologist and French-language paleographer Dr. John de Bry who, like a number of other conference attendees, pointed out weaknesses in Crowe and Spring’s evidence during the discussion immediately after their presentation.

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