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The Controversy of Fort Caroline: A Timeline of Media Events - UPDATED

Posted by: Chuck Meide in In the News, LAMPosts

FortCaroline.jpg
The famous de Bry engraving depicting Fort Caroline, founded by the French Huguenots on the River of May at present-day Jacksonville, Florida. A recent theory of an alternate location for the fort (the Altamaha River in Georgia) has been met by skepticism from scholars but has attracted substantial media attention.

UPDATED 16 March 2014

When the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum hosted a recent French-themed Sea Your History event featuring a lecture by Dr. John de Bry and myself on the failed French colonization attempt in Florida and the lost Ribault fleet of 1565, we met a gentleman named Fletcher Crowe. He was friendly and related to me that at the upcoming Le Floride Française conference in Tallahassee he would be relating a history of Fort Caroline and the French settlement that was very different from the one we talked about. He certainly did. Newspaper headlines in late February reported breathlessly that scientists now believed Fort Caroline to be in the middle of Georgia, rather than Florida. LAMP and the Lighthouse immediately refuted this claim, which for many reasons is less than compelling, but it has still attracted widespread media attention. In this blog post I am summarizing and documenting some of the public statements and media stories made regarding this controversial and unproven new theory. To be clear, I am simply documenting how this story has been presented in the media, and not laying out an argument against the theory; but I will state explicitly that the ideas on the alternative location of Fort Caroline espoused by Crowe and Spring contradict decades of quality scholarship by archaeologists and historians regarding the settlement of Florida by the French and Spanish, and we find no merit in their claims.

Crowe and his colleague Anita Spring made their assertions public during the international conference hosted by Florida State University on 20-21 February 2014, La Floride française: Florida, France, and the Francophone World. You can download the conference program in pdf format by clicking here. John de Bry and I were also presenters at the conference, again speaking about our planned search for the lost French fleet of 1565, scheduled to begin in July 2014.

Dr. Crowe and Dr. Spring, a historian and cultural anthropologist respectively, gave their presentation, titled "Fort Caroline: New Revelations" at a plenary session at 11:00 on Friday, 21 February. While it is clear that they have put much effort into their presentation and to laying out their argument, there were so many weaknesses in their thesis that it is hard to know where to begin. The alternative theory that Fort Caroline was actually located on the Altamaha River in Georgia they supported with various historic maps from the 16th through 18th centuries, by an attempt to relate modern rivers in the region with 16th century descriptions of rivers, by a claim that linguistic evidence indicates the French were in Guale and not Timucuan territory, and by a claim that a word has been mistranslated in the French account of their sailing route.

This presentation was followed by a rigorous debate, and it appeared to me that most if not all scholars in the room remained unconvinced. To me, the biggest hole in their theory (other than the idea of trying to use 16th century maps to locate anything with precision, or using 18th century maps to locate a 16th century location) was Menendez' march on Fort Caroline from St. Augustine. We know from his letter to the King 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 within the limits of present-day St. Augustine. Crowe and Spring simply dismissed this evidence without providing any justification.

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. Again, there was plenty of debate, and while the discussion remained polite, it was clear to me that Crowe and Spring's ideas have not yet convinced the community of scholars at the conference.

Shortly after the presentation, I was surprised to see an email with a press release from Florida State University, apparently endorsing the new theory and, even more shockingly, announcing the discovery of the Fort. I was so disturbed by this that I wrote a response to the conference organizers. Below is the complete transcription of the original press release, followed by my response.

CONTACT: Martin Munro, FSU Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies (850) 644-3727; mmunro@fsu.edu or Darrin McMahon, FSU Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution (850) 644-9533; dmcmahon@fsu.edu

Feb. 21, 2014

FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY ALUMNUS ANNOUNCES DISCOVERY OF COUNTRY’S OLDEST FORT AT FSU CONFERENCE

TALLAHASSEE, FLA. — In an announcement likely to rewrite the book on early colonization of the New World, two researchers today said they have discovered the oldest fortified settlement ever found in North America. Speaking at an international conference on France at Florida State University, the pair announced that they have located Fort Caroline, a long-sought fort built by the French in 1564.

“This is the oldest fortified settlement in the present United States,” said historian and Florida State University alumnus Fletcher Crowe. “This fort is older than St. Augustine, considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in America. It’s older than the Lost Colony of Virginia by 21 years; older than the 1607 fort of Jamestown by 45 years; and predates the landing of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1620 by 56 years.”

Announcement of the discovery of Fort Caroline was made during “La Floride Française: Florida, France, and the Francophone World,” a conference hosted by FSU’s Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies and its Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution. The conference commemorates the cultural relations between France and Florida since the 16th century.

Researchers have been searching for actual remains of Fort Caroline for more than 150 years but had not found the actual site until now, Crowe said. The fort was long thought to be located east of downtown Jacksonville, Fla., on the south bank of the St. Johns River. The Fort Caroline National Memorial is located just east of Jacksonville’s Dames Point Bridge, which spans the river.

However, Crowe and his co-author, Anita Spring, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Florida, say that the legendary fort is actually located on an island at the mouth of the Altamaha River, two miles southeast of the city of Darien, Ga. Darien is located near the Georgia coast between Brunswick and Savannah, approximately 70 miles from the Jacksonville site.

“This really is a momentous finding, and what a great honor it is for it to be announced at a conference organized by the Winthrop-King Institute,” said Martin Munro, a professor in FSU’s Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics and director of the Winthrop-King Institute. “It demonstrates the pre-eminence of the institute and recognizes the work we do in promoting French and Francophone culture in Florida, the United States and internationally.”

Darrin McMahon, the Ben Weider Professor of History and a faculty member with the Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution, observed that Crowe and Spring’s finding — like the conference itself — highlights France’s longstanding presence in Florida and the Southeast.
“From the very beginning, down to the present day, French and Francophone peoples have played an important role in this part of the world,” McMahon said. “Our conference aims to draw attention to that fact.”

To make the discovery, Crowe, who received his Ph.D. in history from Florida State in 1973, flew to Paris and conducted research at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the French equivalent of the U.S. Library of Congress. There he found a number of 16th-century maps that pinpointed the location of Fort Caroline. Some of the maps were in 16th-century French, some in Latin, some in Spanish, and some were even in English.

Francois Dupuigrenet Desroussilles, a professor of Christianity in the FSU Department of Religion and for 20 years the curator of rare books in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, underlines the fraternal attitude of French Protestant settlers in Fort Caroline toward native Americans, a rare occurrence among Western colonists, and the new perspectives opened by the discovery on the relationship between Huguenots and Indian tribes.

Crowe was able to match French maps from the 16th to 18th centuries of what is today the southeastern coast of the United States with coastal charts of the United States published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and with maps published by the U.S. Geological Survey.

One reason scholars claimed that Fort Caroline was located near Jacksonville is because, they believed, the local Indian tribes surrounding the fort spoke the Timucuan language, the Native American language of Northeast Florida.

“We proved that the Native Americans living near the fort spoke a language called Guale (pronounced “WAH-lay”),” Spring said. “The Guale speakers lived near Darien, Ga. They did not live in Northeast Florida, where Jacksonville is.”

The two scholars believe that Fort Caroline lies on Rhetts Island, southeast of Darien.

“The fort appears to be situated in an impoundment used for duck hunting in the fall,” said Crowe, “and thankfully, the site is protected by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.”

“The frustrating and often acrimonious quest to find the fort has become a sort of American quest for the Holy Grail by archaeologists, historians and other scholars,” he noted. “The inability to find the fort has made some wonder if it ever existed.”

In 1565, Spanish soldiers under Pedro Menéndez marched into Fort Caroline and slaughtered some 143 men and women who were living there at the time. After the massacre, Menéndez wrote the king of Spain that he had discovered the French fort at “31 degrees North latitude.” Using GoogleEarth, Crowe found the fort close to where the Spanish general had reported.

“The actual latitude of what we believe is Fort Caroline is well within the margin of error of 16th-century navigational instruments, about 17 miles,” Crowe said.

French colonists at Fort Caroline were astonished by the dazzling amounts of gold and silver worn by the Indians near the fort. These reports were dismissed as fiction by previous researchers, who argued that North Florida has no deposits of either precious metal.

“We studied the trade routes of the Guale Indians and found that they led directly to the gold and silver deposits near Dahlonega, Ga.,” Spring said. In 1828, Dahlonega became the site of America’s first mint, and over the years about $600 million worth of gold, in 2013 dollars, has been recovered there.

The site has not yet been excavated by archeologists.

For 150 years, scholars have thought that “French Florida” meant Northeast Florida, including Jacksonville, Lake City and Gainesville. The Crowe and Spring study is expected to fundamentally redefine the term.

Crowe noted that “French Florida forms a great oval extending from the Santee River of South Carolina, down to the St. Marys River, which serves today as the border between Georgia and Florida. French Florida extends from Darien on the coast, up to Milledgeville, east of Macon.”

Fletcher Crowe is a graduate of Florida State University, where he received his Ph.D. in history in 1973. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., in 1965. Crowe has conducted research in archives throughout France and is writing a book about the French control of England in the Middle Ages. He has taught at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, and most recently at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.

Anita Spring received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, a master’s degree in anthropology from San Francisco State University, and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Cornell University in 1976. She is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Florida, and also served as associate dean of UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She has conducted ethnographic research in Ethiopia, Malawi and Zambia, as well as on the Washo Indians of the Great Basin in the United States. She is the author of 10 books and more than 60 articles.

My response to the conference organizers:

Dr. Munro,

I was surprised to receive the following email which appears to be a press release announcing the “discovery” of Fort Caroline. I think most of us were just at the paper by Crowe and Spring where they presented their theory of why they believe Fort Caroline was not in Florida, as has always been accepted by Florida historians and archaeologists, but actually some 70 miles to the north in present-day Georgia. My impression from the vigorous public discussion afterwards was that many if not most (if not all) of the other conference attendees were, to put it diplomatically, utterly unconvinced by the evidence they presented. In addition I could not help but feel that this presentation was a disservice to the many students who sat through it but then stood up and departed before the post-presentation discussion began (there were many such students, who may now graduate from FSU believing that Fort Caroline actually was located in present-day Georgia).

I cannot understand why Florida State University would publicly endorse this idea, which flies in the face of so much documentary and archaeological evidence that reputable scholars have amassed regarding the history of Fort Caroline and St. Augustine over the past fifty years. Furthermore, announcing to the public that Fort Caroline has been “discovered” seems both irresponsible and disingenuous, and is not consistent with the values and scholarship that were taught to me when I pursued undergraduate and graduate studies at FSU. I cannot imagine that this announcement will not bring into question FSU’s reputation for scholarly excellence, a reputation that I have always been very proud of. I have mentioned to you that I was a student of Donald Horward’s, who to me has always embodied the highest standard of scholarship.

In all other respects I have been very impressed with this conference. It has been very well organized and managed, and the quality of the scholars and their papers are quite notable. Please understand that I agree that open debate is an important aspect of scholarship, and because of that I attended with as open a mind as I could manage, and I would not suggest simply banning all speakers with controversial ideas. But I must be frank in relating that seeing FSU publicly endorse this theory and announce the discovery of a fort whose location remains unknown leaves me feeling very uncomfortable.

I felt I had to write you as soon as I was emailed this announcement.

Sincerely,

Chuck Meide
FSU alumni (BA Anthropology and English 1993, MA Anthropology 2001)

Within a few hours, Dr. Darrin McMahon responded to my email, explaining the situation:


Frankly, we were as surprised by this as you were. Martin and I had explicitly explained to the press office that this was NOT a discovery, but apparently that message did not get through. We are making the point that this is a theory--and a controversial one at that--to any press that contacts us. So hopefully this won't make a difference in the grand scheme.

So this was a satisfactory answer, as I understand that the University's public relations department wants to release the most exciting statement possible, and that these kinds of things happen all the time. I really do have great respect for Dr. McMahon and Dr. Munro for the great job they did with this conference. It is just unfortunate that it has helped publicize a flawed theory in the national media, which has presented these ideas for the most part without any emphasis that these are extremely controversial and unsubstantiated.

The following day (Saturday 22 February), not surprisingly, the front page of the Jacksonville paper (the Florida Times-Union) screamed the headlines "Scholars say ancient Fort Caroline nowhere near Jacksonville:"


The mystery of Fort Caroline, the doomed French outpost in the New World, has been solved, two researchers claimed at an international conference of scholars Friday.

The fort vanished, seemingly forever, soon after the Spanish wiped it out 448 years ago. Its location has been the most enduring puzzle in Jacksonville, where for more than a century amateurs and professionals have searched for it in vain.

They could keep looking for another century and still never find it, say scholars Fletcher Crowe and Anita Spring,

That’s because the fort was not in Jacksonville. It wasn’t even in Florida.

Instead, they claim, it is 70 miles north, on the Altamaha River, south of Darien, Ga.

The paper did interview University of North Florida archaeologist Buzz Thunen. Buzz has conducted surveys to find the location of the fort along the St. Johns River. While skeptical, Buzz remained very civil in his opinion of Crowe and Spring's idea:

Robert “Buzz” Thunen, a University of North Florida archaeologist who’s been searching for Fort Caroline in Jacksonville, was at the conference. He was skeptical of their findings.

“It’s a provocative presentation,” he said. “I don’t think it’s enough of an argument for me to change my mind.”

. . . Thunen, the UNF archaeologist, presented a paper to the same conference, arguing that Fort Caroline is on the St. Johns — it just hasn’t been found yet. Thunen and his UNF colleague Keith Ashley have been searching for years.

He noted that this year is the 450th anniversary of the founding of the fort.

“That fuels the fascination of the general public. There are a lot of people who are interested in finding the fort. It is, for Floridians, a sort of anchor into the recorded past and, for Jacksonvillians, it is a source of civic pride.”

Thunen said that, without any physical evidence to prove otherwise, there’s not enough in Crowe and Springs’ report to change his mind on the fort’s location.

He believes they rely too heavily on maps that can be interpreted in different ways, and says their findings don’t seem to jibe with the “historical context” of European contact with the native people.

“It never hurts to question our assumptions,” he said. “And what it does for me is to help sharpen my resolve and focus, helps me to re-look at the documents.”

The story was also carried in the St. Augustine Record that same day.

That very day, 22 February, the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum put out a press release refuting the Fort 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.”

This press release has apparently not yet been picked up by any media outlets, but it did result in an encouraging email to me from none other than Eugene Lyon, one of the most respected Florida historians, who agrees with my argument regarding the amount of time it took Menendez to march from St. Augustine to Fort Caroline, and that Kathy Deagan's excavations have also convinced him that the original Menendez settlement is located at the present-day Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine.

Then we began to see the story had hit the national press. The first outlet to run with it was Science Daily on 21 February:

In an announcement that could rewrite the book on early colonization of the New World, two researchers today said they have proposed a location for the oldest fortified settlement ever found in North America. Speaking at an international conference on France at Florida State University, the pair announced that they have proposed a new location for Fort Caroline, a long-sought fort built by the French in 1564.

This lead to comments like this on the political blog Daily Kos on 22 February:

Science Daily says it's time to move over, St. Augustine. . . . How about we change the Thanksgiving celebration to remember that time when the glorious French founded America?

Of course, that comment misses the point--the relationship between St. Augustine and Fort Caroline remains unchanged, as we have always known the French colony of La Caroline was founded the year before Menendez founded St. Augustine. So this story has been misconstrued to suggest that some new information has been turned up debunking St. Augustine's status as the oldest continuously occupied settlement (even Crowe and Spring didn't claim that!)

The follow-up story on Daily Kos on 24 February got it right with the comment:

Not everybody agrees. Especially the people, including other scholars, who say the fort was established at present-day Jacksonville, Florida.

The same day (21 February) that Science Daily broke the story it appeared in Heritage Daily:

Researchers have been searching for actual remains of Fort Caroline for more than 150 years but had not found the actual site until now, Crowe said. The fort was long thought to be located east of downtown Jacksonville, Fla., on the south bank of the St. Johns River. The Fort Caroline National Memorial is located just east of Jacksonville’s Dames Point Bridge, which spans the river.

However, Crowe and his co-author, Anita Spring, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Florida, say that the legendary fort is actually located on an island at the mouth of the Altamaha River, two miles southeast of the city of Darien, Ga. Darien is located near the Georgia coast between Brunswick and Savannah, approximately 70 miles from the Jacksonville site.

Heritage Daily offers more specific information as to where Crowe and Spring believe the fort to remain:

The two scholars believe that Fort Caroline lies on Rhetts Island, southeast of Darien.

“The fort appears to be situated in an impoundment used for duck hunting in the fall,” said Crowe, “and thankfully, the site is protected by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.”

It has been pointed out that the location seemingly referred to in the description above is believed to be a spoil island that did not exist in the 16th century.

A third national venue, Archaeology Magazine, has carried this story, although only a brief summary. They include, however, a statement suggesting that a fort-like structure has been discovered:

Historian Fletcher Crowe and anthropologist Anita Spring think that Fort Caroline, a French fortified settlement built in 1564, could be located near the mouth of the Altamaha River in southeastern Georgia. Crowe examined sixteenth and seventeenth-century maps of the Southeast at the Bibiliothèque Nationale de France, and compared them to modern maps of the region. The team then used GPS coordinates to locate a triangular structure surrounded by moats, and dozens of Native American villages.

Crowe and Spring did not mention finding an actual structure during their public presentation, so it is hard to know what these statements are based on.

Florida State University has released an updated version of their press release, which was toned back a bit so as not to indicate that the fort itself has been found. This new press release is presented below:

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an updated version of a previously issued news release.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Barry Ray, FSU College of Arts and Sciences
(850) 644-6510; beray@fsu.edu

March 6, 2014

FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY ALUMNUS PROPOSES LOCATION
OF COUNTRY’S OLDEST FORT DURING FSU CONFERENCE

TALLAHASSEE, FLA. — In an announcement that could rewrite the book on early colonization of the New World, two researchers have proposed new findings for the oldest fortified settlement in North America. Speaking Feb. 21 at an international conference at Florida State University, the pair proposed a new location in Southeast Georgia for Fort Caroline, a long-sought fort built by the French in 1564.

“This is the oldest fortified settlement in the United States,” said Florida State University alumnus and historian Fletcher Crowe. “This fort is older than St. Augustine, considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in America. It’s older than the Lost Colony of Virginia by 21 years; older than the 1607 fort of Jamestown by 45 years; and predates the landing of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1620 by 56 years.”

The announcement was made at a large international conference held Feb. 20-21 at Florida State University in Tallahassee. The conference, hosted by FSU’s Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies and its Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution, was “La Floride Française: Florida, France, and the Francophone World,” and commemorated the cultural relations between France and Florida since the 16th century. The conference drew scholars from across the globe.

Researchers have been searching for Fort Caroline for more than 150 years, Crowe said. The fort was long thought to be located east of downtown Jacksonville, Fla., on the south bank of the St. Johns River. The Fort Caroline National Memorial is located just east of Jacksonville’s Dames Point Bridge, which spans the river.

However, Crowe and his co-author, Anita Spring, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Florida, say that the legendary fort is actually located on the Altamaha River in Southeast Georgia.

“This really is an important work of scholarship, and what a great honor it is for it to be announced at a conference organized by the Winthrop-King Institute,” said Martin Munro, a professor in FSU’s Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics and director of the Winthrop-King Institute. “It demonstrates the pre-eminence of the Institute and recognizes the work we do in promoting French and Francophone culture in Florida, the United States and internationally.”

Darrin McMahon, the Ben Weider Professor of History and a faculty member with Florida State’s Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution, observed that Crowe and Spring’s finding — like the conference itself — highlights France’s longstanding presence in Florida and the Southeast.
“From the very beginning, down to the present day, French and Francophone peoples have played an important role in this part of the world,” McMahon said. “Our conference helped to draw attention to that fact.”
To conduct the research, Crowe, who received his Ph.D. in history from Florida State in 1973, flew to Paris and conducted research at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the French equivalent of the U.S. Library of Congress, as well as at the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History at the University of Florida, the Newberry Library in Chicago, and the Tampa Bay History Center. He found a number of 16th to 18th century maps that locate Fort Caroline. Some of the maps were in 16th-century French, others were in Latin and Spanish, and some were even in English.

Crowe was able to match French maps from the 16th to 18th centuries of what is today the southeastern coast of the United States with coastal charts of the United States published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and with maps published by the U.S. Geological Survey.

One reason scholars claimed that Fort Caroline was located near Jacksonville is because they believed the local Indian tribes surrounding the fort spoke the Timucuan language, the Native American language of Northeast Florida.

However, “we have confirmation that the language (as recorded by the French in the 1650s) of the Native Americans living near the fort was Guale (pronounced “WAH-ley),” Spring said. “The Guale speakers lived in the Altamaha area, showing the fort was in Georgia.”

“The frustrating and often acrimonious quest to find the fort has become a great American mystery in archaeology,” Crowe noted.

In 1565, Spanish soldiers under Pedro Menéndez marched into Fort Caroline and slaughtered some 143 men and women who were living there at the time. The fort was taken over by the Spanish and renamed.

While studying in the Paris archives, Crowe found a 1685 map of French Florida that was accurately surveyed, and that allows known geographical points to be correlated with early maps of French Florida and contemporary maps and NOAA charts.

Using the known Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates derived from an English map, Crowe was able to propose the location of dozens of Indian villages that up until now have eluded scholars and archaeologists.

“The next step is to do archaeological excavations to confirm the location as that of Fort Caroline,” Crowe said. In the excavation of Fort San Juan by Professor Christopher Rodning of Tulane University, the researchers found lead shot, nails, posts, beads and pottery that confirmed the date of authenticity of the find.

The Spanish fort that Rodning found had burned down, and researchers found a layer of black carbon about 1 meter beneath the surface, the residue of the fire. Crowe and Spring hope to find a similar layer of carbon at the Fort Caroline site, since the French fort burned twice, once in 1565 and again in 1568.

For 150 years, scholars have thought that “French Florida” meant mostly Northeast Florida, including Jacksonville, Lake City and Gainesville, spilling over to Southeast Georgia. The Crowe and Spring study would fundamentally redefine the term to include more of Southeast Georgia.

Crowe noted that “French Florida, by this new definition, forms a great oval extending from the Santee River of South Carolina, down to the St. Marys River, which serves today as the border between Georgia and Florida. French Florida extends from Darien on the coast, up to Milledgeville, east of Macon.”

Fletcher Crowe is a graduate of Florida State University, where he received his Ph.D. in history in 1973. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Stetson University in DeLand, Fla. Crowe has conducted research in archives throughout France and is writing a book about the French control of England in the Middle Ages. He has taught at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, and at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.

Anita Spring received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, a master’s degree from San Francisco State University, and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Cornell University. She was a professor of anthropology at the University of Florida, and also served as associate dean of UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She is now a professor emeritus. She has conducted ethnographic research among the Washoe Indians and in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is the author of 11 books and 60 articles and monographs.

On 7 March, I was presenting a lecture to the Florida Historical Society where I was asked to be interviewed on their radio show, "Florida Frontiers." In addition to talking about the Storm Wreck, my lecture topic, I was asked about the controversy over the location of Fort Caroline, and what I thought of it. So of course I put in my two cents worth. I'm not sure when it will air, but I supposed it could be on as soon as next week.

Just yesterday, on Monday, 10 March 2014, Crowe and Spring gave a presentation in Georgia, which not too surprisingly was well-received. From the Florida Times-Union:

ST. SIMONS ISLAND — Scholars Fletcher Crowe and Anita Spring gave their first public presentation Monday on why they believe Fort Caroline was actually near present day Darien, Ga., and not in Jacksonville.

They may never find a friendlier audience.

If nothing else was proved, it is a certainty that the conference room at the Coastal Georgia Historical Society’s Alfred W. Jones Heritage Center can hold more than 160 people, albeit not comfortably. There were at least that many listening as Crowe and Spring laid out why they think the French built the first European settlement in the New World beginning in 1564 near the mouth of the Altamaha River.

They explained the latitude, as recorded in history, of the Altamaha is closer than that of the St. Johns River, that the Altamaha is seen on many maps of the period as the May River, the river named as the historic location, and that there were a lot of misinterpretations of the French language in use at the time in establishing the Fort Caroline’s location in Jacksonville.

Spring smiled at a question about how well their report was received Monday. There were doubts expressed when they unveiled it to fellow academics Feb. 21 at Florida State University.

“We’ve been invited to give it in St. Augustine to people I know,’’ Spring said. “We haven’t said yes, yet.”

I just talked to a Jacksonville resident, Lynn Corley, who attended the 10 March talk, which she said was immensely popular by the audience of Georgians--she said there were around 150 in the audience and more were turned away to meet fire code standards. It is not surprising that they would be receptive to this theory, I suppose, but it is a shame that such ephemeral evidence is being touted with such little criticism. Ms. Corley informed me that she will be speaking to the Jacksonville City Council tonight, on her experience meeting Crowe and Spring and hearing their presentation. She also told me that Crowe referred to Jacksonville residents who believe the standard history to be "buffoons," which if true does not speak well to the civility of this debate.

UPDATED 16 March 2014:

On Saturday, 15 March 2014, a story ran in St. Augustine's alternative newspaper, the Historic City News:


LOCAL ARCHAEOLOGIST DEFENDS HISTORY OF FORT CAROLINE
La Floride Francaise: Florida, France, and the Francophone World

By Shannon O’Neil
Special to Historic City News

St Augustine Lighthouse Archaeologist, Chuck Meide, told Historic City News that he traveled to Tallahassee recently to challenge claims by scholars, Fletcher Crowe and Anita Spring, that French-occupied Ft Caroline is not actually located near Jacksonville, as we have been led to believe, but rather located along the St Mary’s River in Georgia.

Academic scholars presented the findings they have developed during course of their research. Their theory is that Ft Caroline was some 70-miles north, but Meide says that there are a number of problems with the evidence that was presented at the conference.

“First of all, 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,” Meide explained. “For every map presented that seemed to show the River of May further north — we could find another in which it is depicted in the Jacksonville area.”

The relationship between the location of St Augustine and the location of Ft. Caroline is a big piece of the puzzle that plays heavily into Meide’s dispute. He told local reporters that what we know about the location of St Augustine is the most glaring problem with the Altamaha River theory.

“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,” Meide said. “That is a two-day march through hurricane-force winds and rain. It’s not conceivable, in those conditions, that the soldiers could have made it to the Altamaha River from St Augustine in two days.”

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.

Spring and Crowe indicated that they believe St Augustine was actually founded further north, at the mouth of the St Mary’s River; although there is no evidence of that. In fact, extensive research and excavation by archaeologist Kathy Deagan, has produced a significant body of archaeological evidence that St Augustine’s original settlement site was at the present-day Fountain of Youth Archeological Park.

“If Crowe and Spring are correct, that means 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.


I will be interviewed on the radio show "Florida Frontiers" this Monday, March 17, at 6:30 pm on 89.9 WJCT. There will be some discussion on the alternative theory of Fort Caroline's location.

I will continue to update this blog entry as I encounter further relations of this story in the press.


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