A collection of blogs and musings from the people that work at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum - Florida's Finest Lightstation.

Search for the French Fleet


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July 31, 2014

Search for the French Fleet in the News!

Posted by: Chuck Meide

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The cover of FYI, a supplement to Jacksonville's newspaper, the Florida Times-Union, announcing the search for the lost French Fleet!

We've recently had some more news stories out on our ongoing search for the lost French fleet of Jean Ribault. Shortly after our first week of survey we were interviewed by Jessica Clark of First Coast News. You can see the video here, its a really great newstory!

Continue reading "Search for the French Fleet in the News!" »

Hoisting the French Flag during the Search for Ribault's Fleet

Posted by: Chuck Meide

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Fort Caroline National Monument Ranger Craig Morris and LAMP archaeologist/Flinders graduate student Brian McNamara pose with the French fleur-de-lys flag. It flew over Fort Caroline National Monument and will soon fly over the Roper as we search for the lost French Fleet of 1565.

Guest blogged by LAMP archaeologist Brian McNamara:

My spur of the moment decision to stop by the Fort Caroline National Memorial for a research visit on the way home from the airport could not have been better timed. I walked in one hour after a press conference formally announced they are fairly confident that the real location of the fort has been identified in Jacksonville. I must have looked conspicuous taking a million reference photographs in my LAMP tee shirt (and being the only visitor on site the whole three hours I was there). Ranger Craig Morris and Lynda Corley walked over and we had a long conversation about the new discovery of the fort and LAMP's ongoing search for Ribault's lost ships off of Canaveral. How fortuitous would it be to discover the wreck of Trinité within a couple weeks of the finding of the settlement that started the whole story?

The National Park Service staff at Fort Caroline National Memorial are very excited to see what comes of the search, and have honored us by presenting LAMP with Fort Caroline's flag, to be flown at Roper's masthead when we resume our work in the field.

July 30, 2014

Fort Caroline Discovered?

Posted by: Chuck Meide

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Fort Caroline was built by the French in 1564 on the banks of the River of May, the present-day St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida. Its exact location has never been found.

One of our archaeologists, Brian McNamara, visited Fort Caroline yesterday. He was one of the first to hear of a potential new discovery. State Representative Lake Ray and his son Lake Ray IV made the announcement yesterday that they believe they have identified the exact location of Fort Caroline, on the St. Johns River in the Timucuan Preserve, a National Park Service property that also includes the Fort Caroline National Monument.

From the Florida Times-Union:


The nearly 450-year-old site of North America’s first French colony is on a small island between Mayport and Buck Island, state Rep. Lake Ray said Tuesday. . . .

Ray said he’s confident the Jacksonville site is the real location of Fort Caroline. He asked that the location of the site not be disclosed to protect it from looters. The site is being protected by the Coast Guard and National Park Service, he said.

Finding the original site of Fort Caroline has been a hundreds-year-old mystery that Northeast Florida historians have long since tried to solve.

The French established the fort in 1564. Spanish soldiers from St. Augustine later attacked it and ultimately the French abandoned it.

Ray’s son, Lake Ray IV, has searched for the site of Fort Caroline since 2010.

Ray IV, who has a bachelor’s in history from the University of North Florida, brought his father in on the search about two months ago, and they used copies of maps they inherited from the state representative’s father.

Within those maps, they said, they found an original drawing of Fort Caroline, penned by a young man who sent the map back home to his father. They used geological survey maps from the early 1900s and found a small island that matched the map, Rep. Ray said.

He said moats that were known to have bordered the site are clearly visible on the land, and there’s an imprint of a triangular structure that was part of the fort and rectangular courtyard.

“If you get out on the island, there’s no doubt,” said Ray IV.

University of North Florida associate professor of anthropology Robert “Buzz” Thunen said researchers will need to find French and Spanish artifacts before the site can be verified.

No excavations have begun yet, but they may start within three weeks after researchers get the proper permits, Thunen said.

Barbara Goodman, National Park Service superintendent for the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve and the Fort Caroline National Memorial, said archeologists will start by digging 10 or 12 test holes. From there, researchers will determine whether there’s enough cause to continue excavations.

“Its a felony for anyone who isn’t authorized to go digging around on the property,” she said. “As soon as we have some information to share, we’ll share it. Until we know what we have, we need to keep the site protected.”

She said research will start as soon as certain details, such as funding for the dig, can be settled

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NPR and First Coast News also ran stories on the potential discovery.

They used aerial photographs to identify landforms that might correspond to the remains of the original fort and its moat. At this stage I would say their finds are preliminary in nature, and would need to be tested archaeologically before we could say with any confidence that they represent the actual site of the fort. They supposedly have artifacts from the site, which I have not seen (and which would be illegal to have removed from the site without a National Park Service permit), that when analyzed by archaeologists might also lend credit to their claim. Regardless, there is excitement in the air about Ribault, Fort Caroline, and the Lost French Fleet this year, the 450th anniversary of the French settlement!

July 10, 2014

LAMP to Search for the Lost French Fleet of 1565

Posted by: Chuck Meide

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Today was an exciting day. At 10am we hosted a press conference to announce to the world that we will be launching an expedition to search for the lost French fleet of Jean Ribault, wrecked in 1565. This project is funded by the State of Florida and NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration, and is being carried out in partnership with the National Park Service, the Center for Historical Archaeology, and the Institute of Maritime History.

The story has been making a big splash in the news. Two Jacksonville TV stations, First Coast News and News4Jax (Channel 4) broadcast stories, and it was carried by the Jacksonville and St. Augustine papers.

From the Florida Times-Union:

By Matt Soergel

ST. AUGUSTINE | A team of archaeologists unveiled plans Thursday for an oceangoing expedition to find the lost French fleet of Jean Ribault, which sank 449 years ago in a history-changing hurricane off Florida’s Atlantic coast. . . .

Finding the fleet would be momentous, said Chuck Meide, the expedition’s principal investigator.

“It is Florida’s origin story, so it is also the story of the birth of our nation,” he said at a press conference under the live oaks outside the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum.

Meide, 43, a maritime archaeologist with the Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program, will lead a crew of four on the search, which begins this month. They’ll spend up to six days at a time on a converted shrimp boat, using sonar to look above the seabed and a magnetometer to search for metal — cannons, cannonballs and other artifacts — under the sand.

Continue reading "LAMP to Search for the Lost French Fleet of 1565" »

Archaeologists to Search for Lost 1565 French Fleet of Jean Ribault

Posted by: Shannon

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This July and August, archaeologists will search for a fleet of 16th century French ships that were lost in a hurricane, resulting in the establishment of a Spanish colony in St. Augustine, Fla. in 1565.

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLA. – Later this July, researchers from the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum will embark on a six-week search for the lost French fleet of Jean Ribault, which sank off the Florida coast in 1565. If discovered, these ships would arguably represent the most important shipwreck sites ever discovered in U.S. waters.

If these ships hadn’t gone down in a hurricane, the entire history of the First Coast, and that of our country, would be dramatically different,” said Chuck Meide, director of the museum’s Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program and the principal investigator on this expedition. “The loss of these ships and subsequent massacre of French survivors by Spanish forces is what led to the founding of St. Augustine by Spain 450 years ago.”

Under the direction of France’s King Charles IX, Ribault led a fleet of seven ships, including his 32-gun flagship, Trinité, to the New World in 1565. One thousand French colonists, sailors, and troops came with him to bolster the French colony at Fort Caroline, near the mouth of the St. Johns River. At the same time, Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived in Florida intent on destroying the French enterprise. In a preemptive strike to keep Menendez from establishing a colony in St. Augustine, Ribault sailed his four largest ships southwards, only to be struck by a hurricane which scattered and wrecked his fleet. With the loss of these ships, Fort Caroline was taken, Ribault and his men were put to the sword at Matanzas Inlet, and Spain established the first permanent settlement in the United States.

Though the French fleet has never been found, artifacts from survivor camps near the Canaveral National Seashore have given archaeologists an indication of where to search. This expedition will be the first geophysical survey ever conducted to search for these ships in the marine environment. If found these ships would be the oldest French vessels ever discovered in the United States, or anywhere else in the New World.

“This is a really exciting project for our museum and our state and federal partners,” said Kathy A. Fleming, executive director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. “We have done extensive research and exhibits on a number of area shipwrecks, but this one really tells the origin story of St. Augustine.”

This expedition is funded and supported by partnerships between the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP), the National Park Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the State of Florida, the Institute of Maritime History, and the Center for Historical Archaeology.

All partners involved in this historic project have leveraged their joint resources including expertise, equipment and funding to make the expedition possible. This project has been financed in part with historic preservation grant assistance provided by the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Division of Historical Resources, Florida Department of State, assisted by the Florida Historical Commission and a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (NOAA OER). The search has been tapped as one of NOAA OER’s signature expeditions for 2014.

The National Park Service’s Southeast Archaeological Center (SEAC) and Submerged Resources Center (SRC) are providing additional resources and support to the LAMP team and will be actively participating in the research. The search will be conducted from a research vessel provided by the Institute of Maritime History, and will use historical research undertaken in the French archives by the co-principal investigator on the expedition, Dr. John de Bry of the Center for Historical Archaeology in Melbourne, Fla.

To safeguard these archaeological sites, which are protected from molestation or looting by law, the specific locations of discovered shipwrecks and/or artifacts will not be disclosed via media or other means. Very few artifacts will be removed from any shipwreck sites discovered, and then only temporarily for documentation before being returned to their original location on or under the seafloor.

Results of the survey and search will be released after the expedition concludes in August. Information and updates will be available on the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum blog located at http://staugustinelighthouse.org.

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