Researchers Claim Discovery of America’s Oldest Fort

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 archaeologists.

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.”

Contributing Source : Florida State University

Previous post

Jawed vertebrates get a face

Next post

The Nazi Olympics



Heritage Daily is an independent online magazine for archaeological and associated disciplines, dedicated to the heritage and historical sector. We identified the need for a central resource offering the latest archaeological news, journals, articles and press releases.

  • FixCain

    The fact that they said the Lost Colony of “Virginia” really destroys any credibility these guys may even have. If you can’t even get the location correct of such a historic event… I can’t trust you to date any remains muchless know what the heck it even is.

  • Ronald Hicks

    I could have sworn that Native Americans were building fortified towns several hundred years earlier (Mississippian and Fort Ancient people, for example).

  • Rhonda Johnson Contreras

    Yes, it’s that ol’ Eurocentric thing again. You’re right, of course, and I don’t see how they can claim that it’s Fort Caroline if they haven’t excavated it, yet. Did they find a sign at the entrance?

  • Archaeology News

    The original press release said “Researchers Discovered America’s Oldest Fort”…. Having proof read the article, I decided to add the word “Claim” as I remain skeptical.

  • Archaeologizt

    There are many problems with their “evidence”. For starters, no archaeological findings, therefore no “discovery”. Crowe is not the first to visit the Parisian archives in search of Fort Caroline. There have been many visits for many years. The media sensationalism is unbelievable. I wish they gave more credit to serious history and archaeology.

  • William Moss

    Jacques Cartier and Roberval built a fortified post in Quebec City in 1541 and were there until 1543! So tell me about the oldest French fort in North America. By the way, it was ecxcavated from 2007 to 2009. See the exhibition at the Musee de La Civilisation.

  • William Moss
  • MMRd

    This is a sad excuse of a finding. One requires more than charts and historical documents to attest to physical existence. While the finding is very interesting, the lack of archaeological evidence makes it a hollow one.
    Its a decent first step. Now its time to follow up some field work.

  • HC Collier

    I worked on an excavation at Angel Mounds, on the Ohio River in Southern Indiana. It was part if the Mississipian culture and was completely fortified by large walls, in the daub and wattle style of construction, and was manned by guards on guard posts. This fortified site was built and occupied centuries before Ft. Caroline, unless by oldest fortified settlement, you discount the Mississipain culture as counting in your estimation if what constitutes a “settlement”.

  • Toye

    Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the U.S.

  • HC Collier

    I guess it depends on ones definition of city, settlement, and fortification. The myopic anthropological viewpoint reflected by this article seems to deny the pre-Columbian peoples in the Americas as having been either fully human or capable of “civilization”. This article is numbing in its blatant racism.

  • Olroy24

    SHA_org What about Cartier-Roberval Fort in Quebec City, dating 1541?

  • Brian Anderson

    Even from a Eurocentric theme this is incorrect. L’anse aux Meadows had fortifications, and that was around 1000 A.C.E. Unless of course we are considering “America” to be the current United States territories, and not just pertaining to North America in general (which the article states). This article is pure sensationalism, and should be approached with EXTREME skepticism.

  • CurtWelch

    This works seems very questionable.  Here’s some good data I found on the internet about the search for the fort and how complex the problem is given how inaccurate and inconsistent the maps and various reports about the fort were:
    One one of the pages it points out how many maps put the fort around latitude 31, but that having it there is inconsistent with other maps that put it at 30, and other reports that put it 5 to 15 leagues away from St. Augustine.  The current best guess is 10 leagues north of At Augustine.  This new location is 28 leagues north.
    He certainly needs to publish details of what he’s found.  This article doesn’t give enough details to verify if the guy has anything significant.

  • SHA_org

    Olroy24 yes. Our fault on this tweet: it auto posted the headline from the article, which is inaccurate. The researchers claim oldest in US

  • GeorgeJMyersJr

    (1542), Manhattan
    A French fortified trading post located on an island (or a marshy extension) in a small fresh-water lake on Manhattan Island, later known as http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/M242/history, in the area bound by present-day Franklin, Lafayette, Duane, and Baxter Streets, near the present New York County Courthouse. The pond remained a landmark until drained in 1811. http://www.northamericanforts.com/East/nycity.html

  • FLSwampStomper

    I’ve researched it myself, and I don’t agree with the guys findings. My opinion is that it was an island in the St. John’s river, that no longer exists today.

  • wstgowstgo

    FLSwampStomper This discovery is pretty cool, if you look at the site on Google Earth and look at different historical images you can see the outline of the original fort. It has been known for many years that the Jacksonville site was bogus and that a lot of politics were involved in choosing that site.can’t wait until they start the archeological dig.

  • CurtWelch

    wstgowstgo FLSwampStomper  Really?  Give me the LINK please.  I looked for hours and didn’t see anything that matched the maps to the current land let alone anything that looked like “the fort”.
    Go to google maps, zoom in on the location, and then use the link system (that little chain link symbol) to get a short URL like this:
    I want to see what you think you are talking about…..
    The idea that there would be an outlet visible is pretty silly. After 450 years of hurricanes and natural growth and human activity, the odds of something being visible today is near zero.  The odds that there is something left to find in a dig is good, IF they dig in the right place.
    The problem is that there are LOTS of historic maps, and they are all very bad maps.  It’s also obvious that many of them, were just copying (and corrupting) errors from other maps.  There are also a lot of historic reference and descriptions of where the fort was, and there is again, lots of conflicting information.
    But there is also a lot of good data, that makes it very hard to believe the fort could be that far north of St Augustine.  The St John’s is around 35 miles north of St Augustine, but the new location is about 100 miles north.
    It was reported that the Spanish marched by land, from St Augustine to the fort when they attacked it.  They could do that without crossing any rivers, if the location is where people suggest it is today on the south side of the St John’s. To get all the way up to the new suggested location, the Spanish would have needed to crosse something like 6 rivers/swamps on their march, or taking a route very deep inland.  It would make little sense to march by land over that path if the fort is where this new report is suggesting.
    It would be really cool if they do find it, but the little data I’ve found in just spending a few hours on this, seems to strongly support a location closer to St Augustine for many reasons.
    But these articles don’t give us the data these researches found to support their claim so if I saw what they have, I might agree with them it’s a possibility.

  • wstgowstgo

    The ironic part of this story is that in “The Travels of William Bartram” he writes of having seen the remnants of a French or Spanish fort in GA, exactly in the same spot reported.

  • wstgowstgo

    here is a great article that goes into more detail on the location.

  • wstgowstgo

    CurtWelch wstgowstgoFLSwampStomperThe area is also very remote in the sense that it is a rise in a swamp. It is amazing how long an area disturbed by humans remains visible after hundreds of years.Google earth is being used as we speak to find long lost structures built by our ancestors. In this case they used infrared images of the site and you can clearly see the triangle shape of the fort. Using that view if you go to Google earth and look at the historical view  taken in 2008 it is clearly visible.

  • CurtWelch

    Yes, @http://www.livefyre.com/profile/32643181/ the claim does seem justified!  Though this article doesn’t give enough detail to justify the claim, these do:
    Here it is on google maps!  200 ft west of  I-95 with one wall almost parallel to the road!  Even without infrared you can see the distinct outline of the fort in the trees just west of I95 because the trees in the triangle are distinctly different.
    I-95 runs right between the location of Ft Caroline and Ft San Mateo (built by the Spanish after they attacked Fort Caroline.
    Can’t wait for the dig to start and see what they find!

  • CurtWelch

    Here’s a better google maps link that shows the rough outline of the new suggested location of Fort Caroline in “maps” view.

  • FLSwampStomper

    wstgowstgo FLSwampStomper
    You can see a 1951 aerial view better than todays, go to https://www.historicaerials.com/ and search for 31.3300291,-81.4733717
    Click compare and slide, then slide between 2007 and 1951

  • Teig Tyrson

    Nice article on Fort Caroline. This is the difference between Florida and Maine. Florida can claim the earliest fort and eventually get the backing and money to dig and validate the site. Bucksport Maine has the remnants of a triangle shaped French Fort claimed by the thought liar Andre Thevet to be Fort Norumbega, which predates anything in Florida. Some claim it may even predate Columbus. Why hasn’t anyone heard of it? Because Maine is the exact opposite of Florida. Before you can even attempt to gain any interest, you have to hire Maine Preservation to dig out of pocket, or beg the Government to even take a look at it. If you mention it to the Colleges, you are accused of seeing conspiracies. I wish them the best, I will continue my solo effort of investigation and documentation.