Treasure hunters have apparently found the 500-year-old remains of a naval expedition led by a colonizer who could have changed Florida’s history, making it French-speaking at least for a while.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As a resident of Saint Augustine, Florida, I love to walk the streets of our historic downtown and thrill to the Spanish flavor seen in the buildings, restaurants and street names. Saint Augustine is America’s oldest city, and we have a long and proud history preserved here today. But way back when it all got started, in 1565, there was a French gunship called ‘La Trinite’ led by Jean Ribault that sailed our waters and came to do battle with King Philip of Spain. But in typical Florida fashion, a freak storm came up out of nowhere and sunk his massive gunship and the battle never happened. For if it had, Avenida Menendez today might well be otherwise known as Avenue de la Trinité.
The big question is if the shipwreck is that of “La Trinite,” the 32-gun flagship of a fleet led by Jean Ribault, a French navigator who tried to establish a Protestant colony in the southeast US under orders from King Charles IX.
They probably are, say authorities in Florida, the French government and independent archeologists. And if they in fact are, this is an unparalleled find, said John de Bry, director of the Center for Historical Archeology, a not-for-profit organization.
Jean Ribault and the Lost Fleet of 1565:
“If it turns out to be ‘La Trinite,’ it is the most important, historically and archaeologically, the most important shipwreck ever found in North America,” he told AFP.
All indications are that the shipwreck found is the real thing.
The artefacts found at the site off Cape Canaveral include three bronze cannons with markings from the reign of King Henri II, who ruled right before Charles IX; and a stone monument with the French coat of arms that was to be used to claim the new territory.
The remains are “consistent with material associated with the lost French Fleet of 1565,” said Meredith Beatrice, director of communications with the Florida Department of State.
In 1565, Ribault set sail from Fort Caroline, today Jacksonville, to attack his arch-enemy, the Spaniard Pedro Menendez de Aviles, who had been sent to Saint Augustine, Florida by King Philip of Spain to thwart French plans to set up a colony.
Saint Augustine, Our Nation’s Oldest City:
Everywhere you look in Saint Augustine you see a strong Spanish flavor, but it certainly could have been French had the hurricane not happened.
But Ribault got caught in a hurricane, which destroyed “La Trinite” and three other galleons and ended French dreams of claiming Florida. Ribault and hundreds of other French Huguenots were massacred by Menendez de Aviles.
The local flavor of History Saint Augustine today would be French and not Spanish had this ship not sunk.
“If the French had not been driven south and ships sunk by the hurricane, we would have a totally different story,” said de Bry. “Florida could have been speaking French for a number of years.” In modern day Florida, archeologists and historians have been looking for this shipwreck for years.
Two years ago, an expedition from the state-run St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program gave it a shot but found nothing. Marine archeologist Chuck Meide, who led that try, said “this is one of the most important shipwreck discoveries we have had in Florida.”
The find was finally made in May of this year by a treasure hunting firm called Global Marine Exploration.
Precisely where has not been disclosed. “It is not advisable,” said French consul general Clement Leclerc.
“This is potentially a major discovery and we think it deserves a scientific and rigorous analysis and exploitation, because we think it should be later presented to the general public given its historical interest,” he told AFP.