Present Project

In May 2016 a treasure hunting company by the name of Global Marine Exploration, Inc. from Tampa, Florida, operating under a State of Florida’s Exploration Permit (#2015.03) discovered several wreck sites and debris fields off the north coast of Cape Canaveral, one of which containing two bronze cannons, a stone monument or marker, and a stone grinding wheel, amongst ballast stones and iron cannon balls. The two bronze cannons, although heavily worn, display several fleurs de lis along the chase as well as other decorative devices. The button in the cascabel field is typical of 16th-century guns. The stone marker is adorned by a large shield containing three fleurs de Lis, with the shield surmounted by a French royal crown.

The stone marker is noteworthy because we know that the French left two stone markers during the first expedition in 1562, although one was discovered by the Spaniards and reportedly taken back to Cuba, its ultimate disposition remains unknown. The French described those makers as bornes (Laudonnière 1586:13v). A borne is a stone boundary marker, and the French in 1562 used them to mark the territory claimed in the name of the king of France, Charles IX (1560-1574). The markers were left at Charlesfort (present-day Parris Island, South Carolina), and in the present-day Jacksonville area in Florida. The one discovered by the Spaniards was the one from Charlesfort. Although the manuscript documents located in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in Paris (BnF, français 21544) do not contain any mention of a borne or bornes, it must be kept in mind that those documents pertain mostly to sea-service artillery, ammunition, gunpowder, small arms, and personnel. It is conceivable, see logical, that more stone markers would have been carried by the Ribault ships, to delineate and emphasize the territory claimed by Charles IX in Nouvelle France. However, new archival research has brought to light, in the Archivo General de Simancas, a letter by Francés de Alava to King Philip II (AGS, Consejo de Estado K 1505, Francés de Alava to King Philipe II, 19 January 1566) mentioning that at least six marble columns with the coat-of-arms of France were placed onboard the Ribault ships in Dieppe as well as “many epitaphs [to the glory of France]” intended for Ft. Caroline The stone markers were made of marble and came from the Poitou region in southwestern France, a petrographic analysis of the stone should confirm that. The size of the stone borne does not fit the description of a column but it is possible that those columns came in several pieces meant to be assembled at Ft. Caroline in Florida. When ballast is encountered the same analysis should be conducted on a few stones as La Trinité was built in Normandy and, as far as it is known, never went on any other voyage outside of France or outside of Normandy. La Trinité was built at Charles IX’s orders and at the Crown’s expense for the expedition to Florida and thus can be regarded as a warship. Such vessel benefits of immunity regardless of the passage of time and remains the property of the flag nation. The millstone (meule) should as also be considered for petrographic analysis.

The presence of the stone marker in situ in Site 2, along with 16th-century bronze cannons, strongly suggests that those cultural remains may be associated with the admiral ship la Trinité. More scientific investigation of Site 2 and surrounding area is needed to determine if additional associated cultural material lies nearby, and if a distinct shipwreck site can be located. From the archival record, reports and depositions from survivors it appears that la Trinité of Jean Ribault, and l’Émérillon of Nicolas d’Ornano (aka Corsette) had not unloaded their cargo because they drew too much water and fearful of grounding the two ships had elected to remain off shore; the cargo of both vessels should be substantial.

The larger of the two bronze cannons was preliminarily recorded as follows:

3 meters from breech to muzzle 

21.59 cm cascabel to breech

1.55 meters breech to 1st reinforce which is forward of the trunion plane

15.24 cm Ø bore

30.48 cm across Muzzle 

The markings on this particular bronze cannon are very diagnostic. The cypher encountered on this gun consisting of the letters HD or HC or even HH, as it can be read either way, has been interpreted as standing for Henri II (1547-1559) and his mistress Diane de Poitiers, or for Henri II and his Queen Catherine of Medici. Support for the first theory has been suggested by the presence of the two bows with the crescent moon in between (also present on this particular bronze cannon), both emblems of the goddess Diana the Huntress. The crescent moon, together with the motto Donec Totum Impleat Orbem (until it fills the whole world), is said by the contemporary writer Paolo Giovio (Dialogo dell’Imprese Militari et Amorose, Lyon, 1559, p. 25) to have been adopted by the King when he became Dauphin in 1536, and both crescent and monogram appear on the bindings of the King’s own books (The Armouries of the Tower of London: The Ordnance, 1976:114-115).

The letter “B” is most interesting because it has been attributed to a yet-to-be identified gun founder who worked for both François I of France (1515-1547) and Henri II (1547-1559). The size of the cannon and the size of the bore dictate a Petite Coulevrine, typical of the period. In those days calibers had not been standardized, so you had “calibers of France” and “petits calibres.” Later on in the 16th-century larger caliber pieces would qualify as “cannons” (Sylvie Leluc, July 2016: personal communication). It should be noted that a “petite coulevrine” is listed as part of La Trinité’s bronze armament in the commissioning papers of that ship (BnF, français 21544: folio 36 recto).

The goals of the Center for Historical Archaeology is (1) to conduct additional research in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in Paris to search for additional archival material related to the French expeditions of 1562, 1564, and 1565, focusing primarily on the 1565 expedition, the loss of the Jean Ribault fleet, and the subsequent effect of this loss as well as the loss of the French settlement at Ft. Caroline. Additional research in the Archivo General de Indias (AGI) in Seville, Spain, and the Archivo General de Simancas, near Valladolid, Spain, will also be conducted. In the AGS the research will be focused on the section Consejo de Estado (1404-1832) which contains original correspondence of various Spanish ambassadors to various European courts, in this particular case correspondence from Francés de Alava y Beamonte, Spanish ambassador to the French court (1564-1570).

It is noteworthy that although the three expeditions were royal expeditions financed by the French crown under Charles IX, the vast majority of the people making up these expeditions were Huguenots, including the soldiers, artisans and their families. The Grand Admiral of France, Gaspard de Coligny, was also the leader of the French Protestants and as such had wanted to find a safe haven for his followers, something he had already attempted in 1555 when he had sent an expedition to Brazil in an effort to colonize it for France, and at the same time finding a place where Protestants could practice their faith without being persecuted (France Antartique, Rio de Janeiro, 155-1557. See André Thevet’s Singularités de la France antartique, 1558). Additional archival research will reveal a lot of information on the context of the 1565 voyage to Florida and the people who made up the expedition. That will also be the case when excavation of the site starts in 2017 as the material culture excavated will include personal objects that will shed light on the life and hopes of those seeking a religious refuge in this New World.

Funding is now needed to pursue those objectives and achieve the goals mentioned above. Funding will be required for salaries, research trips to France and Spain, photocopies and digital images of original manuscript documents, transcription, translation, and interpretation of French and Spanish documents, as well as publishing of research reports. It should be pointed out that the Center for Historical Archaeology is a completely nonprofit organization according to the meanings of sections 501(c)(3) and 170(b)(A)(vi) of the United States Internal Revenue Code, and that gifts and contributions qualify for tax exemption in the United States. The purpose of the Center is scientific research and education. All information is freely shared and disseminated to other institutions and centers of higher learning, and made available to the public educational system in general.