Present Project

In May 2016 a treasure hunting company by the name of Global Marine Exploration, Inc. (GME) 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 three bronze cannons, a stone monument or marker, and a stone grinding wheel, amongst ballast stones and iron cannon balls. One of the three bronze cannons, although heavily worn, displays several fleurs-de-lis along the chase as well as other decorative devices. The button in the cascabel field is typical of 16th-century naval 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 the 16th-century used them to mark territories claimed in the name of the king of France, in this case 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 now known, thanks to a Spanish spy letter discovered in the Archivo General de Simancas, Spain, that more stone markers were carried by the Ribault ships, to delineate and emphasize the territory claimed by Charles IX in Nouvelle France. The coded secret letter brought to light, authored by Francés de Alava to King Philip II (AGS, Consejo de Estado K 1505, Francés de Alava to King Philipe II, 19 January 1566) mentions that at least six marble columns with the coat-of-arms of France were placed onboard the Ribault ships 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 even possibly outside of Normandy. La Trinité was built and purchased 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 vessels have the benefit of sovereign 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 are associated with the admiral ship la Trinité, the location of the shipwreck support that theory. 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, but the presence of ballast stones clearly indicates a shipwreck rather than a scatter. 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 trunnion 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’ImpreseMilitari 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), although recent research by a young French historian has tentatively identified the founder and his family. The size of the cannon and the size of the bore dictate a Petite Coulevrine (culverin), 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). It is the opinion of the Center that la Trinité represents the most important, historically and archaeologically, shipwreck ever discovered in North America.

In the mid-16th century France was a vigorous, expansionist nation emerging from feudalism and dreaming of empire. Spain, the world's leading power, already had a foothold in the Americas, and France wanted a share of the riches the Spanish were gaining through trade and plunder. France's first attempt to stake a permanent claim in North America was at La Caroline, a settlement near the mouth of the St. Johns River, Florida.

Initially, the settlement was to be a commercial venture, but religious conflicts in France broadened the goals. The growing persecution of French Protestants (Huguenots) led their most powerful member, Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, to make a proposal to the crown: The colony could also be a refuge for Huguenots. An exploratory expedition, commanded by Jean Ribault, left France in February 1562. After erecting a monument at the River of May (now St. Johns River), Ribault headed north, leaving a small garrison at Charlesfort near Port Royal Sound, and sailed home. Within months the situation of his men became desperate and they returned to France.

Coligny urged another attempt in April 1564, planning for a permanent settlement of some 200 soldiers and artisans, as well as a few women. Led by René Goulaine de Laudonnière (1529-1574), who had accompanied Ribault on his previous expedition, they first touched at the River of May on 22 June 1564. With help from Timucua Indians, the colonists began building a village and fort on the river's south bank, naming the area La Caroline ("land of Charles") after their king, Charles IX.

Good relations with the Indians eventually soured and by the following spring the colonists were close to starvation. On two occasions mutinous parties had sailed off to make their own fortune and some were eventually captured by the Spanish, revealing the presence of the French colony. The remaining colonists, having failed to discover silver or gold, were about to leave Florida in August 1565, when they spotted sails on the horizon. Ribault had arrived with a relief expedition of supplies, 600 soldiers and settlers, including more women and some children.

On learning of Ribault's departure for Florida, Philip II of Spain sent Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to dislodge the French. Initially repulsed by the French off the coast, Menéndez established a base to the south at St. Augustine. Ribault sailed down the coast seeking to attack the Spanish, but his ships were scattered by a hurricane and sunk far to the south. Seizing the opportunity, Menéndez marched north with 500 soldiers to attack the weakly guarded colony. Early in the morning of September 20, his troops massacred 140 settlers, sparing only about 60 women and children. Forty to fifty others, including Laudonnière, escaped and sailed for France. Menéndez next marched south and found the shipwrecked Frenchmen, Ribault among them. They surrendered and counted on Menéndez’s mercy, but to Menéndez they were heretics and enemies of his king and of his faith. At a place later named Matanzas (Slaughter), he put to the sword about 350 men - all but those professing to be Catholics, including four young fifers and three drummer boys.

French revenge was enacted in April 1568 by Dominique de Gourgues. He attacked and burned the fort, killing anyone who didn't escape, then sailed home. Spain rebuilt the fort only to abandon it in 1569, but France never again strongly challenged Spanish claims in North America.

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 (AGS), 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 Antarctique, Rio de Janeiro, 1555-1567. See André Thevet’s Singularitez de la France antarctique, 1557 & 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 2019 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.

Last year, in 2017, the Center conducted three research trips to French archival repositories where a wealth of manuscript documents pertaining to the 1565 expedition to Florida were found,  most of the documents discovered were found in the correspondence between the French ambassador to Spain, Raymond de Fourquevaux, and Charles IX and Catherine de’ Medici. Additionally, the artillery inventory for all the major ships in the 1565 expedition were also located. In the process of the Center’s investigation new leads and avenues for archival research were developed in the French National Archives (Archives nationales or AN) rather than the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), particularly G1 79s analyses de textes et mémoires concernant les traités et le commerce extérieur depuis 1563, and Série K, cartons des rois, K93 to K98, Pièces officielles du règne de Charles IX. This is where the order to purchase the admiral ship la Trinité might be, which would be a most important find, as well as the orders and financing for the 1565 expedition. A complete manifest has yet to be found for la Trinité. The case was in Federal Court for more than two years, but on 29 June 2018, the Federal Judge, the Honorable Karla R. Spaulding (United District Court, Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division) rendered her judgement in favor of France. The treasure Hunting company had thirty (30) days to appeal, but did not. American and French archaeologists will scientifically excavate the shipwreck but the material culture assemblage (artifacts) will remain in the United States and will be exhibited in a museum in Florida.

Transcribing and translating of the documents found in November 2017, still need to be completed, but the listing of armament for la Trinité and the vice-admiral ship l’Émérillon (BnF, français 21544) have been transcribed and translated which in itself was quite a task as the original script was very complicated and the terminology of some of the armament and associated utensils was already antiquated by the end of the 16th-century, so finding proper equivalents was very difficult, nevertheless that very important task was accomplished. A one month-long trip to Paris to complete research, preferably this coming month of October (2018), and some additional time is needed to complete the transcription and translation of the manuscript documents located this past November. We believe all can be accomplished with $10,000.00 to $12,000.00. However, any contribution would be appreciated and would enable the Center to complete the transcription and translation of those documents. If funding is available more trips to French and Spanish repositories will be undertaken in 2019 and beyond.

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 the publication 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.