Friday, Jun 1, 2012
The 450th anniversary of the landing of a French expedition lead by Jean Ribault, was commemorated last week with a series of events. The National Park Service and the City of Jacksonville, Florida hosted a weeklong celebration entitled “French Week”. The week kicked off on Monday, April 30, with two French Navy tall ships sailing past Fort Caroline National Memorial. Rangers and volunteers saluted the vessels with a traditional cannon fire as they sailed up the St. John’s River to their temporary berth at the Jacksonville Landing.
On May 1st, 1562, Jean Ribault’s expedition landed at the mouth of the St. John’s River, and he named the river the “River of May.” Ribault erected a stone column bearing the coat of arms of King Charles IX to claim Florida for France. The landing led to the establishment, in 1564, of la Caroline, a settlement that was initially planned for commerce, but also became a refuge for the Huguenots, French Protestants who were fleeing religious persecution in France. Spanish Conquistador Pedro Menendez destroyed the la Caroline settlement in 1565.
On Tuesday, May 1st, 2012, approximately 200 people attended a ceremony at Fort Caroline to rededicate the Ribault Monument, a replica of Ribault’s original stone column, donated in 1924 by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and Consul General of France in Miami, Gaël de Maisonneuve, and Superintendent Barbara Goodman addressed the crowd. Local students performed a musical selection and a poetry reading in French. A highlight of the event was the presentation of a Ribault artifact to Mayor Brown by Gaetan Ribault, a 23rd generation descendant of the French explorer.
Superintendent Goodman unveiled new educational exhibits at the Fort Caroline National Memorial. The exhibits expand the story of the la Caroline colony and include a memorial to those original French colonists who died at the attempted settlement.
On May 5th and 6th, living history and Junior Ranger programs were conducted at Fort Caroline. The living history featured rangers and volunteers in period costume interpreting the story of how the French lived and worked in their new settlement. The new Junior Ranger program, which focused on the 450th anniversary, enabled young people to learn about the lives and early history of the French in the area and to earn a unique Junior Ranger badge created especially for the commemoration.