Florida Celebrates French Heritage
Florida has a long, rich maritime history, but the arrival of the French in the Jacksonville area is a major cause of celebration. Northeast Florida will be alive with festivities and events commemorating the 450th anniversary of the French expedition, under the command of Huguenot Captain Jean Ribault, landing in Florida.
The Huguenots were French Protestants who sought the right to worship freely and with the support of King Charles IX, Ribault anchored along the North Florida coast, arriving on April 30, 1562. The following day, they sailed north and discovered the mouth of a grand river, dubbed River of Maye by Ribault and known today as the St. Johns River. To this day the Mayport village and Naval Station derive their names from Ribault’s River of May.
Planned celebrations in the area include rededicating the Ribault Monument at the Fort Caroline National Memorial and reenacting his landing and meeting with Chief Saturi of the Timucua Indians. In downtown Jacksonville, the French Navy will moor two goélettes – handsome schooners used for training French Navy cadets. The events began April 26 and run through May 6 in the inaugural “French Week” in Jacksonville.
In a bow to historical perspective, Ribault’s arrival occurred 58 years before the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth. Ribault and his crew planted a column in honor of the King and claimed the land for future settlement. Two years later, Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere commanded a second expedition to establish the first French colony in America, named “la Caroline” for King Charles IX. A fort was built in the colony to protect the French settlers, today operated by the United States National Park Service as Fort Caroline National Memorial.
And so began a significant, long-lasting relationship between Florida and France, one nurtured through consular relationships, cultural exchanges, the French Consulate and Trade Commission in Miami, the French American Chamber of Commerce of Florida and the Florida – Caribbean Section of the French Foreign Trade Advisors. To Florida’s distinct advantage, the active presence of the French has enriched trade, culture, history and heritage.
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“Ribault’s Landing” – Artist Lee Adams’ 30-foot mural