Failure of the French Before Jamestown

maps documenting early French exploration treated the southeastern corner of the North American continent as Spanish territory (La Floride), but asserted French claims to the St. Lawrence River valley
maps documenting early French exploration treated the southeastern corner of the North American continent as Spanish territory ("La Floride"), but asserted French claims to the St. Lawrence River valley
Source: Canada: the Empire of the North, Dauphin Map of Canada (by Jacques Cartier, c.1543)

The French claim to lands in North America was based on the Doctrine of Discovery, a European concept that allowed France to assert legal ownership of lands not occupied by Christians. The territory that became New France and later Canada may have been discovered by French fishermen in the year 1504, followed by the better-documented voyages of Jacques Cartier to the St. Lawrence River.1

French King Francis I financed explorations by Giovanni da Verrazzano to explore the coast of North America in 1524. To minimize the chance of creating a justification for military action, that expedition explored far north of the Spanish-controlled Caribbean. Verrazzano chose to stay rather far from the shore and missed the mouth of both the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay. He did discover New York harbor, where the Verrazano Bridge (missing one "z") was named for him.

On the way north up the coastline, Verrazano stopped at what may have been Cape Fear, Hatteras, and the Eastern Shore of Virginia/Maryland. He had the political good sense to name the land "Francesca" to honor his French king, Francis I. After Verrazano saw water behind barrier islands, he was one of many who explored eastern North America and claimed to glimpse the Pacific Ocean:2

We called it Annunciata from the day of arrival, and found there an isthmus one mile wide and about 200 miles long, in which we could see the eastern sea from the ship... This is doubtless the one which goes around the tip of India, China and Cathay.

map of Native American villages along the Mississippi River/Gulf Coast, reflecting explorations of Ren´┐Ż-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in the 1680's
map of Native American villages along the Mississippi River/Gulf Coast, reflecting explorations of Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in the 1680's
Source: Library of Congress, Les costes aux environs de la riviere de Misisipi:
decouvertes par Mr. de la Salle en 1683 et reconnues par Mr. le Chevallier d'Iberville en 1698 et 1699

The French knew that Spanish settlement was focused on the major islands in the Caribbean, plus New Spain (Mexico) and the western side of South America (Peru). Starting in the 1540's, the French settled far to the north of the Spanish in the St. Lawrence Valley. In 1541, Jacques Cartier founded the first French settlement in the New World at Fort Charlesbourg-Royal. In 1543, it was abandoned and burned to prevent re-use by the Spanish.3

the first attempt by the French to start a colony in North America was in 1541 at Fort Charlesbourg-Royal, near where Quebec was founded in 1608
the first attempt by the French to start a colony in North America was in 1541 at Fort Charlesbourg-Royal, near where Quebec was founded in 1608
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Gaspard de Coligny, Admiral of France and leader of the French Protestants, sought to create a refuge for Huguenots in the New World. In 1555, the French took advantage of Portugal's failure to occupy all of the Brazilian coast and tried to settle at Guanabara Bay (now Rio de Janeiro). Poor leadership and internal tensions in the France Antarctique settlement caused most colonists to return to France, and in 1560 the Portuguese captured it.

The French tried several times to occupy a site in South America, but ultimately concentrated on the St. Lawrence River and Mississippi River valleys. They started settlements at different places along the Gulf Coast plus the southeastern edge of North America, after Phillip II of Spain stopped further efforts to colonize North America in 1561. Tristan de Luna y Arellano's colony at Pensacola had failed, along with the plan to build an overland road to a Spanish base on the Atlantic Ocean coast at Punta de Santa Elena on the modern Florida-Georgia coastline.4

exploration of the St. Lawrence River led to the establishment of New France in North America
exploration of the St. Lawrence River led to the establishment of "New France" in North America
Source: Library of Congress, Theatrum orbis terrarum (by Abraham Ortelius, 1570)

When Spain halted plans for expansion into North America, the French responded by choosing a location on the Atlantic coast. They selected sites much further south than the St. Lawrence River, close to Hispaniola and other islands in the Caribbean that had been colonized by Spain since 1493.

In 1562, Jean Ribault led an exploration of the southeast coast of North America. He explored what is now called the St. Johns River at Jacksonville, Florida, made friends with the local Timucuan tribe, and built a stone column to assert the French claim to the area on the southeastern edge of the North American continent.

in 1562, the French built a stone column at what is now Jacksonville, Florida to assert their claim to land on the North American continent
in 1562, the French built a stone column at what is now Jacksonville, Florida to assert their claim to land on the North American continent
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Historical Background Part I: French Colonization in Florida, 1562-1565

Ribault left 28 men at a place he named Charlesfort. Today, the site is part of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island in Beaufort, South Carolina.

Charlesfort was the second French attempt to establish a permanent colony in North America, after the 1541 attempt on the St. Lawrence River. Ribault's decision to build a fort and leave men behind may not have been part of the original plan. When leaving, he planned a quick return to France followed by re-supply of the colony. However, Catholic/Protestant warfare in Europe blocked his return to America.

Ribault was a Huguenot, a Protestant, while the French royal family was Catholic. The "Massacre of Vassy" occurred the same year as Charlesfort was settled. In France, open fighting started in an extended war of religion between French Protestants and Catholics. When Ribault sought assistance from Queen Elizabeth, a fellow Protestant, he ended up in an English prison rather than sailing back with supplies and reinforcements for his 28 men.

The settlers' life at Charlesfort was nasty, brutish, and short. The commander left by Ribault banished a soldier and left him to starve, but that triggered a mutiny and the killing of the commander. Recognizing that food would be inadequate for survival, the remaining colonists built a ship. Sailing back to France was not something Ribault had expected, and sails had to be manufactured from clothing. One person chose to remain behind at Charlesfort when all the rest of the French left in 1563.

The trip home across the Atlantic Ocean was as challenging as living at Charlesfort. After running out of food on the ship, the returning settlers selected one person on the ship and killed him for food. The unfortunate one was the soldier who had been left to starve. On the ship headed home, he ended up being eaten by his rescuers before they made contact with an English vessel near Ireland. The Spanish discovered the location of Charlesfort after it had been abandoned, burned the wooden walls and structures, and seized the one Frenchman remaining in North America.5

The French tried again after the 1562 Charlesfort settlement failed. In 1564 Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere led a three-ship expedition with 300 colonists back to North America. Rather than start again at Charlesfort, he chose to build Fort Caroline at the mouth of the St. Johns River in what is now Jacksonville, Florida.

Fort Caroline (1564) was closer to the Spanish bases in the Caribbean than Charlesfort (1562)
Fort Caroline (1564) was closer to the Spanish bases in the Caribbean than Charlesfort (1562)
Source: Library of Congress, Floridae Americae provinciae recens & exactissima descriptio auctore Iacobo le Moyne cui cognomen de Morgues (by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, published 1591)

That site was better protected from hurricanes, offered fresh water, and the Timucua Indians were friendly. On the downside, Fort Caroline was even closer than Charlesfort to the Spanish-controlled islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. There were no Spanish settlements on the mainland, but Spanish ships could blast the French with cannons and bring soldiers for a land attack.

French colonists built Fort Caroline near modern-day Jacksonville (Florida) in 1564 - 43 years before the English built a similar triangular fort at Jamestown
French colonists built Fort Caroline near modern-day Jacksonville (Florida) in 1564 - 43 years before the English built a similar triangular fort at Jamestown
Source: Exploring Florida, Le Moyne Gallery - Fort Caroline (Plate X)

Just as at Charlesfort, Fort Caroline was under-supplied. A faction mutinied, and de Laudonniere was forced to let them sail away with the food on a search for more supplies. An English fleet commanded Sir John Hawkins arrived later, and it provided food to the starving French in exchange for fresh water. The French exchanged cannons for one of the four English ships and planned to sail home, abandoning the fort.

Fort Caroline was partially dismantled to reduce its value to the Spanish, but before the French colonists sailed away a relief expedition under Jean Ribault arrived. In a pattern that would be repeated later in 1610 at Jamestown, an isolated colonial settlement at the edge of starvation was abandoning its one fort in North America - but new supplies arrived, just in time...6

the French established Charlesfort first in 1562 and then Fort Caroline in 1564
the French established Charlesfort first in 1562 and then Fort Caroline in 1564
Source: University of Alabama, Historical Maps of the Southeast Region, Floridae Americae Provinciae

Afte Ribault was released from an English prison, he brought 600 more soldiers and settlers in 1565. He arrived just before a Spanish force led by Pedro Menendez de Aviles.

Menendez landed his soldiers on the coast south of Fort Caroline, and Ribault sought to attack the Spanish Catholics before they could build a fortified base. The weather did not coperate; the French ships were caught in a storm and wrecked.

Menendez immediately marched north despite the storm and destroyed the lightly-defended Fort Caroline, though de Laudonniere escaped. The Spanish found the shipwrecked French next and executed nearly all of them, including Jean Ribault, at what is now Fort Matanzas National Monument.7

Fort Caroline was constructed in classic European style in 1564, but the Spanish under Pedro Menendez de Aviles captured it in 1565
Fort Caroline was constructed in classic European style in 1564, but the Spanish under Pedro Menendez de Aviles captured it in 1565
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Historical Background Part I: French Colonization in Florida, 1562-1565

Lack of supplies, resistance by the local Native Americans, and direct attack by the Spanish quickly ended French attempts to settle on the southeastern coastline of North America. After failing at Charlesfort (1562) and Fort Caroline (1564), the French chose to settle again in Canada. The 1541 colony started by Jacques Cartier on the St. Lawrence River had lasted only two years, but intermittent fur trading had been profitable since then.

In 1603, Henry IV gave Pierre Du Gua de Monts a 10-year monopoly over the fur trade between the 40-46th parallels, roughly from the mouth of the Delaware River north to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, and de Monts started "l'Acadie" at St. Croix Island in Maine in 1604.

In 1605, after one very cold winter on that tiny island in which everything but the wine froze solid, he moved the colony to Port Royal on Nova Scotia. The French lasted two years there, with asistance from the Mi'kmaq. The Eurpean colonists returned to France in late 1607, after de Monts lost his monopoly over the fur trade.8

in 1603, Henry IV of France granted Pierre Du Gua de Monts a monopoly on the fur trade between 40-46 degrees latitude, leading to settlements at St. Croix and Port Royal
in 1603, Henry IV of France granted Pierre Du Gua de Monts a monopoly on the fur trade between 40-46 degrees latitude, leading to settlements at St. Croix and Port Royal
Map Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Charlesfort and Fort Caroline provided a clear lesson to later English settlers: the threat of Spanish attack was very, very real. That lesson shaped the location of Jamestown. In 1606, the Virginia Company directed the captains of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery to sail upstream after reaching the Chesapeake Bay, and to establish their new English settlement far enough inland to provide sufficient time to defend against a surprise Spanish attack.

The first winter the English stayed at Jamestown in 1607-08, Spanish colonists had been living in Florida for over 40 years but there were no permanent French settlements in North America.

The French did return in 1608 to establish Quebec. That same year, the Spanish began their second North American settlement at Sante Fe, in what today is New Mexico.

French Colonization After Jamestown

Prelude to the French and Indian War

French and Indian War

Huguenots in Virginia

Spanish Exploration and Settlement in the Southeast

Was Virginia Destined To Be English?

Links

References
1. Thwaites, Reuben Gold, "The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610-1791 - Vol. III Acadia, 1611-1616," The Burrows Brothers, 1898, http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/relations/relations_03.html (last checked August 2, 2015)
2. Schwartz. Seymour I., The Mismapping of America, University of Rochester Press, 2003, pp.45-47 http://books.google.com/books?id=ytxhjRNCeqkC&dq (last checked September 29, 2009)
3. "Long-lost Jacques Cartier settlement rediscovered at Quebec City," Montreal Gazette, August 19, 2006, http://www.canada.com/topics/news/national/story.html?id=4978e603-f67e-4784-807d-7f3911c60829 (last checked April 20, 2016)
4. Margaret F. Pickett, Dwayne W. Pickett, The European Struggle to Settle North America: Colonizing Attempts by England, France and Spain, 1521-1608, McFarland, February 8, 2011, p.45, https://books.google.com/books?id=vTkyqDHcBvsC; Bill Marshall, France and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History: a Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia, Volume 1, ABC-CLIO, 2005, pp.27-28, https://books.google.com/books?id=jfq5Tp0nq98C; Christopher Allen, Daryl A. Ferguson, Andrew J. Beall, "Santa Elena and America's Lost Century," Santa Elena Foundation, May 25, 2015, pp.8-9, http://santa-elena.org/images/Santa_Elena_History.pdf (last checked April 20, 2016)
5. Harris, Sherwood, "The Tragic Dream of Jean Ribaut," American Heritage, October 1963, http://www.americanheritage.com/content/tragic-dream-jean-ribaut; John T. McGrath, "Admiral Coligny, Jean Ribault, and the East Coast of North America," French Colonial History, Michigan State University Press, Volume 1, 2001, http://msupress.org/journals/fch/; Richard Thornton, Fort Caroline, the Search for America's Lost Heritage, Lulu.com, 2014, p.45, https://books.google.com/books?id=Gx7zBgAAQBAJ; "Historical Background Part I: French Colonization in Florida, 1562-1565," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/14lostfleet/background/history-pt1/history-pt1.html (last checked April 22, 2016)
6. Richard Thornton, Fort Caroline, the Search for America's Lost Heritage, Lulu.com, 2014, pp.46-50, https://books.google.com/books?id=Gx7zBgAAQBAJ (last checked April 22, 2016)
7. "History of Fort Caroline," Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve, Florida, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/timu/learn/historyculture/foca_history.htm (last checked April 20, 2016)
8. "Legacy of St. Croiz Island Settlement," National Park Service, St. Croix Island International Historic Site, http://www.nps.gov/sacr/historyculture/index.htm; "Port-Royal National Historic Site," Tourism Nova Scotia, http://www.novascotia.com/see-do/attractions/port-royal-national-historic-site/1462 (last checked June 26, 2017)

in 1702, the French claimed Nouvelle France extended to the head of the Chesapeake Bay, including the territory of the Susquehannocks
in 1702, the French claimed Nouvelle France extended to the head of the Chesapeake Bay, including the territory of the Susquehannocks
Source: New York Public Library, Le Canada, ou Nouvelle France, la Floride, la Virginie, Pensilvanie, Caroline, Nouvelle Angleterre et Nouvelle Yorck, l'Isle de Terre Neuve, la Louisiane, et le cours de la riviere de Misisipi (Nicolas de Fer, 1702)


Virginia - An International Frontier With French, Spanish, Swedish, and Dutch Involvement
Virginia Places