Academic scholars opened a lively debate at a conference in Tallahasee last week with a claim that Ft. Caroline, long believed to have origins in Jacksonville, was actually founded in Georgia. Chuck Meide, Director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, was at the conference and led the rebuttal disputing these claims.
“There are a number of problems with the evidence presented at the conference,” said Meide. “It is problematic to use 16th century maps to determine an exact geographical location with any precision, as they are notoriously inaccurate. For every map presented that seemed to show the River of May further north, we could find another in which it is depicted in the Jacksonville area.”
Meide, an Atlantic Beach native, is planning an expedition this summer with his archaeology team to find the lost fleet of French captain Jean Ribault. Archaeologists have spent years trying to determine where Ribault’s fleet sank while trying to sneak into St. Augustine. The relationship between St. Augustine’s location and that of Ft. Caroline plays heavily into Meide’s dispute of the new claims.
“The most glaring problem with the Altamaha River theory is the location of St. Augustine,” said Meide. “We know that Menendez marched his men from St. Augustine on September 18 to attack the French, and they successfully sacked Fort Caroline on September 20. It’s not conceivable that the soldiers could have made it to the Altamaha River from St. Augustine in two days.”
Meide brought this point up with Anita Spring and Fletcher Crowe during the debate that followed their presentation in Tallahassee. The researchers’ response indicated that they believe St. Augustine was actually founded further north, at the mouth of the St. Mary’s River.
“If they are correct, then the Spanish would have moved the St. Augustine settlement 70 miles south, to its present location. There is simply no evidence for this,” said Meide. “This new theory doesn’t stand up to the archaeological and historical information that has been amassed by scholars over the past fifty years.”
Along with the LAMP team, Meide has been diving and researching local shipwrecks that tell the story of St. Augustine’s roots for almost a decade. Recent dives on a 1782 British wreck have uncovered the history of evacuees who fled Charleston, S.C., bound for St. Augustine near the end of the American Revolution.
Meide hopes with the help of grant funding from the state of Florida that the expedition to find Ribault’s fleet will provide further evidence on the origins of Ft. Caroline, St. Augustine and the nation as a whole.