Huguenots in Florida

American Minute with Bill Federer

The Pilgrims fled from England to Holland in 1607.

When Spain threatened to invade Holland, the Pilgrims considered sailing to Guyana in South America, as they heard of its tropical climate.

Pilgrim Governor William Bradford wrote in Of Plymouth Plantation:

“Some … had thoughts and were earnest for Guiana … Those for Guiana alleged that the country was rich, fruitful, and blessed with a perpetual spring …”

But the Pilgrims were reminded of how close Guyana was to the “Spanish Main,” the Caribbean Sea controlled by Spain, and the massacre of the French settlement of Fort Caroline, Florida.

William Bradford added:

“… but to this it was answered, that it was out of question …

If they should there live, and do well, the jealous Spaniard would never suffer them long, but would displant or overthrow them, as he did the FRENCH in FLORIDA.”

The French attempted a settlement in Florida in 1564 on the banks of St. John’s River.

It was the first French settlement in area of present-day United States.

Named Fort Caroline, it was founded by French Protestant Christians known as Huguenots, who came for religious freedom.

Huguenots were escaping the Wars of Religion which ravaged France for over a century.

During this era in Europe, whatever a king believed, his kingdom had to believe.

There was little freedom of conscience, as governments dictated the religious beliefs of citizens and persecuted those believing differently.

Due to his hateful contempt for the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain, France’s King Francis I did the unimaginable — he made an alliance with the Muslim Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent.

This was the first time a European monarch made such an alliance with a Muslim power, resulting in calls being made for Francis I to be excommunicated.

Francis I was originally tolerant of Protestants, but he soon turned to aggressively persecute them, having thousands killed in the Massacre of the Waldensians of Mérindol in 1545.

Religious persecutions increased in France with battles and tragedies such as the Massacre of Wassy in 1562, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572, instigated by the queen consort Catherine de’ Medici.

The Edit of Nantes in 1589 provided some relief until it was officially revoked by King Louis XIV who resumed persecution with the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685.

Government persecution against Huguenots for their religious beliefs increased after the assassination of King Henry IV on May 4, 1610.

When Louis XIII became the French king in 1610, he had as his Chief Minister, Cardinal Richelieu.

Cardinal Richelieu consolidated State power, crushed dissent, confiscated lands, and laid the ground-work for the creation of an absolute monarchy in France.

Cardinal Richelieu destroyed the castles of the princes, dukes, and lesser aristocrats so they could not rebel.

Cardinal Richelieu imposed burdensome taxes, censored the press, and had such a broad network of internal spies spying on citizens that it is considered the origin of the modern secret service.

Arresting and executing his political rivals, Cardinal Richelieu was portrayed as a power-hungry villain in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (1844).

Cardinal Richelieu’s strengthening of the French state led to the absolute rule of Louis XIV — the “Sun King,” who is credited with saying “It is legal because I wish it”; and “L’État, c’est moi” (“I am the state”).

Louis XIV reigned over 72 years (1643-1715), longer than any major monarch in European history.

France’s power led to the eventual bankrupting and decline of the powerful Spanish-Austrian Habsburg Dynasty and Holy Roman Empire in Europe.

During the Europe’s religious wars, indefensible injustices were committed by both sides.

Though millions died in these wars, the numbers are dwarfed when compared with the hundreds of millions killed in atheistic genocides, socialist/communist purges, expulsions, ethnic cleansings, and Islamic jihads.

Commemorating the French Huguenots and their attempt at seeking religious freedom in America, Rep. Charles E. Bennett sponsored a bill on September 21, 1950, to establish the Fort Caroline National Memorial.

In 1989, Rep. Charles E. Bennett recited the history:

“The 425th anniversary of the beginning settlements by Europeans … renamed from Fort Caroline to San Mateo, to San Nicolas, to Cowford and finally to Jacksonville in 1822 …

Three small ships carrying 300 Frenchmen led by Rene de Laudonniere anchored in the river known today as the St. Johns.”

Rep. Bennett continued:

“On June 30, 1564, construction of a triangular-shaped fort … was begun with the help of a local tribe of Timucuan Indians …

Home for this hardy group of Huguenots … their strong religious … motivations inspired them.”

The French Christian Huguenots in Florida set a day of Thanksgiving and offered the first Protestant prayer in North America on JUNE 30, 1564:

“We sang a psalm of Thanksgiving unto God, beseeching Him that it would please Him to continue His accustomed goodness towards us.”

Rep. Bennett related the colony’s unfortunate end:

“Fort Caroline existed but for a short time …

Spain … captured … the fort and … slaughtered most of its inhabitants in September of 1565.”

The Spanish Governor of Florida, Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, then founded St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565 — the first permanent settlement in North America.

Other first settlements were:

1607-English Colony of Jamestown;
1608-French Colony of Quebec;
1624-Dutch Colony of New Amsterdam (New York); and
1638-Swedish Colony of New Sweden (Delaware & New Jersey)

Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations, 1776:

“The Spaniards, by virtue of the first discovery, claimed all America as their own, and … such was … the terror of their name, that the greater part of the other nations of Europe were afraid to establish themselves in any other part of that great continent …

But … the defeat … of their Invincible Armada … put it out of their power to obstruct any longer the settlements of the other European nations.

In the course of the 17th century … English, French, Dutch, Danes, and Swedes … attempted to make some settlements in the new world.”


bill-federer-2Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.