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Florida’s Hidden Huguenot History

Florida’s Hidden Huguenot History

The Protestant Reformation had spread from the Wittenberg Cathedral Door into the capitols and countrysides of all the provinces, duchies, and nations of Europe by 1560. The Holy Roman Emperor (neither holy nor Roman, actually), The Catholic kings and princes, and not the least of all, the Pope in Rome, did not stand still while the “Solas” of the Reformation took root among scholars, monks, priests, abbots, and the people of the parishes of Christendom. Threats, heresy trials, burnings, counter-evangelism and, of course, war, spread throughout the realms. In France, where the King was paramount in the Roman church, the fires of Reformation spread too hot and too far to quench with normal procedures.

Special Family Rates Available!

Join us in Florida February 15-17 as we explore Huguenot Fort Caroline in Jacksonville, the “Fountain of Youth”, the magnificent Castillo de San Marcos and the Pirate & Treasure Museum in St. Augustine! We will wrap up this great weekend of history, fun and fellowship at the reenactment of the Civil War Battle of Olustee. Register today to secure your spot!

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The Magnificent Castillo de San Marcos

The Nation’s Premier Pirate Museum

Reenactment of the Battle of Olustee

Rich Christian Fellowship

Admiral Gaspard de Coligny
Leads the Protestant Church of France

French Admiral Gaspard de Coligny (1519-1572)

Many noblemen embraced the new old faith, reading the vernacular Scriptures and the texts emanating from Frenchman Jean Calvin in Geneva, among others. God raised up the Admiral of France, Gaspard de Coligny, Seigneur de Chatillon, to lead the Protestant Church of France. The Reformed adherents were known as Huguenots. When the King sent armies against the Protestants, de Coligny took to the field to contend for the survival of the Reformation saints of France.

When the wars died down for a while, the Admiral’s thoughts turned to the spread of the Gospel and French culture to other parts of the world. His enemies (and France’s), Spain and Portugal, were sending missionaries to all the conquered people of South America. A small group of Protestants were commissioned by de Coligny to begin a mission and settlement of their own on the coast of Brazil. Betrayed by a secret traitor, the young colony was wiped out. Not to be deterred, the Huguenots sent a bigger and stronger expedition to settle along the St. John’s River on the coast of Florida in 1564. They built a fort near the modern city of Jacksonville, Fort Caroline, under the leadership of explorer Jean Ribault and Governor René de Goulaine de Laudonnière.

A Good Start in Florida

The robust Huguenot colony got off to a good start. They brought families to ensure multigenerational survival and social stability. They established good relations with the local tribes, unlike the Spanish who had a strong tendency to abuse, take advantage of, and enslave the natives. Although there were no Spanish settlements, Ponce de León had claimed all of Florida for the King of Spain, presaging the inevitable clash when the French arrived.

The Landmark Events Tour Group at Huguenot Fort Caroline

Bill Potter Addresses Florida Tour Attendees

A Harsh Spanish Response
Led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés

When the Spanish king heard of the French settlement — a Protestant one at that — he dispatched an expeditionary force led by one of the most violent and uncompromising hitmen available, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. The new Spanish Governor established a base at St. Augustine and launched an attack north on foot against Fort Caroline. Ribault sailed to attack by sea with the main portion of his men; the French were blown off course and shipwrecked south of St. Augustine. Menéndez de Avilés surprised the Fort Caroline garrison, captured the survivors of the attack and massacred all the men and enslaved the women. The survivors of Ribault’s force were likewise captured and massacred. And so ended the first Protestant attempt at settling in North America. The question arises: why did God, in His providential plan, allow Roman Catholic Spain to settle Florida?

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés (1519-1574)

The recapture of Fort Caroline, 1568

We Can Only Bow to God’s Sovereignty

As in all speculations regarding why God ordains history to follow the course it does, we can only bow to His Sovereignty. “Nay but, o man, who art thou that repliest against God?” (Romans 9:20). In the course of time, the English settled at Jamestown in 1607 and English-speaking men became the recipients of God’s favor in settling North America between Florida and Canada. The Huguenots would bless and enrich many places in the world through their dispersal to places that included America, South Africa, Holland and England. The Catholic French would get Canada temporarily, but that is another story in the complex tapestry of history woven by the Creator.

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