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In an announcement that could rewrite the book on early colonization of the New World, two researchers today said they have proposed a location for the oldest fortified settlement ever found in North America. Speaking at an international conference on France at Florida State University, the pair announced that they have proposed a new location for Fort Caroline, a long-sought fort built by the French in 1564. “This is the oldest fortified settlement in the present United States,” said Florida State University alumnus and historian Fletcher Crowe. “This fort is older than St. Augustine, considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in America. It’s older than the Lost Colony of Virginia by 21 years; older than the 1607 fort of Jamestown by 45 years; and predates the landing of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1620 by 56 years.”
Researchers have been searching for actual remains of Fort Caroline for more than 150 years but had not found the actual site until now, Crowe said. The fort was long thought to be located east of downtown Jacksonville, Fla., on the south bank of the St. Johns River. The Fort Caroline National Memorial is located just east of Jacksonville’s Dames Point Bridge, which spans the river.
However, Crowe and his co-author, Anita Spring, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Florida, say that the legendary fort is actually located near the mouth of the Altamaha River in southeast Georgia.
Crowe was able to match French maps from the 16th to 18th centuries of what is today the southeastern coast of the United States with coastal charts of the United States published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and with maps published by the U.S. Geological Survey.
“We proved that the Native Americans living near the fort spoke a language called Guale (pronounced “WAH-lay”),” Spring said. “The Guale speakers lived in the Altamaha area. They did not live in Northeast Florida, where Jacksonville is.”
“The frustrating and often acrimonious quest to find the fort has become a sort of American quest for the Holy Grail by archaeologists, historians and other scholars,” he noted. “The inability to find the fort has made some wonder if it ever existed.”
In 1565, Spanish soldiers under Pedro Menéndez marched into Fort Caroline and slaughtered some 143 men and women who were living there at the time. “The French reported the location of dozens of Indian villages near the fort in what was termed “French Florida.” Crowe and Spring have also delineated the locations of many of these villages.
While studying in the Paris archives, Crowe found a 1685 map of “French Florida” that was accurately surveyed.
“This map serves as a ‘Rosetta Stone’ since it provides a common, known geographical point on all early maps of ‘French Florida,'” he said. The Rosetta Stone was an inscribed rock found by the French in Egypt that allowed the translation of ancient hieroglyphics into modern languages.
Using the known GPS coordinates derived from the English map, Crowe was able to propose the location of dozens of Indian villages that up until now have eluded scholars and archaeologists.
The structure discovered by Crowe and Spring forms an equilateral triangle surrounded by what appear to be moats encompassing walls of about 800 feet in length. The apex of the structure points to the northeast, just as reported for the original Fort Caroline.
“The next step is to do archaeological excavations to confirm this discovery,” Crowe said.