René Goulaine de Laudonnière

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Image:LemoyneRibaultMon.jpg
Athore, son of the Timucuan king Satouriona, showing Laudonnière the monument placed by Ribault.

René de Laudonnière (c. 1529-1574) was a French Huguenot explorer and the founder of the French colony of Fort Caroline, located in present-day Jacksonville, Florida.

Laudonnière was a Huguenot nobleman and merchant mariner from Poitou, France. His birthdate and family origins are unknown. One school of historians attaches him to a branch of the Goulaine family seated at Laudonnière, near Nantes. A competing claim insists that he was a Burdigale (or Bourdigalle) from the port town of Sables d'Olonne. No contemporary records have been published to substantiate either theory.

In 1562, he was appointed second in command of the Huguenot expedition to Florida under Jean Ribault. Leaving in February 1562, the expedition returned home in July after establishing a small colony in present-day South Carolina.

After the French Wars of Religion broke out between French Catholics and Huguenots, Ribault fled France and sought refuge in England. Meanwhile the Huguenots planned another expedition to Florida and eventually Laudonnière was placed in command in Ribault's absence. In 1564 Laudonniere received 50,000 crowns from Charles IX and returned to Florida with three ships and 300 Huguenot colonists.

Laudonnière arrived at the mouth of the May River (today called the St. Johns River) on June 22 1564. He sailed up the river where he eventually founded Fort Caroline (named for the king) at what is now Jacksonville. He made contact with the Timucua tribe who at first helped the colonists, and showed him a shrine they had built around a monument left behind by Ribault. When some of the men complained about the manual labor, Laudonnière sent them back to France.

The colony did not flourish and had to get food from the Timucua. Colonists complained and a small group of them seized a ship and sailed to the Gulf of Mexico to become pirates. Deserters from the colony angered the Timucua who refused to give any more food. Colonists had to rely on acorns and roots and finally rebelled.

In August 3 1565 Laudonnière bought food and a ship from passing privateer John Hawkins so he could ship the colonists back to France. While he was waiting for a favorable wind, Jean Ribault arrived with 600 more settlers and soldiers on September 10. Ribault informed Laudonnière that he had been relieved of his authority, but offered him an informal co-regency over the colony. This arrangement was unacceptable to Laudonnière, who resolved to return to France.

Events interrupted Laudonnière's departure when the Spanish fleet of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés appeared. The Spanish regarded Florida as their territory and Menéndez was hunting for trespassers with the goal of removing the French presence in Florida. Ribault took most of the soldiers with him to attack the Spanish fort of St Augustine. He left Laudonnière with 100 men but only 20 soldiers. On October the fleet ran into a heavy storm that destroyed the ships. Ribault was washed to the shore, where the Spanish captured and later killed him.

Spanish troops marched overland to attack Fort Caroline on September 20. They defeated the remaining garrison and killed almost all of the male colonists. Laudonnière managed to escape with some soldiers and made his way to the river's mouth, where Ribault's son was anchored with three ships. He set sail in the younger Ribault's company but eventually headed home on a lone vessel, unexpectedly landing in Wales.

Traveling overland via Bristol and London, Laudonnière probably reached Paris in December 1565. After reporting to the royal Court at Moulins, Laudonnière faded from the historical picture, only to emerge, once again as a merchant mariner, at La Rochelle in 1572. He was fortunate enough to escape the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, and died at St. Germain-en-Laye in 1574; his memoirs, L'histoire notable de la Floride, contenant les trois voyages faits en icelles par des capitaines et pilotes francais, were published in 1586.


René Goulaine de Laudonnière

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