Viva Florida Focuses on the First Coast in 2014/15

By: Kevin Derby | Posted: February 1, 2014 3:55 AM
Fort Caroline

Fort Caroline

On Friday, the Florida Department of State announced Viva Florida will continue highlighting the Sunshine State’s history through 2015 with a focus on the First Coast in the next two years.

“Viva Florida 500 was the centerpiece in a series of important historical and cultural anniversaries in our state,” said Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner on Friday. “From Pensacola’s 450th anniversary in 2009 through to St. Augustine’s 450th anniversary in 2015, Viva Florida is an excellent way to promote Florida’s diverse cultural heritage and rich history.”

While Viva Florida showcased the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s discovery of Florida last year, 2014 will focus on a more contemporary topic as the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Detzner’s team cited a study showing cultural and historical tourism led to $2.55 billion added to Florida’s economy from August 2012 to August of last year.

Viva Florida will turn its focus to the First Coast this year and next to mark the 450th anniversary of the establishment of the French colony of Fort Caroline. In 2015, Viva Florida will showcase the 450th anniversary of the establishment of St. Augustine.

Backed by the French crown and Huguenot leaders, René Goulaine de Laudonnière led a French expedition to Florida, landing at the St. Johns River in June 1564. Despite some hardships and poor decisions, the colony survived until the next September when French reinforcements under Jean Ribault arrived.

As Ribault replaced Laudonnière in command, Spanish forces under Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded St. Augustine just to the south of the French colony. Ribault launched an attack on St. Augustine, only to have his fleet destroyed by a sudden hurricane. Menendez led the Spanish to Fort Caroline and ran the French off. A few weeks later, Menendez found the shipwrecked Frenchmen and slaughtered most of them -- including his gubernatorial rival Ribault.

While St. Augustine went on to survive as the longest established city in the United States and thrive as a tourist attraction, Fort Caroline was lost to history until longtime U.S. Rep. Charles Bennett, D-Fla., led the fight to have a national memorial honoring the French colony. Besides being in politics, Bennett was a historian, writing books on the First Coast’s history including works on Laudonnière and Fort Caroline. A replica of Fort Caroline now stands on the southern bank of the St. Johns as part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve in Jacksonville. 

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com.

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