The first French settlement in the present-day United States was Fort Caroline on the banks of the St. John’s River in Florida.
It was founded by French Christians known as Huguenots, who came for religious freedom.
They were escaping the Wars of Religion which ravaged France for nearly a century.
Religious persecution increased against the Protestant Huguenots especially after the Massacre of Vassy on March 1, 1562, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre on August 23-24, 1572, and the assassination of King Henry IV on May 4, 1610.
The next French King, Louis XIII, had as his chief minister Cardinal Richelieu, who consolidated state power, crushed dissent, confiscated lands, and laid the groundwork 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.
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.
Feared for having his political rivals arrested and executed, Cardinal Richelieu was portrayed as a power-hungry villain in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (1844).
Richelieu’s strengthening of France led to the eventual bankrupting and decline of the powerful Spanish-Austrian Habsburg Dynasty and Holy Roman Empire in Europe.
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. Charles E. Bennett sponsored a bill, September 21, 1950, establishing the Fort Caroline National Memorial.
In 1989, Rep. 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.
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.
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, Fa., the first permanent settlement in North America.
The Pilgrims originally considered going to Guyana in South America, but the Fort Caroline massacre dissuaded them.
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 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.
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