Jean Ribaut

Jean Ribaut

(1520-1565)

Jean Ribaut was born in Dieppe, France, and rose to become a prominent officer in the French navy. Ribaut was also a devout Protestant at a time when there was increasing friction between France’s Roman Catholic majority and the Protestant minority, known as Huguenots.

The Huguenots developed a colonizing expedition that Ribaut was chosen to lead. Ribaut chose as his second in command another Protestant, Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere. The expedition sailed from France in 1562. They landed at the mouth of the St. Johns River in northern Florida where they erected a stone column to commemorate their visit.

They then sailed north to a place they named Port Royal Sound, in modern-day South Carolina. There, on what became known as Parris Island, they built a small fort, named it Charlesfort, and planned their settlement.Leaving settlers behind, Ribaut and Laudonniere returned to France for supplies, but were delayed in returning to Charlesfort.

Seeking refuge from the religious wars then raging in France, Ribaut fled to England, where he published an English translation of his report about the colony. Meanwhile, the French colonists at Charlesfort were so desperate for food that they abandoned the settlement in 1563.

They constructed a crude boat and set sail for France; after several weeks of drifting in the Atlantic, they were picked up by an English ship and eventually returned to France.Ribaut and Laudonniere organized another expedition. Laudonniere went out with the colonists in 1 564 and built Fort Caroline near the mouth of the St. Johns River.

Ribaut arrived in August 1565 with more supplies and reinforcements.Unfortunately, the Spanish under Pedro Menendez de Aviles (see no. 8) arrived at the same time and attacked the fort. The French had foolishly divided their forces and those in the fort had no chance against the Spanish. Nearly 132 Frenchmen were killed by the Spanish; another 45 escaped, among them Laudonniere.

He got to a French ship off shore and eventually made his way back to France.Ribaut was not so lucky. He had not been at Fort Caroline when it was taken by the Spanish. However, he and his force of about 350 men were discovered by Spanish troops on a beach near St. Augustin.

While the French were negotiating their surrender, some 200 of them fled into the wilderness. Ribaut led the remaining 1 50 to surrender, believing they would be shown mercy. Instead, the Spanish executed all but 1 5 who were able to establish that they were Roman Catholics. Ribaut was brutally murdered.

Although Ribaut had failed, his vision of a haven for religious dissenters would be followed by others, including the Pilgrims.