Sunday, January 27, 2013

Peeling the Orange, Learning more about Florida Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

Saint John's River Estuary 

When thinking about the history of Florida, my mind often wanders to images of Spanish conquistadors roaming through swamps in search of the fountain of youth and other treasures. Saint Augustine comes to mind as well with Spanish Galleons full of sunken treasure sitting just off the coast. 

Few people think of La Florida and the early attempts of French colonists to lay claim to this area of the New World. Luckily, Fort Caroline National Monument, within the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, provides an opportunity to discover and explore this uniquely different history of the sunshine state. 

Recreated Timucuan Village

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve was established as a national park unit in 1988 and was named in honor of the Timucuan Indians. The Timucuan called the estuaries of the Saint John’s River home long before European powers arrived in the New World. Archeological evidence and the remains of massive shell middens are all that is left of these people and their culture, as they were wiped out by the violence and diseases brought by Old World explorers and settlers.

Inside Fort Caroline
One such settlement was La Caroline, where in 1564 French explorer Rene’ de Laudonniere established a fort and small colony of French Huguenots. This did not sit well with Catholic Spanish interests in Florida and Old World tensions soon spilled over into bloodshed.  The Spanish destroyed the Fort, killed the colonists, and ended French hopes for gaining a foothold in Florida. 

Centuries later in 1950, the history of La Caroline was reclaimed with the reconstruction of the Fort and the dedication of this National Monument to honor the French colonists and their attempts to settle in the New World. 

La Caroline Monument 
Guarding the Fort 


Containing over 200 archeological sites and preserving over 6,000 years of human history, the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve tells many more stories. The Kinsley Plantation and its tabby slave quarters provide a touchstone with West African traditions and the legacy of slavery in America. Revolutionary and Civil War fortifications connect us to the strategic importance of the Saint John’s River. American Beach, one of the first African-American owned segregated beaches in the 1930’s, gives us a glimpse into life in the racially segregated south. All this history can be found within thirty minutes of downtown Jacksonville.  

Tabby Slave Quarters at Kingsley Plantation

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