Shipwrecks from the 16th century discovered off the coast of Cape Canaveral are linked to a long-lost French colony.

Shipwrecks from the 16th century discovered off the coast of Cape Canaveral are linked to a long-lost French colony.


A private treasure salvaging business claims to have discovered a shipwreck buried in sand under the ocean off the coast of Cape Canaveral that might be related to the lost French settlement of Fort Caroline.

Global Marine Exploration Inc. uncovered scattered evidence of a historic wreck, including three French bronze cannons, at least one of which had marks from the colony’s period, and a French granite monument emblazoned with that country’s coat of arms.

The monument is comparable to the one built near the mouth of the St. Johns River in 1562 by French commander Jean Ribault to establish his nation’s claim to Florida. Its location have been a source of consternation for ages.

Details are hazy since the items are still buried beneath the sand until the right licenses can be secured.

Even still, the discovery is remarkable, according to University of North Florida archaeologist Robert “Buzz” Thunen, who was not involved in the hunt.

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In the shallow waters off Cape Canaveral, the tail end of a bronze cannon is shown. The muzzle of front is on the other end, still buried in the sand [Credit: Global Marine Exploration, Inc.]


Ribault set off to assault the new Spanish colony of St. Augustine, but was forced south by a hurricane, and his ships were destroyed. During the hurricane, the Spanish marched to Fort Caroline and wiped it down, establishing firm control of Florida.

So, might the wreckage discovered off the coast of Cape Canaveral be from the missing French fleet?

That has yet to be determined.

GME president and CEO Robert H. Pritchett first believed his workers had discovered one or two of Ribault’s four ships. However, he now believes they were Spanish or maybe English commerce boats, based on the size of anchors discovered nearby, which indicate they were from ships much larger than Ribault’s.

“Those (French) ships couldn’t have been it,” he reasoned.

However, he believes it is almost clear that those ships were transporting things from the captured French fort to the Spanish stronghold in Cuba.

Among these are the stone monument and the guns. According to Pritchett, one of the swords bears insignia from the period of French King Henry II, putting it between 1547 and 1559.

12 anchors, a grinding wheel, ballast, and ammunition were also discovered.

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Marble monument is engraved with the coat of arms of the king of France, featuring three fleur-de-lis symbols – a symbolic
flower shape used in heraldry by French royalty – and the royal crown [Credit: Global Marine Exploration, Inc.]

Others disagree with Pritchett, who believes the items did not come from Ribault’s armada.

According to Chuck Meide, a marine archaeologist, and John de Bry, director of the Center for Historical Archaeology in Melbourne Beach, the evidence is obvious that GME has really discovered traces of the French captain’s lost ships.

“There is no question in my opinion,” Meide stated. He is the head of the marine archaeology program at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, and he led a hunt for the fleet in 2014. “There is no other record of a ship being lost off the coast of Cape Canaveral during this time period.”

According to De Bry, the wreck is Ribault’s flagship, La Trinite. According to eyewitness accounts, it sank in that vicinity, and one survivor stated that it carried many stone memorials identical to the one built near Fort Caroline three years previously.

“It’s perhaps the most significant undersea archaeological discovery in North America, no matter how you look at it,” de Bry said.

If the wrecks are actually French battleships, what happens to the relics will have far-reaching consequences.

Despite the fact that 451 years have passed, France might claim possession of the wreck and its contents.


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Divers from Global Marine Exploration, who explored the wrecks off Cape Canaveral in May and June this year, also found the remains of several large anchors [Credit: Global Marine Exploration, Inc.]

Meide and de Bry later worked on a French wreck off the coast of Texas; in that case, France seized possession of the wreck but allowed the antiquities to remain in Texas.

Meide and de Bry both stated that they have spoken with French archaeologists who are enthused about the Canaveral discovery and want to be a part of whatever expedition is launched next.

GME, a for-profit corporation based in Tampa, has applied to the state for permission to recover the items that it had placed in the sand. According to a corporate news statement, once the objects are retrieved, they will be “scientifically conserved” in the firm’s lab.

The state is aware of the reported find and is reviewing the next step, said Meredith M. Beatrice, director of communications with the Florida Department of State.

The state “is also in contact with the French government and other stakeholders to ensure compliance with any applicable laws, such as the federal Sunken Military Craft Act,” she said in a statement.

Prichett said it’s a matter of some urgency, given that looters may now be drawn to the wreck.

“I hope the governor steps up and does the right thing … The state should have this in a museum,” he said. “This changed the history of the state of Florida.”

Author: Matt Soergel | Source: The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville [August 18, 2016]



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