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Who was Jean Ribault? French Huguenots In Florida
Jean Ribault, French Explorer
Who was Jean Ribault? French Huguenots In Florida

French Explorer (Protestant)


Florida’s Early Beginnings


Spanish Explorer (Catholic)

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The War to Colonize Florida

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Jean Ribault’s mission in the New World was driven by his quest for religious freedom, not slaves and gold.

“I came to the New World in search of a refuge for Huguenot Christian’s to escape persecution in France.”
-Jean Ribault

Pedro Menendez’s mission in the New World was driven by gold, slaves and empire.

“I came to the New World for the glory of Spain, gold, slaves and to expand the power of the Catholic Church.”
-Pedro Menendez


His Passionate Pursuit of Religious Freedom


Who was Jean Ribault? Jacksonville Florida

The faithful & fearless French Huguenot

The renowned French navigator Jean Ribault explored the Florida, Georgia, and Carolina coastlines (1562-1565). Ribault was in search of colony locations for French Huguenot Christians fleeing persecution. These Huguenots (Sometimes called “Lutherans” by the Spanish) were brutally murdered by the Catholics in France; they were desperate to escape. Jean Ribault led the voyages that ultimately put him on a collision path with the Catholic Spanish. Like in France, the Catholic Spanish hated the Christian Huguenots and vowed to destroy them.

Jean Ribault’s epic journey for religious freedom took place 50+ years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock (1620).


Jean Ribault was born c.1520


His Birth & Childhood

Based on historical records, we know the answer to the question of “when was Jean Ribault born?” Jean Ribault was born in Dieppe in modern-day France in 1520 (formerly known as the Kingdom of France). This was a very exciting era of overseas exploration and colonization in the Americas. At the time, France was also embroiled in conflicts between Catholics and Huguenot Protestants driven by the Protestant Reformation which had begun in Germany. Some know this period as the French Wars of Religion. Being born into a world that was being radically impacted by Protestant Reformation, significantly shaped the life that Jean Ribault led.

About Dieppe, France

Jean Ribault was born in Dieppe, France. Dieppe was an extremely important Renaissance port in which the greatest French seamen, navigators and map makers (cartographers) were based. Dieppe was the home to other famous explorers such as Giovanni da Verrazzano, Samuel de Champlain and Jacques Cartier.


What Happened In Jean Ribault’s Early Life?

Fortunately, we know more than the answer to the question of “when was Jean Ribault born.” When it comes to his early life, Ribault was originally a sailor with the French Navy. He was led by the Huguenot Admiral Gaspard de Coligny. It was Coligny who chose Ribault to lead a colonization mission to the New World in 1562.


  • No. Jean Ribault did not own slaves
  • Slavery in France did not exist until 60 years (1620) after the lifetime of Jean Ribault. His journey’s to the new world happened 1562-1565.
  • Ribault did not bring any African slaves with him on his expeditions to Florida or anywhere else during his lifetime.
  • Ribault did not enslave any native people in the new world
  • Ribault had peaceful and healthy relationships with the native people in Florida, including the mighty Timucuan tribes and their chiefs.
  • French Huguenot beliefs condemned the idea of slavery as evil.
  • John Calvin leader of the reformed movement in France (what the Huguenot’s followed) preached against the “unnatural” and evil act of slavery during the lifetime of Ribault.
  • Learn more about Jean Ribault and slavery
Dieppe, France the birthplace of French Huguenot Explorer Jean Ribault
Jean Ribault first Protestant Prayer in Americas


The name “Huguenot” is used to describe someone who is a Protestant Christian (not of the Roman Catholic Church ruled by the Pope).
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines it this way: “Huguenot, any of the Protestants in France in the 16th and 17th centuries, many of whom suffered severe persecution for their faith.”

What Exactly Is a Huguenot?
Huguenots were a devout group of Christians known by several names such as French Protestants, Evangelicals, Calvinists, Lutherans and sometimes Reformed Christians. They were persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church, which was powerful in France. One of the most extreme examples of this persecution was the violent St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572. This event led to the murder of up to 20,000+ Huguenots in Paris and thousands more outside of the city. By the end of the century, there were far fewer Huguenots in France itself due to the French Wars of Religion.  Many of Huguenots fled France for other countries causing a “brain drain” of many leading citizens. Huguenots represented a diverse cross section of people from bankers to fisherman, merchants, teachers, clergyman, carpenters and many nobles of royal blood. Up to 2 million people in 5+ years left the Catholic Church and turned to this “reformed faith” lead by such men as John Calvin and Martin Luther.


  • A spiritual awakening known as the Protestant Reformation (started by a monk named Martin Luther in Germany), was raging like a fire across Europe and had come to France. Non-Roman Catholic’s (French Huguenots) were mostly common, every-day people. They were rejecting the rampant corruption of the Roman Catholic Popes and priests.
  • In the 1500’s, many of the French leaders were traditional Roman Catholics and despised the new Protestant Reformation lead by men such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. However, the Huguenot movement was rapidly growing in France.
  • This Protestant movement (also known as the Protestant Reformation) threatened the power and control of the now tyrannical Catholic Church, over the “regular folks” in France and all over Europe.
  • To suppress this anti-Catholic movement and protect it’s power, the Catholic Church unleashed a murderous persecution against Protestant Christians.
    Learn More St. Bartholomew Day Massacre


Why Did He Come To The New World?
What Colonies Did Jean Ribault Influence In The New World?

Jean Ribault came to the New World searching for locations to establish Huguenot colonies. These colonies were intended to be a refuge where Huguenot’s could live and escape the brutal persecution being experienced in France. He was involved in the formation and direction of two primary colonies in the Americas. These were Fort Caroline and Charlesfort. These two colonies were located in what is now known as Florida and South Carolina. They were originally located in close proximity to Spanish settlements in the New World.


What Happened When Jean Ribault Returned To Europe?
Jean Ribault returned to France after his first voyage to the New World. When he returned, he realized that the persecution of the Huguenots was getting much worse. In fact, he fled to England to escape the violence. In England, Ribault was captured and jailed under suspicion of being a spy; however, after he was released from the infamous Tower of London, he was once more enlisted by Admiral Coligny to take part in yet another voyage to the New World.

What Problems Arose For Jean Ribault Upon His Return?
For a very short time, Jean Ribault assumed command of Fort Caroline and continued to settle the area with the 800 colonists who had come with him on his second voyage. However, the Spanish had also begun to build up their position in Florida. This presented a serious threat to the French Huguenots. Under the command of Pedro Menendez, Spanish ships engaged in several skirmishes with French ships. Two empires were colliding in the New World and it would not end well for Jean Ribault and the French.

What Was Jean Ribault’s Flagship?
La Trinité was the flagship that Ribault had taken to the New World on his expeditions. It was ultimately shipwrecked in a storm. The wreck was recently found in 2018 near modern-day Cape Canaveral in Florida. It is marked as one of North America’s most significant maritime discoveries. You can Google “Discovery of La Trinité in Florida” for more exciting updates!


How Did Jean Ribault Die?
Jean Ribault was murdered, along with several hundred other Huguenots, by the Spanish Pedro Menendez de Aviles near present day Daytona Beach, Florida. Menendez had been ordered by the Spanish king to destroy the French colony of Fort Caroline. On the third voyage of 1565. Ribault’s fleet of ships that were headed to St. Augustine, to attack the Spanish were caught in a hurricane force storm. Ribault’s flagship, La Trinite, sank in yet many of his crew, along with Jean Ribault, survived and made it to shore. Ribault was captured by the Spanish and after promises of safety, was executed because he would not renounce his Protestant “Huguenot” faith. The legendary Captain Jean Ribault, who crossed an ocean 3 times to escape religious persecution in France, was ultimately killed in the new world, for being a French Huguenot. Jean Ribault, was born in Dieppe, France 1520 and died near Daytona Beach, Florida 1565.

Jean Ribault Huguenot fleet(flagship "La Trinite") destroyed in tropical storm
Matanza-Massacre-Death of Jean Ribault and the massacre of the French Huguenots in Florida 1565
Admiral Gaspard de Coligny - Huguenot Leader and Hero - Murdered by Catholics 1572

Who are the Huguenot - JeanRibault.org

Admiral Coligny a french nobleman, emerges as a hero.  He chooses Jean Ribault to lead an expedition to the New World. His mission?  Find a refuge for Huguenot Christians.

  • Due to the violent persecution of Huguenots by the Catholic Church, Huguenot Christian’s search for a safe refuge.
  • Determined to save his people, Admiral Gaspard de Coligny secretly worked on protecting his fellow Huguenots by attempting to establish colonies in the New World in which Huguenots could find refuge from the Catholic persecutions.
  • Admiral Gaspard de Coligny chose Jean Ribault to lead an expedition to the New World to found a colony.
  • February 18, 1562: Jean Ribault left Le Havre in France the leader of 2 ships carrying 150 Huguenot soldiers bound for the New World and Florida
  • May 1, 1562: Jean Ribault enters the St. Johns River near modern Jacksonville, Florida and erects a stone column claiming the territory for France
  • The French expedition sail to the north until they arrive at Port Royal Sound in present-day South Carolina.
  • Jean Ribault’s expedition builds a small fort at the settlement on Parris Island. The outpost is called Charlesfort in honor of the French King Charles IX.
  • June 11, 1562: Jean Ribault leaves 27 men at Charlesfort, gentlemen, soldiers, and mariners, and returns to France for supplies and settlers for the colony. Charlesfort is later abandoned and the men return to France.
  • Jean Ribault returns to find the French Wars of Religion had broken out between the Roman Catholic majority and the Protestant Huguenots. He helps the Huguenots in Dieppe but is forced to flee to England
  • Jean Ribault is accused of being a spy and is imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he writes about his experiences in the New World. He is released and returns to France.
  • Meanwhile Gaspard de Coligny appoints Ribault’s former lieutenant, Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere, to replace Ribault in the North American colonies
    April 22, 1564: Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere sets sail and arrives in Florida 2 months later.
  • Jean Ribault returns to France from England and is tasked with following him in Spring 1565 with reinforcements and fresh supplies. He is delayed and does not leave France until the summer.


St. Augustine and Fort Caroline - Jean Ribault and Pedro Menendez

Jean Ribault is imprisoned in England, his former lieutenant (Laudonnière) leads a 2nd expedition to the New World and builds Fort Caroline (present day Jacksonville, Florida).

The 1563 Peace of Amboise finally allowed Admiral Coligny to devote attention for a new voyage to North America. He appointed Ribault’s former lieutenant, René Goulaine de Laudonnière, to replace Ribault in the North American endeavors.

During this time, however, Charlesfort had fallen into despair. Captain Albert de la Pierria’s heavy discipline led the soldiers to a mutiny in which he was deposed and killed at Florida on October 12, 1565. Afterward, a fire destroyed most of the settlement’s meager stores. The survivors elected to build a crude vessel and attempt to sail back to France. The trip was arduous, and most of the participants died before they finally reached the English coast, where they were rescued. News of this reached France just before Laudonnière had embarked on his voyage.

Laudonnière ultimately set sail on April 22, 1564 and arrived at Florida two months later. The plan for Ribault was to follow him in Spring 1565 with reinforcements and fresh supplies. As Charlesfort was now abandoned, the expedition decided to found a new colony on the banks of the St. Johns River in what is now Jacksonville, Florida, the same area Ribault and company had explored on the prior voyage. They christened the settlement Fort Caroline.

Fort Caroline sustained itself for the next year, but Ribault found himself caught up in the fresh outbreak of war in France and was unable to set sail at the appointed time. As a result, the colony experienced food shortages and deteriorating conditions, and some soldiers mutinied and became pirates, attacking Spanish vessels in the Caribbean. The situation was exacerbated by a clash with the Utina, a Timucua Indian tribe up the river to the south.

  • Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere establishes a new colony called Fort Caroline on the banks of the St. Johns River in what is now Jacksonville, Florida. Supplies run short and the settlement is under attack by Native Indians. Many of the men mutiny and Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere decides to return to France.

The La Trinite 32 gun flagship of the French Huguenot fleet of Jean Ribault 1565

Jean Ribault is freed from prison, gathers his forces and courageously departs for the New World (again).The legendary hero refuses to give up.

  • August 28, 1565: Jean Ribault with a fleet of 7 ships, fresh supplies and 1000 Huguenot colonists arrive at Fort Caroline.
  • Jean Ribault takes over from Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere as Governor.
  • The presence of the French in Florida is noted by the Spanish who believe that they have exclusive claim to Florida.
  • Spain sends Pedro Menéndez de Avilés with an armada with orders to “take the Florida coast.”
  • In early September 1565 Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, with a fleet of 5 ships and 800 men, land to the south of Fort Caroline and the Spaniards establish the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine.
  • On September 10 1565 Jean Ribault took his fleet south to pursue Menéndez de Aviles.
  • Menéndez de Avilés discovers the plan and sends troops overland to attack the lightly defended Fort Caroline – 140 men were killed and only women and children were spared. Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere and 40 others escape and return to France.

Jean Ribault and about 350 men are murdered in Florida for their Christian faith.

  • The fleet of Jean Ribault is caught in a terrible hurricane – survivors make it ashore to Daytona Beach.
  • They are tracked down by the Spanish and Ribault, believing his men would be fed and treated decently, surrendered.
  • Under the explicit orders of King Philip II of Spain, the prisoners were asked if they were professing Catholics.
  • Those who were Huguenots were murdered immediately.
  • A similar surrender and mass execution by the Spanish of a smaller group of French Huguenots followed a few days later.
  • Jean Ribault and about 350 men were murdered in this dishonourable fashion.
  • The killings are referred to as the Matanzas Massacre.
  • Following the Florida Massacre the French concentrated in building new colonies in the Northern lands of the New World.

The Protestant Reformation

The Reformation (alternatively named the Protestant Reformation 1517) was a vast spiritual awakening and major movement within Western Christianity in 16th-century Europe that posed a religious and political challenge to the Catholic Church and in particular to papal authority, arising from what were corruptions, errors, abuses, and discrepancies by the Popes, priests and monks. The Reformation was the start of Protestantism and the split of the Western Church into Protestantism and what is now the Roman Catholic Church. It is also considered one of the events that signify the end of the Middle Ages and beginning of Early modern period in Europe.
Prior to Martin Luther, there were many earlier reform movements. Although the Reformation is usually considered to have started with the publication of the Ninety-five Theses by Martin Luther in 1517, he was not excommunicated until January 1521 by Pope Leo X. The Edict of Worms of May 1521 condemned Luther and officially banned citizens of the Holy Roman Empire from defending or propagating his ideas.

The spread of Gutenberg’s printing press provided the means for the rapid dissemination of religious materials in the vernacular. Luther survived after being declared an outlaw due to the protection of Elector Frederick the Wise. The initial movement in Germany diversified, and other reformers such as Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin arose. Key events of the period include: Diet of Worms (1521), formation of the Lutheran Duchy of Prussia (1525), English Reformation (1529 onwards), the Council of Trent (1545–63), the Peace of Augsburg (1555), the excommunication of Elizabeth I (1570), Edict of Nantes (1598) and Peace of Westphalia (1648). The Counter-Reformation, also called the Catholic Reformation, was the period of Catholic reforms initiated in response to the Protestant Reformation. The end of the Reformation era is disputed but the impact of the Protestant Reformation was the most significant influence on the Huguenots theological and social structure and beliefs.

John Calvin french protestant reformer and Huguenot

Portrait of John Calvin. Oil on canvas.

John Calvin, a major leader of the Reformation was alive and preaching during the life-time of the French Huguenots and Jean Ribault.
His writings had a significant influence on Huguenot beliefs in France and beyond.

the french Huguenots blog

Discover more about the world, people and places of Jean Ribault and the Huguenots in Florida

Fort Caroline | French Huguenot Fort of Jean Ribault

St. Augustine | Spanish Fort of Pedro Menendez

Dieppe, France | Birthplace of Jean Ribault


Download historic writings from the 1500’s | Original documents in Library of Congress


Speaking Engagements & Lectures By Calvin-Bryant

“Calvin Bryant presented a well-researched and enthusiastic look at Jean Ribault’s time in the New World. His story was visually brought to life by beautiful artworks painted by the speaker.”

– Summer Bias,
Curator, Amelia Island Museum

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