Huguenot Heritage Sites in Florida: Preserving History

The memory of an era can fade away with time, but preserved historical sites serve as windows into the past, allowing us to catch glimpses of our ancestry. One such valuable story pertains to the Huguenots, a group of French Protestants who migrated to various parts of the world during the 16th century. Among the places that they visited was modern-day Florida. In this blog post, we delve into the importance of preserving Huguenot heritage sites and provide a brief overview of Huguenot history in Florida.

Overview of Huguenot History in Florida

Huguenot history in Florida dates back to the 16th century. The adventurous Huguenot Jean Ribault (or Ribault) embarked on a journey to explore the New World in the direction of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, a fellow Huguenot. Their journey took them to what is currently known as the St. John’s River in Florida—the River of May, as Ribault called it.

With the help of the local Timucua people, the French learned about the area’s wildlife, vegetation, and survival strategies necessary in such an unfamiliar environment. They established an outpost, Charlesfort, at a spot where the French Broad River empties into the ocean in contemporary South Carolina.

However, upon Ribault’s return to France, civil strife with Roman Catholics led him to seek asylum in England temporarily. In his absence, Charlesfort collapsed. An English ship rescued the survivors; those staying on decided to leave the settlement. However, the unexpected return of Ribault in August 1565 with reinforcements steadied the situation.

Their traces continue to evoke curiosity and spark interest among history enthusiasts and visitors. Further, they encapsulate some of the earliest European encounters in the New World, making them significant landmarks of exploration and cultural exchange. This saga presents the need for preserving and protecting Huguenot heritage sites that stand as testimonials to this historical epoch.

Why Preserving Huguenot Heritage Sites in Florida is Important

Preserving Huguenot heritage sites in Florida is crucial for several reasons:

Cultural and Historical Significance

These sites offer insights into the struggles, achievements, and contributions of the Huguenots in Florida’s history. By preserving these sites, we can better understand the diverse cultural influences that have shaped the state.

Education and Awareness

Huguenot heritage sites provide educational opportunities for visitors, including students and history enthusiasts, to learn about this often-overlooked part of Florida’s past. They raise awareness about religious persecution, colonization efforts, and the interactions between different cultural groups.

Commemorating Resilience

Preserving these sites honors the resilience of the Huguenots, who faced persecution and adversity in their pursuit of religious freedom. It serves as a reminder of their struggles and their contributions to the development of Florida.

By preserving and promoting these heritage sites, we can ensure that their history is remembered and appreciated for future generations.

I. The First Huguenot Landing in Florida

To fully immerse oneself in the history of the Huguenots in Florida, visiting these significant Huguenot heritage sites is recommended. These sites provide valuable insights into the tumultuous journey of the Huguenots and their contributions to Florida’s rich history.

Visiting the First Protestant Prayer Marker and Huguenot Memorial Park

Upon arriving at Fort George Landing, visitors can explore the various Huguenot sites in the area:

a) The First Protestant Prayer Marker

One little-known but profound historical fact is what the French Huguenots did upon their arrival. Upon landing on the shores of Florida (present-day Jacksonville, Florida), these men and women of faith gathered together and prayed the first recorded prayer by Protestant Christians in North America.

Remember, these devout Christians fled brutal persecution by the Catholic Church in France. Their prayers of faith and soon-to-be death were very significant events in history. Over the next 300 years, the ideals and teachings of John Calvin and other Protestant Reformers would rage like a fire across this new land. The gospel of Jesus Christ and the freedom it projected onto the people who embraced it would lay the foundation of a new nation, its laws, and its constitution. The United States would be founded as a Christian nation.

Located near a beautiful white picket fence and an old white double-porched house, the First Protestant Prayer Marker is a historical location commemorating the French Huguenots. Erected by the DAR in 1936, the marker provides insight into Ribault’s presence in the area and his significant contributions to Huguenot history in Florida.

b) Huguenot Memorial Park

Just down the road from the First Protestant Prayer Marker, Huguenot Memorial Park offers access to campgrounds and the stunning dune area. This park not only showcases the natural beauty of the area but also serves as a tribute to the Huguenot settlers who once inhabited the region.

Mayport and the Ferry Ride

To gain a deeper understanding of the rich history of the Huguenots in Florida, a visit to Mayport is a must. Located north of Daytona Beach, Mayport offers several key sites that are of historical significance:

a) Jean Ribault Monument and St. John’s River

One of the most significant Huguenot heritage sites in Florida is Jean Ribault’s Landing, also known as the first Huguenot landing in the state. In 1562, Jean Ribault, a Huguenot explorer, led an expedition to explore the coast of the New World. His expedition landed at the mouth of the St. John’s River, which Ribault called the River of May. Ribault claimed the land for King Charles IX of France and set up a column to mark the site.

The column, currently a part of the Fort Caroline National Memorial, stands tall with bronze plaques, re-imagining the column set by Jean Ribault during his Huguenot expedition in 1562. It offers a panoramic view of the St. John’s River, the same waterway Ribault navigated to claim the land for France. This site provides a perfect starting point for exploring the Huguenot heritage in Florida.

b) Jean Ribault Mayport Ferry

To continue the journey, visitors have the opportunity to cross the St. John’s River via the Mayport Ferry. This short ferry ride provides a one-of-a-kind experience, allowing visitors to appreciate the area’s historical significance from a new perspective. The ferry is named after Jean Ribault, further connecting visitors to the Huguenot legacy.

These Huguenot heritage sites in Mayport and the surrounding area provide a unique opportunity to connect with the history and legacy of the French Huguenots in Florida. Exploring these sites offers a deeper understanding of the struggles and contributions of the Huguenot settlers and their lasting impact on the state’s history.

c) The First Christian Marriage in North America

Ormond Beach, north of Daytona Beach, has a monument commemorating the first Christian marriage in North America. The monument is situated in picturesque Bailey Riverbridge Gardens on the Halifax River, adding to the area’s historical significance. The marriage monument can be found in the flower bed to the right of The Pilgrims Rest Primitive Baptist Church, Ormond Beach’s oldest structure, which was founded in 1877.

The inscription on the monument reads, “Near this site, the first Christian Marriage in North America is said to have occurred in 1566 between Ernst D’Erlach, a French Huguenot nobleman, and Princess Issena, of the Timucuan Indian Tribe. Dedicated by The Ernst D’Erlach Chapter, The Huguenot Society of Florida May 13, 1978”

The Ernst d’Erlach Chapter placed and dedicated the monument in 1978. However, it was relocated in October 2002 because the original location was no longer viable. The marker was rededicated on May 24, 2003, and included a scenario with costumed figures of the wedding participants, which raised local awareness of the event.

II. Exploring Fort Caroline and its Significance

Fort Caroline was established in 1564 by René de Goulaine de Laudonnière, a colleague of Ribault. The fort and settlement were intended to be a refuge for Huguenots and a base for further exploration and colonization. However, the settlement faced difficulties, including strained relations with the local Timucua people and a lack of expected resources.

Fort Caroline’s history took a tragic turn in September 1565, when Spanish troops led by Admiral Pedro Menéndez attacked it. The attack resulted in the killing of approximately 140 settlers, with some managing to escape. This event marked a significant turning point in the history of Huguenot colonization attempts in Florida.

Exploring these Huguenot heritage sites allows us to preserve and learn from their historical significance. They serve as a reminder of the challenges and sacrifices Huguenot explorers and settlers made in their quest for religious freedom and exploration in the New World.

III. The Impact of St. Augustine on Huguenot Settlers

While in St. Augustine, be sure to explore the following historic landmarks to gain a deeper understanding of the region’s rich history and the influence of the Huguenots.

a) Matanzas Inlet

Matanzas Inlet holds significant historical importance in the Huguenot history of Florida. This inlet played a crucial role in providing access to the Spanish-controlled city of St. Augustine. It served as a strategic route for both Spanish and French forces during the exploration and colonization of the region.

French forces were shipwrecked near this area. Meanwhile, Spanish troops, led by Admiral Pedro Menéndez, marched south from their massacre of Huguenots at Fort Caroline to engage in a battle at Matanzas Inlet. The conflict resulted in the killing of over 300 Huguenots, leaving a tragic mark on the history of the region.

For visitors interested in exploring this historical site, Fort Matanzas is a prominent structure that stands as a reminder of the area’s significance. Built in 1740, the fort showcases a block-house style, highlighting the continued strategic importance of Matanzas Inlet in the region. Today, visitors can learn about the fort’s history and the events that occurred during the Huguenot presence in Florida.

b) Castillo de San Marcos

St. Augustine, established by Spain in 1565, played a crucial role in shaping the fate of the Huguenot settlers in Florida. The Spanish built the Castillo de San Marcos at the end of the seventeenth century to defend against settlers like the French Huguenots. Although the Huguenots’ attempts at settlement ultimately failed, their presence in the region contributed to the eventual construction of the Castillo de San Marcos, which remains an important historical landmark in St. Augustine.

The Castillo de San Marcos is a must-visit attraction in St. Augustine, offering breathtaking panoramic views of Matanzas Bay, St. Augustine Inlet, and the iconic Bridge of Lions.

c) Exploring the Huguenot Cemetery and its History

The Huguenot Cemetery in St. Augustine, although not containing any Huguenot graves, is a significant historical site. Established in the nineteenth century, the cemetery no longer accepts interments but remains a testament to the presence of Huguenot settlers in the area.

Visitors to St. Augustine can view the Huguenot Cemetery and reflect on the impact of these early settlers on the region’s history. The historical site marker at the cemetery’s entrance gate sheds light on the Huguenots’ presence and contributions to Florida’s development.


Florida is home to several Huguenot heritage sites that hold significant historical value. The Huguenots, French Protestants led by figures like Jean Ribaut and René de Goulaine de Laudonnière, played a notable role in shaping Florida’s history. These brave individuals embarked on expeditions to explore the coast of the New World, establishing settlements and interacting with the indigenous Timucua people. Their settlements faced numerous challenges, but despite these obstacles, the Huguenots’ presence influenced future developments in the region. Today, these heritage sites serve as reminders of their contributions and struggles, making up a fascinating slice of history that is proudly on display across Florida.