Despite the importance of Jean Ribault in the history of French colonization, few people know who he was or can answer the crucial question of “what was Jean Ribault looking for?” Ribault was a French Huguenot explorer who played a major role in the early French colonization of the Florida area. His exploits took place over fifty years before the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts. However, despite these exploits, many people have never learned about him.
So, what exactly was Jean Ribault looking for when he sailed to North America in 1562? To answer this question, we need to take a deep dive into the history of France during this time period. It’s also important to take some time to look at some of the interactions between some of the major world powers of the era, particularly Spain and France. By diving into these chapters of history, we can better understand what Jean Ribault was looking for on his voyage in 1562.
Let’s look into the history of Jean Ribault and answer the question of what was Jean Ribault looking for when he set sail from France back in the mid-fifteenth century.
Escaping From Catholic Oppression
During Jean Ribault’s lifetime, conflicts were growing between the Catholic Church, which was the majority religion in France at the time, and the Huguenots who were Protestant. These conflicts would eventually culminate in the French Wars of Religion. And, during Ribault’s era, it was difficult to live in France while still remaining true to one’s Protestant beliefs and practices.
The First Civil War between Catholics and Protestants only took place after Ribault was returning from his initial 1562 voyage to the New World. And the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which saw acts of mob violence against Huguenots in France, did not happen until 1572. However, these events attest to the social conflicts that were pushing Huguenots out of France at the time.
In answering the question of “what was Jean Ribault looking for?”, we cannot ignore the persecution that he was trying to get away from. His voyages were initiated because he was trying to find solace away from this persecution.
New Lands To Live In
To escape Catholic oppression, Protestants sailed away from France en masse. These voyages took them to many different places, not just Florida and what is now the United States. In fact, Huguenot voyages were directed to Brazil and the Caribbean, as well. One of the major Huguenot figures of the day, Coligny, even imagined that the Huguenots could settle in Antarctica.
Jean Ribault explored the Florida, Georgia, and Carolina coastlines between 1562 and 1565. Since Huguenots were being persecuted in France, they needed to find new settlements where they could live. Ribault was one of the key figures involved in finding colony locations for French Huguenot Christians who were fleeing persecution.
One of the first settlements that Ribault was involved with in the New World was Charlesfort. The fort was named after the French King. After establishing the fort and leaving behind French claims to other territories, Ribault continued on with his voyage.
Ribault was primarily interested in exploration. It was never intended that he would stick around and oversee the development of the colonies. Instead, he had to report his findings to the King of France. Now that settlement had begun in the New World, he also intended to return to Europe, stock up with more supplies and people, and then return again at a later date.
Ribault would also be one of the most important figures involved with another French settlement in the area, Fort Caroline, located on the banks of the River of May, which nowadays is St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida.
Security Against The Spanish
Ribault managed to avoid Spanish ships during his voyage in 1562. He did this by taking a more direct route across the Atlantic. However, French colonial efforts in the Florida area had not gone unnoticed by Pedro Menendez, who was a conquistador in command of Spanish forces in the area.
By the time of Ribault’s second voyage to the New World, a confrontation between the Spanish and French was inevitable. Although what Jean Ribault had been looking for was a peaceful settlement away from the oppression of the Catholics, he had found new enemies in the New World. After Ribault’s ships were destroyed by a storm, the French settlements were vulnerable to a Spanish attack. Menendez attacked Fort Caroline and massacred its inhabitants. Eventually, Ribault and his top personnel were all captured and executed as well.
So, What Was Jean Ribault Looking For?
Although Jean Ribault’s life was suddenly brought to an end, his exploits deserve greater recognition for their importance they played in the history of colonization. Every chapter of the story highlights the social forces at work during this era. By delving deeper to answer the question of “what was Jean Ribault looking for?” further, you will have a deeper understanding and appreciation of early French colonial history in the New World.