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History of the Mayport Area

History of the Mayport Area

Sailors have been flocking to the area surrounding the present site of Naval Station Mayport for more than 400 years. With its ease of access to inland waterways and the open ocean, early Sailors’ interest in the region has resulted in an important military base with strong ties to the community.

In 1562, French Huguenot Commodore Jean Ribault, then said to be the greatest captain on the seas, was selected by the famous Admiral Gaspard de Coligny to lead an expedition to Florida; his mission was to form a French Protestant colony. Ribault arrived off what is now known as Mayport, near the mouth of the St. John’s River, on May 1 of that year. Landing on the north side of the river, now Ft. George, it is said they offered up prayers while the Native Americans looked on with attentive silence. They were received warmly by the Native Americans, including Satourbia, their chief.

The following morning, on May 2, Ribault entered to the south side of the river with his captains, gentlemen, soldiers and others. They had with them a stone monument which they placed, according to Ribault’s narrative, on a sand hill on the south side of the river near its mouth and plainly visible from the sea. In 1564, de Coligny dispatched another French Huguenot, Commodore RenGoulaine de Laudonniere, to establish a colony near the mouth of the St. Johns River. The Spanish were fearful of French domination in north Florida. Their “treasure fleet” followed the gulf stream up the coast of Florida, past the mouth of the St. John’s River, and discovered the French positions in the area before crossing the Atlantic Ocean for Spain. With the arrival of this news in Spain, the government dispatched a fleet under command of Pedro deMenendez to the Mayport area to prevent continued French occupation. At about the same time the Spanish Fleet set sail for this area, reinforcements commanded by Jean Ribault were sent by de Coligny to the French colony. The two fleets, French and Spanish, met near the site of this base, but the Spanish retired to St. Augustine. Soon afterward, the French fleet followed to drive the Spanish away; but, as the French fleet was ready to attack, the ships were swept to the south and wrecked by a violent hurricane. Menendez took advantage of the situation and moved overland to destroy the then defenseless French colony (Ft. Caroline) at St. Johns Bluff. After seizing this area for Spain, and executing the French prisoners, Menendez set up small military outposts: one at the present site of Naval Station Mayport, one immediately across the river and one at the fort at St. Johns Bluff.

A French expedition under the command of De Gourgues set sail to take revenge for this act. In 1568, De Gourgues entered the St. Johns River and seized the Spanish blockhouse at Mayport, as well as the other two outposts in this area. In reprisal, he executed all the Spanish and then left for France. In 1580, on the river near the base, the Spanish destroyed a French warship. Six years later the English fleet under Sir Francis Drake attempted to land here after attacking St. Augustine, but was prevented by high winds.

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