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State Rep. Lake Ray

Possible Fort Caroline site will be tested

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

It’s been two years since history buffs celebrated the 450th anniversary of the founding of Fort Caroline.

Since then, there have been claims the site wasn’t actually in Jacksonville, but instead Georgia.

State Rep. Lake Ray believes he can put an end to that speculation once and for all — that the historic landmark truly is in Jacksonville.

Calling it “history unveiling,” Ray announced Tuesday he and his son, Lake Ray IV, and legislative assistant, Mark Lloyd, have found the site along the eastern part of the St. Johns River. Ray said he doesn’t have the archeological proof in hand just yet, but he does have the topographical evidence.

Historic records detailing the fort’s dimensions align with the site, and there is an imprint of the structure’s signature triangle, courtyard surrounding moat.

After that research, he and his team went to the island itself to take a look. They found what they believe to be remnants of a past structure — coal not native to the area, byproduct of metalworking, fragments of possible cups and wares.

The evidence, Ray said, is there.

“There’s not a question to what it is,” he said after his news conference. “If it’s not that, tell me what it is.”

Protecting the site comes first. Ray has asked the exact location of the site not be revealed, which would make it easier for looters to harm verification efforts. The Coast Guard and National Park Service will assist in its protection.

Then comes the first steps to verify the claim. Ray said he has talked to officials with the University of Florida and University of North Florida to have what would be a first look at the site.

Before the news conference, he was at the site with Barbara Goodman, Timucuan and Fort Caroline parks superintendent, and Robert Thunen, a UNF anthropology professor, for a closer look.

“This kind of thing is always very interesting to us,” Goodman said. “It’s an interesting site.”

She said she didn’t have an opinion of whether she thought the claim was correct, at least not yet — she said the park service works off actual archeological evidence before substantiation.

The land is inside the boundary of the national park but not owned by it, Goodman said. One of the first steps will be coordinating with the property owners before a Phase I archeological survey is performed.

She said that would provide basic information as to whether further work should be done or if the area should be discounted. If it pans out, further tests will be conducted.

Ray said a nonprofit foundation could be formed to assist with efforts to determine whether the site is genuine and the ongoing excavation he hopes will find French and Spanish artifacts.

dchapman@baileypub.com

@writerchapman

(904) 356-2466

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