The French established a colony in Jacksonville 450 years ago and then constructed La Caroline/Fort Caroline along the St. Johns River.
To commemorate the sesquiquadricentennial of North Florida’s French heritage, the “France-Florida Cultural Center” was dedicated Monday during a ceremony at Visit Jacksonville’s Downtown headquarters.
It is the first such center in the state, said Florida Secretary of State and Chief Cultural Officer Ken Detzner.
“We hope the people of France will visit Florida. This office will help them understand France’s historic connection to Jacksonville,” he said.
On May 1, 1562, French Huguenot Capt. Jean Ribault sailed into what is now called the St. Johns River. He claimed the land for France, more than 58 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Ribault met the Timuquan Indians and exchanged gifts before departing two days later.
In 1563, King Charles of France sent Capt. Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere back to New France with hundreds of French men, women and children to build a fort, La Caroline.
The first colony in America was established with completion of the fort on June 29, 1564, and the next day, the colonists and the Timuquans shared a feast known as the first Thanksgiving in America.
“Many people are passionate about our common history,” said Consulate General of France Philippe Letrilliart. “On behalf of the French government, I thank Jacksonville and the state of Florida for making this possible.”
Visit Jacksonville President and CEO Paul Astleford said the center will provide a way to establish new relationships between French businesses and visitors and the Jacksonville community.
“The idea is to have a meeting place for anything that has to do with French culture,” he said.