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  • Fort Caroline National Memorial ParkFort Caroline National Memorial Park Jacksonville, Florida
    The Fort Caroline National Memorial Park is located in Jacksonville, Florida, and was the first French colony in the United States. The fort started in 1564, as a place for Huguenots to find refuge in and was there for only one year before the Spaniards came and destroyed it. It is now the memorial park. Protestant leader Admiral Gaspard de Coligny led an expedition into this uncharted territory, accompanied by the Norman navigator Jean Ribault that stopped on the May River site, which has now become the St. Johns River, in February, 1562, before heading on to Port Royal Sound. Today that region is known as Parris Island, South Carolina, and the French left 28 men to construct a settlement that became known as Charlesfort. Ribault went back to Europe to get supplies for the new settlement but somehow was arrested in England that were in relation to the French Wars of Religion and was unable to return. The men had neither supplies or leadership and began to be attacked by the local Native Americans, and eventually only one would be able to sail back to Europe. While in voyage, the survivors of the settlement had to resort to cannibalism to survive, and only one was left, and he was rescued in English waters. During that period, Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere, who was the second in command under Ribault on that earlier expedition, led another group of 200 new people to settle in Florida, where they constructed Fort Caroline on the top of St. Johns Bluff in 1564, the fort being named after the king, Charles IX. For more than a year, the colonists would be attacked by Native Americans, starved, and finally mutinied, which caught the attention of the Spanish authorities who considered the people something of a challenge to the region which the Spanish felt they owned. In June of 1565, Ribault was released from jail and he was sent back to Florida by Coligny with a huge fleet, and hundreds of soldiers, as well as settlers, taking back control of the fort. It was a difficult time, as the new appointed Governor of Florida, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, had been sent by Spain to destroy the French settlement and came to the fort just days after Ribault. The ships of their respective fleets had a short skirmish, whereupon the Spanish retreated about 35 miles to the south and started another settlement called St. Augustine. Ribault decided to chase down the Spanish with some of his ships and the majority of the troops, but ran into a violent storm that would last many days; while Menendez girded his pantaloons and headed north overland with his troops to surprise Fort Caroline. They attacked at dawn and surprised the garrison that held about 200 to 250 people, and by the time the fighting was done, only 50 survived. These were mostly women and children who were then taken prisoners, while some of the defenders and Laudonniere, escaped, and the remainder were executed.  Ribault's fleet lost most of his ships and many Frenchmen as well, with Ribault and some of his men were marooned, but Menendez found them and made them surrender. Ribault thought that they would be treated fairly, but found out otherwise when they were all massacred at a place now called Matanzas Inlet, Matanzas meaning massacres. The massacre of several hundred French Protestants shocked Europeans even though there were plenty of bloodbaths happening in Europe at the time. A fort called Fort Matanzas was built near the site of the bloody massacre, and that did stop the French from coming down to this area of the Americas. The Spanish demolished Fort Caroline but did construct a fort of their own there, and in 1568, Dominique de Gourgues would lead a French force that attacked, captured and burned the fort slaughtering every Spaniard in retaliation for the massacre. The Spanish did rebuild the fort, but then abandoned it the very next year. The exact location of this fort is not known at the present time. The original Fort Caroline became a National Memorial in 1950, and today it contains a scaled down version of the fort, based on historic renderings, as well as a visitor center.

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  • Lavilla MuseumLavilla Museum Jacksonville, Florida
    The Ritz Theater and Lavilla Museum commemorates the wonderful legacy of the African American community that thrived in Lavilla for more than a century in Jacksonville, Florida. The complex is cherished as a prominent cultural facility in the city that highlights the poetry, drama, music, art and African American history that exists here. The many legends and stories that have happened in the "Harlem of the South" still live inside the walls of the restorated theater and museum that is committed to reclaiming the past, celebrating the future and embracing the future. The formidable history of the community around the complex started over 140 years ago where many former slaves started a new life of freedom by the northeast plantation of Lavilla. During the period form 1861 to 1887, the plantation was independent and a culturally diverse area, with African Americans holding senior positions in the fire department, police and government. For close to a century, Lavilla would be an animated center for the citizens of Lavilla, their education, entertainment, commerce and religion for northeast Florida. Then, in the 1960s, when the bastions of segregation started to collapse in the south, numerous middle and upper class African Americans would move to other areas of the city, causing a shrinking of the local economy that left the buildings, especially the historic ones, like the Ritz Theater in desperate need of repair and restoration. In the latter 1990s, the Jacksonville River City Renaissance initiative would give funds to revitalize the neighborhood of Lavilla, with the 1929 Ritz movie theater becoming the main anchor for this cause. The Ritz theater is a 400 seat theater that has a state-of-the-art sound system, 30 by 40 stage and theatrical lighting. Today it highlights the best African American shows and educational performances in the region, which began with a heart moving blessing by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to concerts by Blues legend Bobby "Blue" Bland and jazz great Ahmad Jamal, as well as the spellbinding storytelling of Kal Jojo and Queen Nur.

January 11, 2011