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Charlesfort was a short-lived French settlement on Parris Island in what is now South Carolina, USA, founded during Jean Ribault's first expedition to North America in 1562. The expedition was tasked with exploring the Atlantic coast of North America, and Ribault intended Charlesfort as an outpost to support further French exploration and settlement in the area. A month after reaching South Carolina Ribault sailed back to France, planning to return to resupply the settlement. The outbreak of the French Wars of Religion prevented this, however, and the unprepared fort was wracked with famine, mutiny, and calamity. The soldiers determined to abandon Charlesfort and constructed a makeshift vessel to sail back to France, embarking in the spring of 1563 on what would prove a disastrous journey.

Charlesfort is notable as one of the first French attempts to establish a settlement in the Americas. Its failure precipitated René Goulaine de Laudonnière's 1564 expedition, which eventually founded Fort Caroline in what is now Jacksonville, Florida. The site was later occupied by the Spanish, who named it Santa Elena. The remains of both settlements now constitute the Charlesfort-Santa Elena archaeological site.

Background and voyage[edit]

France had been attempting to gain a foothold in the New World for years. Jacques Cartier established the settlement of Charlesbourg-Royal in what is now Quebec City, Quebec in 1541, but it was abandoned the next year. In 1555 Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon, under the orders of Gaspard de Coligny, Admiral of France and Huguenot leader, established the Huguenot colony of France Antarctique in present-day Brazil. The area where Charlesfort was established was also of interest to the Spanish, who called it Santa Elena. In 1559 Tristán de Luna y Arellano established a settlement in what is now Pensacola, Florida, with the intention of founding another settlement at Santa Elena. Ángel de Villafañe sailed to the area in 1561, but his fleet was crippled by a storm before he could find a suitable port at which to found a settlement.

In this climate Coligny arranged for a new expedition to explore the Atlantic coast of what is now the Southeastern United States. Captain Jean Ribault was put in charge of the expedition, with René Goulaine de Laudonnière as his second in command. Ribault disembarked with two ships from the port of Le Havre in February 1562. The expedition sighted land in northern Florida on April 30, and entered the St. Johns River on May 1, naming it the River of May. They erected a stone column on the banks and met with local Timucua peoples, including the Saturiwa and the Tacatacuru, and then proceeded northward along the coast. They charted the coast and named a number of rivers, and arrived at Port Royal Sound in present-day South Carolina in mid-May.


Ribault found the deep but defensible Port Royal to be a suitable location for a settlement, and spent the next three weeks overseeing the construction of Charlesfort, which he named after the king, Charles IX.