Jean Ribault Explores the St. Johns River (April 30, 1562)

On April 30, 1562, French explorer Jean Ribault led an expedition ashore near the mouth of the St. Johns River. They continued north to what is now South Carolina before returning to Europe. Ribault returned to the Americas in 1564 and was among those killed during the Spanish – French struggle for control over La Florida.

"The French Sail to the River of May," from an engraving by Theodor de Bry

“The French Sail to the River of May,” from an engraving by Theodor de Bry

Between the time he returned to Europe and before the second French expedition sailed in 1564, Ribault published an account of his journey titled The Whole & True Discouerye of Terra Florida. His brief account provides insight into his perception of the land and people he encountered. The below spellings retain those that appear in an early English-language printing of Ribault’s account.

Ribault describes the men of the local population, likely Timucua, as having hair “trussed up of a height…gathered and wrought together with great cunying and wrethed and facioned after the forme of a diedeme.” He also noted the elaborate breast plates worn by prominent men.

"The Natives of Florida Worship the Column Erected by the Commander on his First Voyage," from an engraving by Theodor de Bry

“The Natives of Florida Worship the Column Erected by the Commander on his First Voyage,” from an engraving by Theodor de Bry

Ribault described native housing as consisting of “fyttely made and close of woode, sett upright and covered with reed, the most parte of them after the fashion of a pavillon, but there was one [house] amonges the rest very great, long and broode, with settelles round abowte made of reedes, tremly couched together, which serve them bothe for beddes and seates; they be of height two fote from the ground, sett upon great round pillers paynted with red, yellowe and blewe, well and pullished.”

"Industry of the Floridians in Depositing Their Crops in the Public Granary," from an engraving by Theodor de Bry

“Industry of the Floridians in Depositing Their Crops in the Public Granary,” from an engraving by Theodor de Bry

Much of the remainder of the account is devoted to extolling the virtues of the land and predicting the great wealth soon to be extracted from the majestic forests, rivers, and rolling hills. Tales of the Americas by Ribault and others greatly influenced the work of engravers and publishers in the 16th century, including Theodor de Bry who first published Grand Voyages in 1591. For his engravings, de Bry relied on first-hand accounts of the French in Florida by Ribault, Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, and René Goulaine de Laudonnière.

View de Bry’s 42 original engravings of Florida from Grand Voyages on Florida Memory. Digital copies of the engravings are made possible through a donation from the collection of Michael W. and Dr. Linda Fisher. All quotes attributed to Ribault taken from The Whole & True Discouerye of Terra Florida (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1964).

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