By Matt Soergel - The Florida Times
France has filed a legal claim to an ancient shipwreck discovered off Cape Canaveral, saying it was part of the French fleet that in 1565 went to the aid of that country’s doomed colony at Fort Caroline in Jacksonville.
That follows a claim by the private treasure salvage company that found the wreck, and seems likely to lead to a dispute in U.S. District Court in Orlando over ownership of the artifacts.
It would be a high-stakes battle: A state archaeology report says the wreck, if it is indeed connected to the French fleet, “would be of immense archaeological significance.”
The wreckage includes at least one particularly spectacular artifact — a granite monument adorned with a symbol of France’s coat of arms, the fleur-de-lis. It’s similar to the one, never discovered, that French Capt. Jean Ribault left at the mouth of the St. Johns River in 1562 to stake a claim to Florida.
“That’s your crown jewel there, that’s your holy grail,” said Chuck Meide, a marine archaeologist who led a 2014 expedition that searched for, but did not find, the lost fleet. “I never would have dreamed this.” That marker’s not likely to be the one left at Jacksonville, however, said Meide.
Evidence though shows Ribault’s 1565 fleet carried several other stone markers to be used in its exploration of the New World, he said. Meide, director of the maritime archaeological program at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, is among those who believe the wreck is that of the Trinité, Ribault’s flagship, which played a fateful role in the early history of the New World.
Ribault’s fleet of four ships left France to support the small, struggling French Protestant colony at Fort Caroline.
The Spanish came at about the same time, with orders to wipe out the French outpost in land that Spain claimed for itself. Ribault sailed to attack the new Spanish settlement in St. Augustine, but his ships were driven south in a hurricane, leaving Fort Caroline virtually undefended.
During the storm, the Spanish marched north and took over the French colony, seizing firm control of Florida for the next couple centuries.