BRUNSWICK, Ga. - The author of a new book, "Fort Caroline, The Search for America's Lost Heritage," says all the evidence points to the French fort being in Southeast Georgia, not Jacksonville.
Richard L. Thornton said he participated in a seven-year study of Native Americans in Southeast Georgia when he came to that conclusion.
Thornton joins others, including a team that is currently searching for the site, who believe Fort Caroline was in Georgia. It is the first fort built in what today is the United States.
"Until late 2011, we assumed that because everyone said Fort Caroline was in Jacksonville, it must be so," Thornton said. "However, nothing made any sense. The memoir of Fort Caroline's commander, Rene de Laudonniere, was obviously describing Indian tribes in Georgia."
Thornton said he was helping former National Park Service Director Roger Kennedy write a book on 16th century North America with him doing research on architecture.
"However, Roger died in late 2011 of cancer, so I continued alone on a book about 16th century Colonial architecture," he said. "The detailed research on that book quickly convinced me in late 2011 that Fort Caroline was actually built in Georgia."
Thornton said he spent about 3,500 hours researching the subject before writing the book.
He said he didn't want to give away all the details in his book, but said much of the evidence comes from families who lived in Coastal Georgia dating back to the Colonial days. Many of them told stories about both the French and Spanish trying to colonize the region.
"However, the European occupants of Georgia's islands were scattered to the winds by the (American) Civil War," Thornton said. "There were few, if any, families left that had a cultural memory of the early Colonial past."
Records and maps were changed to bolster claims to lands in the region, he said.
Thornton said he cannot say with absolute certainty he knows the location of Fort Caroline, even though he has compelling evidence that it's on the coast here.
He said evidence was unearthed more than 80 years ago that add to his argument the fort was on the Altamaha River.
"During the 1930s, National Park Service archaeologists found bronze tools and weapons along the south channel of the Altamaha River," he said. "They attributed the bronze artifacts to the Spanish conquistadors."
But Thornton said the Spanish stopped making bronze weapons and tools around 600 B.C. and bronze artifacts are still being found near tributaries of the Altamaha River.
Other evidence has been discovered that may show the region was occupied by many people.
"I believe that I have found the footprints of a large Native (American) town east of I-95," Thornton said. "I think that the entire south bank of the Altamaha south channel should be purchased or donated to create a National Historic District and protected archaeological zone."
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