JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Visit Jacksonville begins celebrating the city's 450 years of French heritage Monday by unveiling the French-Florida Cultural Center 450 years to the day after French Huguenots were said to have shared a feast with Timuquan Indians.
History books show that French Huguenot Capt. Jean Ribault sailed into the mouth of what we now call the St. Johns River on May 1, 1562 -- three years before Spanish explorer Don Pedro Menendez landed in St. Augustine and 58 years before the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock in 1620.
In 1563 King Charles of France sent French Huguenot Capt. Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere back to what was called New France with hundreds of French men, women and children for the purpose of building a fort, La Caroline. The following year the fort was established and on June 30, 1654, the captain held a feast known as the First Thanksgiving in America at the fort and shared his bounty of food with the indigenous Timuquan Indians.
On Monday a special sign with gold lettering designated the downtown office as the France-Florida Cultural Office. Commemorating New France 1562-1564. Remembering French Huguenot Captains Jean Ribault & Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere.
Paul Astleford, CEO and president of Visit Jacksonville, joined Ken Detzner, secretary of state of Florida, Philippe Létrilliart, consulate general of France and Francois Kloc, honorary consul of France, along with other city and community dignitaries to unveil the sign and mark the sesquicentennial commemoration.
"The France–Florida Cultural Center is a space where history is remembered and where we look to the future to establish new relationships between French businesses, and visitors and the Jacksonville community," said Astleford. "It is also a symbol of the welcoming of new cultures and the diversity of our city."
Monday night there will be a reception and exhibit in the atrium of Jacksonville City Hall, followed by the program "Where is Fort Caroline anyway?" in City Council chambers.