Spain and France Called Dibs

by | Jul 6, 2005

When one moves to a new place, there are many new place names that don’t mean much until one has time to digest them. On Hilton Head Island, Coligny Plaza is sometimes thought of as the town center. After a little digging, I learned that Gaspard de Coligny was Admiral of France in the mid 16th century, and the man responsible for sending Jean Ribault to the New World. Coligny and Ribault were both Huguenots, or French Protestants. Thus, the acquisition of new lands had a decidedly religious, as well as nationalist, thrust.

Ribault reached Port Royal–which he named–in 1562. He and his men set up shop in what is today Parris Island, naming* the small settlement Charlesfort for their young King. Ribault then turned back to France for more supplies, but upon arrival found his nation engaged a religious civil war. Ribault fled to England, where he was jailed as a spy in the Tower of London. He escaped jail, returned to France and was sent back to Charlesfort to help fortify the colony, which had since moved south to the St. John’s River under the leadership of René Goulaine de Laudonnière.


When Ribault made it across the Atlantic, he was caught in a hurricane and shipwrecked south of St. Augustine, where he and his surviving men were rounded up and killed by the Spaniards, who’d clearly “had it” with the competition. A few, including Laudonnière, escaped.

All the while, one French Huguenot settler, Guillaume Rouffi, stayed behind at Port Royal, marrying the daughter of Indian King Audusta. Smart kid.

In 1566, Pedro Menendez de Avilles traveled north to Port Royal and built the town of Santa Elena on the exact same spot as Charlesfort, with the intention of making it the new capital of La Florida. Ten years later the Orista Indians–who had been on good terms with the French–attacked the nascent town of over three hundred, sending the Spaniards racing for their boats. They watched ten years of labor receed behind them as they sailed for the safety of St. Augustine.

*Ribault called Hilton Head Island, Ile de la Riviere Grande. The Spaniards called it, Isla de los Osos, or Island of the Bears.