16th-Century French Colony Found in South Carolina


Archeologists say they have finally located the French settlement of Charlesfort, the first European attempt to settle in what is now the United States.

The tiny outpost of 27 men, established in May 1562 as a refuge for Huguenots fleeing religious persecution, is under the edge of a golf course on the Marine Corps training base here, said University of South Carolina archeologists Chester DePratter and Stanley South.

They said a rechecking of historical records and an examination of pottery excavated from the site helped them pinpoint the location.

The settlement came three years before the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine in what is now Florida, and more than two decades before the English attempted to settle Roanoke Island in North Carolina. It also predated by 45 years the first successful English settlement at Jamestown in Virginia in 1607.


Jean Ribaut founded the colony and named it after the 12-year-old French king, Charles IX, but it foundered in less than a year.

What made the location hard to pinpoint, the archeologists said, was the fact that the Spanish established a settlement called Santa Elena on the same site.

DePratter said about 60 shards of pottery helped solve the mystery. An examination revealed they were not only French, but from the 16th century. And they came from areas of the excavation where no Spanish artifacts were found.

“This resolves the puzzle of Charlesfort and tells us a little about why the Spanish came here,” DePratter said.


The Spanish built a fort called San Felipe atop the Charlesfort fortifications that featured a moat and four bastions. Half of the fort, located about 200 yards from the site with the monument, has washed into Port Royal Sound.

The colonists mutinied, killed their leader and abandoned the colony in 1563 after a resupply ship never arrived. They built their own 20-ton vessel and sailed to Europe, using sails stitched from bedsheets, DePratter said.

But one Frenchman, a servant, remained behind. He lived with American Indians before being captured by the Spanish, whom he later led to the site where Santa Elena was established.

At the time of Charlesfort, there had been two French outposts in present-day Canada and one in South America, DePratter said. Quebec wasn’t founded until the next century.


Scientists plan to excavate the site again next year, looking for more evidence of the French presence.