Historic search for lost French Fleet of 1565

Four and a half centuries after French captain Jean Ribault and Spanish conquistador Pedro Menendez de Aviles fought for control of the new world, archaeologists at the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP), the research arm of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, are mounting an expedition to discover the lost French fleet of 1565.  

If found, these would be the oldest French ships ever discovered in the New World and arguably the most important shipwreck sites ever discovered in U.S. waters.

The story of the French fleet is inexorably tied to the founding and development of St. Augustine, and the search outside of local St. Augustine waters for these lost ships has been a long-term goal which may soon be realized. The lighthouse archaeology team is in a unique position to lead this search, with its base of operations in the region, its staff of experienced underwater archaeologists, and its inventory of vessels and equipment necessary for such an endeavor. 

In anticipation of the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine and the loss of the French Fleet, the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Park Service (Canaveral National Seashore), State of Florida, Institute of Maritime History and the Center for Historical Archaeology to embark on a joint expedition along Florida’s Atlantic coast starting in July 2014. 

While older beach surveys and statements from survivors have provided some insight about the locations of these ships, this expedition will be the first geophysical survey ever conducted to search for these ships in the marine environment.

Expedition made possible by federal and state partnerships

All partners involved in this historic project have leveraged their joint resources including expertise, equipment and funding to make the expedition possible. This project has been financed in part with historic preservation grant assistance provided by the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Division of Historical Resources, Florida Department of State, assisted by the Florida Historical Commission and a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (NOAA OER). The search has been tapped as one of NOAA OER’s signature expeditions for 2014. 

The National Park Service’s Southeast Archaeological Center (SEAC) and Submerged Resources Center (SRC) are providing additional resources and support to the LAMP team and will be actively participating in the research. The search will be conducted from a research vessel provided by the Institute of Maritime History, and will use historical research undertaken in the French archives by the co-principal investigator on the expedition, Dr. John de Bry of the Center for Historical Archaeology in Melbourne, Fla. 

To safeguard these archaeological sites, which are protected from molestation or looting by law, the specific locations of discovered shipwrecks and/or artifacts will not be disclosed via media or other means. Very few artifacts will be removed from any shipwreck sites discovered, and then only temporarily for documentation before being returned to their original location on or under the seafloor.

Learn more about the French fleet search

Results of the survey and search will be released after the expedition concludes in August. 

For more information in the interim, explore the links below:

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