Two very seemingly different events today demonstrate the ironic twists of history on Florida’s First Coast/the Nation’s Oldest Port region. First, the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum welcomed Operation Twin Links to the site in a ceremony hosted by the Mayor of St. Augustine, Nancy Shaver, and the Executive Director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, Kathy Fleming, along with Adamec Harley, the Buffalo Soldiers motorcycle club, and Museum members and friends.
Operation Twin Links celebrates Franco American relationships, and the sacrifices of American soldiers to free French Citizens in WWI. Chatelaine, Christophe de Goulaine and Pierre Lauvergeat are riding a personally-restored, vintage Harley Davidson motorcycle across the United States starting on the First Coast. Harley Davidson motorcycles were shipped to France and provided transportation during the war for Allied soldiers. To the Frenchmen they represent a symbol of American Freedom. The arrival of American doughboys and their motorcycles to French shores marked a significant shift in the war effort as victory was to follow only a few months later. 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI. Mayor Nancy Shaver read a proclamation of welcome from the shade of St. Augustine’s French Front Porch Light, which shines from an 1876 Parisian hand-made lens. That same light welcomed our boys home in WWI, quoted the Mayor.
The second event of note took place in an Orlando, Florida courtroom on the same day, when United States Magistrate Judge Karla Spaulding ruled in favor of the Nation of France in a case involving the underwater wreck of French explorer Jean Ribault’s flagship, Trinité. For some time, archaeologists across the world have waited to see how the court would rule in a case brought by the treasure hunters who located the wreck. Under the Federal Sunken Military Craft Act, the court ruled that the country of France owned the wreck and any items located within it.
Essentially this ruling allows excavation of the wreck to be organized by the State of Florida, in cooperation with the French. The ruling specifically allowed the work to begin immediately. Scientists from the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program applaud this ruling and hope to be one of a team of scientists who will conserve the objects that may become part of a French heritage trail stretching from Jacksonville, FL to St. Augustine, to Cape Canaveral where the wreck was located. “This is St. Augustine’s founding story, the clash between European Powers on the First Coast, and this shipwreck is the most significant found in Florida Waters,” said Fleming. LAMP director, Chuck Miede has been studying and searching for the wreck since well before 2012.
The Trinité was the flagship of French explorer Jean Ribault’s fleet. Ribault’s arrival in the New World was a direct threat to the Spanish push for exploration and colonization. The French represented a threat from a rival European nation. A French colony at Fort Caroline represented a Protestant settlement poised to challenge a Catholic and Spanish settlement in the new World King Philip of Spain did not sit silent but instead encouraged Pedro Menendez to deal with the French colony in the harshest terms. When Ribault and Menendez arrived together at the site of Fort Caroline in 1565 a battle ensued that ended with the founding of St. Augustine, and the destruction of Ribault’s ships, which were swept south by a hurricane. He had not had time to unload, so evidence of the settlement will be very prevalent on the wreck site. With Ribault and his fleet wiped out, the Spanish attacked the French settlement at Fort Caroline and ended any hopes of French colonization along Florida’s coast. Spain would maintain control over Florida for almost another 200 years. But both the French and the Spanish would return to help America become a nation a few centuries later.
There are a number of connections between today’s events. Christophe de Goulaine, one of the two Frenchmen who created Operation Twin Links, is the direct descendant of Rene de Goulaine de Laudonniere, the founder of the French colony at Fort Caroline; the very colony that Jean Ribault sought to protect by launching an attack against the Spanish.
Secondly, Operation Twin Links represents the connections that have existed for hundreds of years between Europe and America. Pierre Lauvergeat’s ancestors were saved by American soldiers during WWII from prisoner of war camps and from the trenches of WWI. We salute this wonderful friendship and await the decision of the State of Florida and France about how the wreck’s information will be discovered, researched and revealed.
As Christophe de Goulaine said today, “history must be preserved.” What we learn from history is that we are all in this together.
Images via the St. Augustine Lighthouse