II. France and Spain's maritime rivalry, 1598-1722

3. Pirates around St. Augustine

The rivalry between France and Spain over northeast Florida was largely over by the beginning of the 17th century. Although France never again would make any serious attempts to establish hegemony in this region, French privateers remained a threat to Spanish shipping and ports, including St. Augustine.

In 1686, chevalier Nicholas de Grammont, a former French Royal marine, attempted to lay siege to St. Augustine. Under command of the French privateer Nicholas Brigaut, another group entered the Little Matanzas Inlet at the south end of Anastasia Island and seized the watchtower at Ayamon, just 21 miles south of St. Augustine. This diversion was not reinforced in time and, after blockading St. Augustine for 16 days, de Grammont decided to sail away.

4. D'Iberville explores the coast of Florida

By the late 1600s, the fight for possession of Florida was joined by a third major maritime power, Great Britain. To that time, the British already had established neighboring colonies in Georgia and the Carolinas – land that also was claimed by the Spanish. With British and Spanish dominance established over the southeast Atlantic Seaboard, the French shifted their attention inland, toward present-day Louisiana, where another French sea captain and adventurer, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville (1661-1706), established the first settlements.

Fulfilling the plan of the French court – to create a link between the Saint Lawrence and Mississippi River basins and block the English on the east coast – d'Iberville left the French port of Brest in October 1698 with four ships under his command. He sailed along the Florida coast and past the new settlement the Spaniards were building at Pensacola. In March 1699, he entered the mouth of the Mississippi River. Having achieved his first aim and finding no good sites in the delta, he built a temporary fort at Biloxi, Miss., and returned to France. On his second voyage, in January 1700, he reached Biloxi and built a fort 40 miles up the Mississippi River. On his third voyage in February 1701, he built a second fort at what is now Mobile, Alabama. His brother Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville (1680-1767) founded New Orleans in 1719.

5. Fort Crevecoeur

After establishing settlements in present-day Louisiana, the French sent an expedition to St. Joseph Bay in 1717. There, near the site of today's Port St. Joe, by the orders of the French Governor of Louisiana, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the French constructed a fort in an effort to extend their influence into the region.

Named Fort Crevecoeur ("Broken Heart"), this fortification stood on the north shore of the bay opposite the point of St. Joseph Peninsula. Armed with artillery and garrisoned with a small force of French troops, Fort Crevecoeur was the strongest military outpost between Pensacola and St. Augustine. (The site today is located at the intersection of Columbus Street and Highway 98, Beacon Hill, Gulf County.)

The Spanish objected to the French presence there. After deciding that the outpost on St. Joseph Bay was not worth fighting over, the French abandoned Fort Crevecoeur in 1718 and concentrated their efforts in Louisiana.

6. Pensacola: from Spain to France and back

In 1718, Spain and France entered into another conflict – the so-called War of the Quadruple Alliance – in which the two countries were seeking to retake territories in Italy and solve some dynastic problems. War spread to the New World, too. The French forces under de Bienville captured the Spanish settlement of Pensacola, in May 1719, preempting a Spanish attack on South Carolina. Although Spanish forces retook the town in August 1719, it fell again to the French later that year. They destroyed the town – including Fort San Carlos de Austria (which had been built in 1698 to guard against French incursions from the Mississippi Valley and the Gulf of Mexico) – before their final withdrawal.

In the end, on March 27, 1721, following the Treaty of the Hague (1720), Pensacola was returned to Spain. At that time, the presence of the French in Florida numbered several dozen families, primarily settlers from previous voyages. As a result of the French and Indian War (1754-63), the Spaniards ceded Florida to the British in 1763 but received Louisiana from the French as compensation. Pensacola was made the capital of the new British colony of West Florida. Direct French involvement in Florida essentially ended after 1763.

Related links:

  1. Le Chevalier Nicholas de Grammont's attack on St. Augustine (1686)

  2. Ft. Crevecoeur, Port St. Joe, Fla. (1717)

  3. Bienville Attack on Pensacola (1719)

Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources
Tallahassee, 2012