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French, Dutch and English to America

French and English Privateers against the Spanish | Quebec, Manhattan, and Jamestown | Puritans to the Massachusetts Area | Dutch Expansion in North and South America, to 1630 | New Colonists and Conflicts, to 1640 | Montreal and the Great Lakes Region, to 1650 | More Intolerance and War, to 1676 | William Penn | Britain's Colonies to 1700 | French Expansion and King William's War

North America and the Caribbean

French and English Privateers against the Spanish

When the French were warring against Spain in the mid-1500s, privately owned French ships – pirates in the eyes of the Spanish – attacked Spanish ships and ports in the Americas. When the war between France and Spain ended in 1559 the royal French government stopped backing its "privateers," leaving them with a hold on a few shorelines on unsettled Caribbean Islands, where they lived off the land and off the progeny of escaped cattle from Europe.

In 1562 the French tried to establish a colony in northern Florida, which failed. And in 1564 the French tried again, landing a couple of hundred people at St. John's River in northern Florida, at what was to be called Fort Caroline. An attack on Fort Caroline by Spaniards failed, and the Spaniards built a fort forty miles to the south, which they named St. Augustine. The people at Fort Caroline were French Huguenots. The Spanish disliked what they saw as an "evil Lutheran sect" near them in the Americas and they attacked Fort Caroline again, killing many of the men they found there, sparing the women and children, taking over the fort and renaming it Fort San Mateo. A wealthy Huguenot, Dominique de Gourgues, sought revenge. He sold his lands and possessions in France and in 1568, with some ships and around 150 men, he destroyed San Mateo and hanged its surviving defenders.

The Spanish were left with the French to worry about and also the English. During her war against Spain, Queen Elizabeth I sent the pirate Drake and other "sea dogs" against the Spanish in the Americas. Drake sacked and plundered his way up the Pacific Coast in 1579. In 1586, Drake sacked Santo Domingo and attacked the Spanish at St. Augustine in Florida, burning houses to the ground, cutting down fruit trees and carrying away everything of value. And Drake remained the nemesis of Spanish shipping until he died of fever in 1596.


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