The earliest occupation of the northeast coast of Florida dates back to 4000 B.C. The people
came to be known as the Timucuan Indians after European contact in the late 1500’s. The
Timucuans were a group of 12 independent chiefdoms that spoke the same language and
occupied southeastern Georgia and northeastern Florida. The individual chiefdoms were
comprised of 20 to 30 villages each. The villages were built along the rivers and creeks; the
average distance between them, by water, was two miles. Each village was governed by a chief
who was subordinate in power to the regional chief who ruled as Supreme Lord of the immediate
Of these Timucuan chiefdoms, the best known were the Saturiwa, who occupied the lower
course of the St. Johns River and the coastal area from the mouth of the St. Marys to south of St.
Augustine. These people and their culture were inseparably connected with the estuary and coastal uplands. Their religion and ceremonies reflect a lifestyle tied not to agriculture but to
hunting and gathering.
The Timucuans and their ancestors left behind large refuse heaps known as shell middens. These
middens are valuable cultural resources that archaeologists study to learn more about the
Timucuans’ lifestyle. The remains of food from midden deposits indicate that sheepshead,
mullet, black drum, and catfish were the most utilized fish. Shellfish included mussels, whelks,
clams and oysters. Some of these middens are island-sized. Please treat them as treasures from
the past and do not dig into them or disturb the midden structure in any way.
The arrival of Europeans over 400 years ago resulted in exploration, colonization, agriculture,
and commerce under the flags of France, Spain, Great Britain, the Confederacy, and the United
States. In 1564, French Huguenots (protestants) seeking religious freedom constructed a fort
along the St. Johns River (which they had named the River of May; hence the name Mayport)
and named the area “la Caroline” meaning “the Land of Charles” in honor of their king. This
settlement became the first permanent European colony in what would become the United States.
Fort Caroline National Memorial preserves the legacy of the French colony and educates the
public about this period of history. The Timucuan Preserve Visitor Center, located at Fort
Caroline National Memorial, serves as the primary orientation center for the 46,000 acre
National Park site.
Fort George Island was named for Fort St. George, a 1736 fort built to defend the southern flank
of Georgia when it was a colony. It has been a site of human occupation for over 5,000 years.
Some of the significant sites on the island are the shell middens from Indian settlements, Fort St.
George, Kingsley Plantation, the Mission of San Juan del Puerto, and the Ribault Clubhouse.
Fort St. George and San Juan del Puerto exist only as archaeological remains and are not
accessible to the public.
Kingsley Plantation was built in the late 1790’s and was used as a cotton plantation from
approximately 1800 until the Civil War. Structures include the main house, kitchen house, and
numerous slave cabins. This site represents the most extensive remains of any cotton plantation
One of the deepest natural ports on the east coast, Fernandina Beach was a perfect area to
construct a Third System Seaport Fortification. Fort Clinch is a third system (masonry)
fortification. Its construction started in 1847 and continued for 20 years. The Confederacy held
the fort from the beginning of the Civil War until March 3, 1862 when the Union took the fort
and held it until the end of the war. During the Civil War, Third System Fortifications became
obsolete due to the development of more precise rifled barrel weapons. Although no battles were
fought here, it was garrisoned during both the Civil and Spanish-American wars. During the
1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps began preserving and rebuilding many of the structures
of the abandoned fort. Fort Clinch State Park was established in 1935 and today the fort is a
living museum with guided tours and reenactments.