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Charlesfort (1562-1563) - A French Colonial Fort established in 1562 on the south tip of Parris Island in Beaufort County, South Carolina. Established by Jean Ribault and named Charlesfort after the then French King, Charles IX. Abandoned in 1563.


Established by Jean Ribault and some 150 French Huguenots in May 1562. To establish a French claim to the area, Ribault erected engraved columns in several locations including the fort site and Daws Island across the river from it. Ribault's men built a small earth-and-log fort and named it Charlesfort after their King Charles IX.

After the fort was completed, Ribault returned to France for supplies and more colonists. He left behind 28 men to garrison the fort until he returned. His return was delayed by a religious war in France and the garrison at Charlesfort believed themselves either abandoned or that Ribault had been lost at sea.

The garrison built themselves a 20-ton ship and sailed for France in 1563. The ship arrived in the English Channel months later without food or water and with only 20 survivors. The surviving crew had resorted to cannibalism to survive.

Before another French expedition could be organized the Spanish sent Manrique de Rojas to destroy the abandoned Charlesfort. In 1564 Rojas burned the fort to the ground and the French never returned. Rojas also removed the engraved columns that Ribault had emplaced to establish French claim to the area.

The Spanish returned in 1566 and built two forts on the site of the original French fort.

Fort San Salvador (1566)

In April 1566, Pedro Menéndez and some 89 men returned and established Fort San Salvador on the trace of the old French Charlesfort.

Fort San Felipe (1566-1576)

Later in 1566, Capt Juan Pardo arrives with 250 more men enlarging the garrison to over 300. They then enlarge the Fort to house the combined garrisons and name it Fort San Felipe, still on the trace of old Charlesfort. Apparently satisfied with the greater level of security, Governor Pedro Menéndez begins bringing civilian settlers to the island, established a settlement called Santa Elena. By 1569 the settlement had grown to include 193 settlers and about 40 houses.

Governor Pedro Menéndez dies while on a mission to Spain in 1574 and his successor Governor Hernando de Miranda arrives in Santa Elena in February 1576. Miranda is not as skilled at dealing with the native population and his harsh methods provoke attacks on the settlers and the loss of some thirty soldiers. In February 1576 some 500 hostile Indians attacked the settlement and burned down much of the town. The settlers crowded into Fort San Felipe and convinced Miranda to abandon Santa Elena and the Fort and to take them back to San Augustin. As the ships sailed the Indians burned down the Fort.

Fort San Marcos (1577-1587)

The Spanish return the following year and bring with them a prefabricated fort that they assemble in six days. The new Fort was sited about 240 yards south of the old forts and is named Fort San Marcos.

From 1577 to 1580 Fort San Marcos is just a military outpost with no accompanying settlement or settlers. By 1580 the Indians and French are no longer a threat and resettlement begins and the colony prospers. In 1583 the fort was rebuilt and enlarged but retained the Fort San Marcos name.

In June 1586 Sir Francis Drake's fleet destroyed St. Augustine and then turned north to destroy Santa Elena. Drake and his fleet sailed right past the entrance to Port Royal Sound in the dark of night and Santa Elena was spared. The garrison and the colonists packed up everything and sailed back to St. Augustine in the summer of 1587.

All of these forts came to be collectively known as the Forts of Santa Elena, see the chronology below.

Early Parris Island Fortifications Timeline
  • May 1562 - French under Jean Ribaut build Charlesfort, Ribaut sails back to France for more men & settlers but his return is delayed
  • 1563 - The remaining garrison abandons the settlement & sails for France
  • 1564 - Spanish under Manrique de Rojas sent to destroy the abandoned Charlesfort
  • Apr 1566 - Pedro Menéndez & some 89 men establish Fort San Salvador
  • 1566 - Capt Juan Pardo & 250 more men arrive & build Fort San Felipe
  • 1568 - Menéndez begins bringing civilian settlers to the island
  • 1576 - 500 Indians attack & the Colony evacuates to San Augustine
  • Oct 1577 - Spanish return to build & garrison Fort San Marcos (1)
  • 1580 - Spanish Colonists brought back to Santa Elena
  • 1583 - New Fort San Marcos (2) built
  • 1587 - Spanish Colony abandoned & fort burned

Current Status

These sites are located on the southern tip of Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot at the edge of the golf course. The Marine Corps first excavated the sites to determine the placement of the individual forts. An excellent series of reader boards now covers the history of the sites. What is now known as Fort San Marcos is outlined with concrete markers. The 1926 Charlesfort Monument actually marks the site of Fort San Marcos which was mistakenly thought to be the Charlesfort site until the real site was discovered about 240 yards north. Excavations between 1979 and 1996 verified the location of the French fort which had been built over by later Spanish Forts.

The Parris Island MCRD Museum is not to be missed, not only does it contain a history of the Marine Corps and the recruit depot but also has excellent displays and information about the French and Spanish forts.

This is a very active military base and access may be restricted but they are very used to civilian guests because of the many graduation exercises. If you do not have a military ID call ahead to the base visitor center for access requirements.

From the Museum Website:

The public is welcome to visit Parris Island. As an active military base, access may be dependent upon current security needs. At the front gate, tell the guard you wish to visit the Museum. Be prepared to show a driver's license, proof of vehicle insurance, and proof of vehicle registration. You can obtain the Depot's Driving Tour Map at the Museum.

Location: Parris Island, Beaufort County, South Carolina.

Maps & Images

Lat: 32.30865 Long: -80.67580

See Also:



Visited: 4 Mar 2018

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