Week 1: Fort Caroline National Memorial [Score +10]
[Note: My official kickoff for this project was the week of March 1. I was still in Florida during that week, so this particular expedition took place while I was still finishing my inspiring MONTH outside my routine.]
Passing U.S. History was not only a requirement for graduating but was a rite of passage for juniors in my high school.
The teacher at the time—Mr. Clark—had been teaching since my mom had been a student at that same school two decades earlier. A grizzly, bearded man who wore sweatpants and a plain t-shirt every day who ambled about the school at the same steady pace, this teacher liked to make an entrance at the start of each class. He entered the room after every student had arrived and began lecturing the moment he strode through the doorway. Or at least that’s how it seemed at the time; he may have just been making every moment of his cigarette break count before facing another room of teenagers.
In Mr. Clark’s class, you didn’t just take notes, study, take tests, and move on to the next topic. A substantial part of your grade—enough to make you fail the semester—hinged on The Notebook: a two-inch (no more, no less), D-ring (not O-ring), three-ring binder filled with college-ruled paper on which you’d taken precisely outlined notes—outlined in his format—in blue or black ink without a single smudge or ink blot. If you turned in that notebook for review at the end of the semester and he found those ink blots (and he would), or if you had a point noted as “a.” in the outline instead of “1)”, you had to recopy that page of notes and resubmit the notebook for approval.
I would love now to sit down with this man over a cup of coffee (tea for me) and ask him about his teaching strategy. At the time, it seemed an unconscionable task inflicted by a gruff, unsmiling teacher. But now, having read studies that find taking notes by hand helps us better commit things to memory, and recognizing that at the end of the year, he had earned more respect than many “softer” teachers, I wonder how much of his strategy was intentional.
Or how much of it was just his personality, having grown tired of putting up with high schoolers’ BS after 30 years of teaching the same battles and generals year after year?
I passed that class, but it was definitely not with flying colors. I was a good student, but history was always a challenge for me. Memorization was not one of my strongest talents, and I struggled to keep dozens of dates and battles straight in my head that I didn’t honestly care to remember at the time.
In the years since then, I’ve had the chance to visit some of those historic sites we learned about in Mr. Clark’s U.S. History class: Boston, where so many important events preceding and during the American Revolution took place. Monticello in Virginia, where Thomas Jefferson retreated for respite after authoring the Constitution. And now, northeastern Florida, where the Spanish—and briefly the French—established the first settlements in this New World.
Seeing these sites with my own two eyes and on my own two feet makes me appreciate (and relearn) our country’s history in ways I never did when it was lectured from the pages of a textbook.
In this official Week 1, Mylee and I took a little road trip up to Jacksonville, Florida, and visited Fort Caroline National Memorial. This site memorializes the short-lived French settlement in Florida in the 16th century.
I remember learning alllll about Jamestown, Virginia and the first English settlements in history class. But it took preparing for this stay in Florida, and visiting several historic sites while there, for me to vaguely recall learning that the Spanish actually beat the English to our shores. I believe it’s only because the English eventually reigned (literally and figuratively) that this part of our history is generally lost in the shuffle. (History books are written by the winners and in their language, right?)
Jamestown, VA was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, established in 1607. Before that, the Roanoke Colony in North Carolina (which didn’t survive) was established in 1584. These I remember from history class. But St. Augustine, Florida was founded by the Spanish in 1565, and they landed on these shores years before that permanent settlement was established.
Think on that for a moment. Do YOU remember learning that? Or was it glossed over?
Fort Caroline was in what is now Jacksonville, and this national memorial honors the French settlement that only lasted about four or five years, after which they were defeated by battles with the Spanish, massacres, invasions, famines, etc. Pleasant days, huh?
The memorial today isn’t much, honestly, not when compared to other national monuments and parks I’ve seen. It’s worth visiting if you take the time to think about and appreciate the history. But if you’re looking for an engaging place to take your family, this will only be a stop along the road. What exists now is an approximation of the walls around the fort… and that’s pretty much it. A guided tour with a friendly park ranger helps the history come alive, along with a good helping of imagination. But don’t expect to make a day of it unless you want to take advantage the walking trails and larger nature conservation area.
Mylee and I enjoyed the road trip and visit, we chatted with the friendly park ranger, we took the scenic route to and from the memorial, and it served as a nice end to the story of history I’d been piecing together throughout my stay in the area.
- Did something outside my routine: +1
- Left the house: +1
- Did something entirely new: +1
- Had a conversation with a stranger of at least 30 seconds: +2
- Copilot Mylee came along: +5