Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Battle for Northeast Florida; History Channel Explores Area's Dramatic Early Conflicts

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Battle for Northeast Florida; History Channel Explores Area's Dramatic Early Conflicts

Article excerpt

Byline: Roger Bull, The Times-Union

Almost 450 years ago and far from their homelands in Europe, small numbers of soldiers and sailors played out a New World drama on the shores here. Who won and who lost determined the fate of Florida for the next 200 years.

The History Channel debuts its four-part Conquest of America tonight and Tuesday night. Each one-hour episode tells the story of the conquest of a part of America: Coronado in the Southwest, Henry Hudson in the Northeast, Vitus Bering in Alaska and, airing at 10 tonight, the battle between the French and Spanish for Northeast Florida.

The documentary, produced by Lone Wolf Documentary Group, uses a mix of dramatization, narration and maps. In the Florida episode, historians Patricia Griffin, Eugene Lyon, John McGrath and Jared Milanich are the resident on-screen experts.

McGrath, a specialist in 16th century French history at Boston Uni- versity, also worked on the script.

"I thought they did a really great job," McGrath said. "The real challenging thing is that it's a story that has a lot of twists and turns, and to fit that all in an hour."

Among those twists is the entire drama was colored as much by the Catholic-Protestant conflicts back home as the French-Spanish con- flicts here on the First Coast.

The Lone Wolf film crew was here for a week in November. They'd planned to come in September, but the month's record-setting run of hurricanes prevented that. Lisa Wolfinger, co-director and co-producer, said that none of the locations -- Fort Caroline, Guana River State Park and Church of Good Shepherd -- had been damaged.

The church was used for both Spanish and French court scenes. And Craig Morris, lead ranger at Fort Caroline National Memorial, said re-creating the Matanzas massacre at Guana presented an interesting contrast.

"Here they are filming on the south side of the dam," Morris said. "And on the north side, here are all these people catching pinfish."

Wolfinger said she had about 60 people there, counting cast, crew and extras. Local reenactors played some of the French and Spanish soldiers. Seminoles came up from Big Cypress to take the Timucuans' parts.

It all started in 1562 when Jean Ribault led a French expedition to establish a base in what is today the U.S. Southeast. He led two ships and 150 men on a seven-week voyage across the Atlantic. Their first stop was Florida, where they came into the St. Johns River.

He named it River May because he first saw it on May 1. But he didn't stay long. He met the local Timucuans, planted a column near where a replacement stands today, and sailed north.

But tonight's documentary leaves out that part of his visit, instead it takes him straight to South Carolina.

"Part of the challenge of telling a story this complex in 45 minutes," Wolfinger said, "is what to leave in and what to leave out. …

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