Fort Caroline, as drawn by Jacques Le Moyne, an artist who accompanied the voyage and stayed at fort.

Fort Caroline, as drawn by Jacques Le Moyne, an artist who accompanied the voyage and stayed at fort.

It happens that when you write a non-fiction book, relevant facts come to your attention too late to include them in the manuscript. Well after A Feathered River Across the Sky was at the printer,  I realized I had made an error that I want to correct before the paperback version comes out (the need for other revisions may well emerge too).

Jacques Cartier is the first European known to have encountered passenger pigeons. This on Prince   Edward Island on July 1, 1534. He may have killed some of them but he did not record that fact. Others saw them soon thereafter but the first written account that I used of someone killing passenger pigeons was that of Samuel de Champlain in 1605 on the coast of Maine. I make reference to this on pages 69 and 193. But that is incorrect as I am aware of one earlier occurrence (no doubt other European visitors killed the birds, but either such incidents went unrecorded or I have failed to find them). I am indebted to Jim Ducey, one of the country’s great ornithological historians, for graciously providing me with this information.

Although the effort was of short duration and profoundly unsuccessful, France attempted to establish one colony in South Carolina and another in Florida during the 1560s. During that time, France was embroiled in religious strife between the Catholic majority and Protestant minority (known as Huguenots). But some of the Protestants had the ear of the crown, and it was thought that a colony for the Huguenots would be a way to ameliorate some of the tension at home. Another incentive to occupy that region was Spain. Spain, which already claimed the territory, was reaping great treasure from her holdings in Mexico and South America. France wanted a share of that wealth and saw the southern coast as both a potential source of gold and a convenient point from which to pillage Spanish galleons that docked in Havana on their way  home.

The first of these colonies was founded in 1562 and named Charles Fort. Located  on what is now Parris Island, South Carolina, the fort fell apart on its own because increased unrest in France prevented it from being resupplied. Some number of survivors built their own boat and returned to Europe.

A second voyage left France in 1564 under the command of Rene Laudonniere. At the mouth of the St. Johns River where Jacksonville now stands, he founded Fort Caroline on June 22. It, too, would fail, as the Spanish, aware of France’s intentions, sent a fleet about a year later to slaughter or imprison most of the inhabitants and destroy the structures. Laudonneire managed to escape, however, and wrote of his experiences. Sometime between January 25, 1565 and May 1565, there occurred the earliest instance of Europeans killing passenger pigeons that I know of:

“In the meantime, a great flock of doves came to us, unexpectedly and for a period of about seven weeks, so that every day we shot more than two hundred of them in the woods around our fort.” ( Rene Laudonniere, Three Voyages (translated, edited, and annotated by Charles E. Bennett), Gainesville: The University Presses of Florida (1975): 114.


2 Comments to “Earliest Instance of Europeans Killing Passenger Pigeons”

  1. Thom says:

    I have just finished reading A Feathered River Across the Sky. It is excellent. Not really a jolly read (downright grim at times) but well researched and written. Three things:
    1. I am from upstate New York and would like to research the two nestings you describe: Plattsburgh in 1851 and Ulster Co in 1872. Do you have any info that might allow me to narrow my search?
    2. I note you quote Henry Shoemaker. I researched him for a book I am wrapping up on the History of Howe Caverns. A friend who is familiar with his work wrote that, “Henry Shoemaker is to cave history like Chernobyl is to nuclear power.” I thought a person who could write “mother pluckers” in a serious book would appreciate the analogy.
    3. Would like to discuss further with you the issue of white nose syndrome. I manage 3 cave preserves, one of which is an early WNS site and so have been involved with the disease since the beginning.

  2. Joel says:

    Thom, it would be easier for me to respond to your questions if you can send them to me via e-mail:

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