Descendants of Jean Ribault speak out against renaming of Ribault Middle and High Schools

Controversy over renaming schools


Yves de Montcheuil is a living descendant of French colonizer Jean Ribault, who commanded the Ft. Caroline settlement in modern-day Jacksonville in the 16th century.

He says his family was disturbed to learn Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) is considering renaming Jean Ribault Middle and High schools. He spoke to Action News Jax from his home in France.

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“I was quite shocked really,” said de Montcheuil. “I mean, I can certainly understand the move to renaming schools named after Confederate figures or people with the slave trade. But Jean Ribault has never been associated with such endeavors.”

Former board member, Ashley Smith-Juarez, raised the motion passed by DCPS in August to begin the process of renaming Ribault Middle and High Schools, and Andrew Jackson High School.

Smith-Juarez said the Ribault Middle and High schools, and Andrew Jackson High School, were named after people responsible for ‘marginalizing and killing indigenous people.’

Jacksonville historian, Dr. Wayne Wood, says Jean Ribault did no such thing.

“Is there any historical evidence that he marginalized or hurt Native Americans?” asked Action News Jax Reporter, Ryan Nelson.

“There’s no evidence in the historical record that I’ve seen that showed Jean Ribault had anything but a positive relationship with the Native Americans,” said Dr. Wood.

Dr. Wood sent Action News Jax images which depict a positive relationship between Ribault and Native Americans.

“So, we have these wonderful drawings that were done by members of the French voyage. And those depict noting but peaceful relationships with the Native Americans,” said Dr. Wood.

Action News Jax reached out to Smith-Juarez for comment on her motion to rename the Ribault schools in August.

“… I am not characterizing Ribault as a single-minded imperialist. Still I am asking what his decision to fly under the French flag and claim land for the French to forward his community’s needs meant for the Timucua community and if that is something DCPS wants to honor,” said Smith-Juarez in a statement.

The complete statement from Smith-Juarez, and a letter from Ribault’s descendants, are posted below.

De Montcheuil shared this message to DCPS on the renaming process.

“Jean Ribault actually contributed to that friendship between France and America, and that the name should be preserved as part of the great history of the country,” said de Montcheuil.

DCPS says the name changes are not guaranteed.

The district’s following a nine-step process for renaming.

As of one week ago, DCPS said all nine schools being considered for name changes were in Step 3, where community meetings are held to solicit recommendations for school names from stakeholders.

The next community meetings will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

  • J.E.B. Stuart Middle February 16, 2021 – 4:30 - 5:30 pm – Media Center
  • Joseph Finegan Elementary • February 16, 2021 – 4:00 – 5:30 PM - Cafeteria
  • Kirby-Smith Middle February 16, 2021 – 6:00 - 7:30 pm in the Media Center
  • Stonewall Jackson Elem • February 16, 2021 - 5PM – Cafeteria

To see the schedule for school naming meetings, click here.

Statement from former DCPS School Board Member, Ashley Smith-Juarez:

“My intent in bringing the consideration of a name change forward was to honor indigenous people and to inquire about their experience and the representation of a French colonist. The intent is to examine their persecution, enslavement, relocation, dehumanization and near eradication. DCPS has less than 2% indigenous students (.8% if I remember correctly) not because that was the historic proportion of the population but because of the systematic discrimination that has and continues to endure. I am not characterizing Ribault as a single-minded imperialist. Still i am asking what his decision to fly under the French flag and claim land for the French to forward his community’s needs meant for the Timucua community and if that is something DCPS wants to honor.”

Letter from living descendants of Jean Ribault:

“Our ancestor Jean Ribault (1520-1565) is currently being betrayed by Florida – and by Jacksonville in particular.

In recent months, the Duval County School Board initiated a name change process that includes two schools named after him. If this process reaches completion, Jean Ribault High School and Jean Ribault Middle School would change names.

Other schools included in the process are named after Confederate generals or slavery proponents. Clearly, this amalgam is detrimental to Jean Ribault, of whom we are proud in France, and we wish to defend his memory.

Obviously, there is a misunderstanding about who Jean Ribault was and what he did in Florida in the 16th century. French sailor of great renown, Jean Ribault was the first to recognize Florida in the name of the King of France in 1562. The aim of his expedition was to find, in the New World, a safe harbor for French Huguenots persecuted in France because of their religion – a situation similar to that of the English Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock 58 years later.

Seeking asylum for his co-religionists, Jean Ribault cannot be equated with “persons responsible for systematically marginalizing and killing Indigenous people.” Being persecuted himself, he had clearly no intention of harming the Timucua he met in Florida!

The study of texts and engravings from this period shows that, from the first day of his arrival on the Florida coast, Jean Ribault had peaceful relations with the locals. Thanks to the pages he devoted to the Timucua in the account of his trip published in 1563 in London, their customs are better known today. In his writings, he described them as “pleasant people, of a good and amiable disposition.”

This sentiment was shared by the Native Americans. When a second French expedition, led by René de Laudonnière, reached the coast of Florida in 1564, the Timucua spontaneously came to the French. Jean Ribault’s expedition, two years earlier, had not left a bad memory!

All of this shows the mutual respect of the two civilizations.

The suggestion that our ancestor, Jean Ribault, exploited Florida’s indigenous population is dead wrong. Jean Ribault Middle School and High School should be proud of their association with this historical figure who is important to Jacksonville’s and Florida’s identity – as well as our family’s.

Hugues Ribault de Laugardière, Isabelle Montillet, Françoise Lauprêtre, Laure de Saint-Pern and Yves de Montcheuil

Descendants of Jean Ribault”