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AMELIA ISLAND & FERNANDINA BEACH
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The first inhabitants of this area were the Timucuan Indians and
there is evidence that they were here as long ago as 2000 B.C. One of their
customs was tattooing themselves with red, black, yellow and blue on
different areas of their body. There was probably, therefore, astonishment
on the faces of the French settlers under Huguenot leader Jean Ribault when
they first saw the Indians as they landed on Amelia in 1562. It is said that
the Timucuans greeted the landing French party with baskets of berries. Jean
Ribault named the island "Isle de Mai" (Island of May)
Knowing that the Spanish had claimed the area in 1513 did not
prevent these French colonists from landing as not only were they seeking
land for France but also refuge from the religious and political persecution
that went along with being Huguenots. Though Ribault and his company didn't
remain, the Huguenots returned again in 1564 under the leadership of René de
Laudonniere who was also a commander on the first voyage. The second colony
constructed Fort Caroline in Northern Jacksonville near the mouth of the St.
John's River. Things were short lived however, because in 1565, Spanish
troops led by Pedro Menéndez de Aviles brutally slaughtered these French
settlers in order to regain the territory they had plotted as their own
The first Spanish reign was from 1565 to 1763 and they set up the mission of
Santa Maria on the northern end of Amelia Island in what is now known as Old
Town in order to convert the Indians to Christianity. In fact the island
became known as "Isla de Santa Maria." From this point on the Timucuan
numbers started to decline because of the influx of European disease and the
stresses due to the disruption of their lifestyle. Though their numbers were
once about 30,000 they were almost completely extinct within about 100 years
of their first contact with the Europeans.
The British settlements in the North soon took a keen interest in the
area because of the naturally deep ports and the strategic trade route
location. The island was named Amelia by Georgia's governor James Oglethorpe
in 1735 in honor of Princess Amelia, daughter of King George II.
Though the Island was named Amelia by the British, it did not fall into
British hands until Spanish Florida was traded for British Cuba in 1763 as a
result of the Treaty of Paris. During the time of British rule which
lasted until 1783, the island was known as Egmont.
In 1783, the Second Treaty of Paris ends the Revolutionary War and returns
Florida to Spain. British inhabitants of Florida had to leave the province
within 18 months unless they swore allegiance to Spain. In 1811, surveyor
George J. F. Clarke plats the town of Fernandina, named in honor of King
Ferdinand VII of Spain.
To drive out the Spanish, the "Patriots of Amelia Island," an
independent group of American civilians backed by the United States
government, seized control of the island and raised their flag on March 17,
1812. The next day, they "ceded" Amelia Island to the United States.
However, Spain’s strong protest forced the U.S. to relinquish its new
possession, especially in light of the impending War of 1812 with England.
A Scottishman named Sir Gregor MacGregor with the support of some key
Americans ran the Spanish off the island in 1817 and later raised the "Green
Cross of Florida" flag. However, because of lack of reinforcements and
funds he left and his lieutenants became in charge. They made a deal with
Frenchman Luis Aury (a soldier in the Mexican Revolution) in order to get
support to maintain their control. However, Aury, in return for giving them
support wanted to command the island and so raised the Mexican flag. The
town came into such a state of bedlam that the U.S. government sent gunboats
and took control and held Amelia Island in trust for Spain until Florida
became a U.S. territory on July 10, 1821.
The Confederates took control of Fort Clinch which had been started
by the Federals and later abandoned because of the outbreak of the Civil
War. The "stars and bars" of the Confederate flag were raised at Fort Clinch
in April 1861. General Robert E. Lee visited the fort two times during this
period. Less than a year later Union forces surrounded the fort with 28
gunboats and Union control held throughout the remainder of the war.
In the golden age of the island from about 1870 to 1910, many wealthy
Americans made Fernandina their home and built elegant Victorian style homes
in what became known as the Silk Stocking District. The boom was due to the
shipping industry and the fact that many New Yorkers were coming down by
steam boat to enjoy the warm climate and elegant hotels. The Egmont Hotel
which was one of the grandest hotels of the times was even visited by
In 1890 Standard Oil co-founder Henry Flagler opened up the railroads and
this detoured much of the tourist traffic to St. Augustine and places
farther south. Flagler's actions resulted in a faltering local economy until
some American and immigrant fishermen saw the potential in the area for the
shrimping industry which was thus given birth here in the early 1900s.
Following this, two mills were located here which provided an additional
boost to the economy and also created many local jobs.
In modern times the Amelia Island Plantation was built as a resort with a
natural setting in the 1970s which caused the area to become solidly placed
on the map as a tourist and resort area. In more recent years the
Ritz-Carlton Amelia and a number of other facilities have been built
furthering the reputation of the area for fine amenities, conventions,
golfing, and many other activities.
History Information Provided by aboutamelia.com
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