In our third year working at Fort Frederica, we are trying to visit places we haven’t visited before. Our friend Wendy recommended visiting one of her favorite places, Amelia Island. We checked it out during the government shutdown and enjoyed it enough to go back when my parents came down to visit. The center of Amelia Island is historic Fernandina Beach.
Of course, historic is a relative term. Fernandina Beach was platted in 1811 by the Spanish in Florida, making it one of the newer “historic” towns on the East Coast. Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island are historic primarily because eight “countries” have claimed ownership of the island. It is the only municipality in the United States with this distinction.
French Huguenots were the first to fly a flag on the island, from 1562-1564. The Spanish drove the French off the island and flew their flag on the island for 240 years. The Spanish left their influence with Catholic missions and piracy. The British took over Amelia Island for 20 years beginning in 1763. After the Revolutionary War, Florida returned to the Spanish in thanks for their help to the US during the War.
In 1812, the “Patriots of Amelia Island” overthrew the Spanish. They intended to turn the island over to the US, but Spain demanded the island back. In 1817 a Scottish pirate named Gregor MacGregor captured the island and flew “The Green Cross Of Florida” over the island. Four months MacGregor turned the island over to another pirate who raised the Mexican Rebel flag. Later that year the island was again returned to Spain.
In 1821, Florida became part of the United States. In 1861, however, it seceded from the Union. Amelia Island was occupied by Confederates for that year, but Federal troops occupied the island starting in 1862. Ever since then, the flag over the island has been the flag of the United States.
The earliest houses in historic Fernandina Beach seem to be from after the Civil War. There are some beautiful Victorian houses and government buildings from the turn of the 20th century. The oldest house on the island is the Lesesne House, built in 1860. The house is currently for sale if you want to own a historic home.
We enjoyed walking around historic Fernandina Beach. Like most islands around here, tourism is a big business. The shops are typical art galleries and gift shops. Many restaurants dot downtown, and I will write about a couple of them soon. We walked through some of the shops, especially enjoying a pirate themed store. We also stopped by the Visitors Center and read lots of historical markers.
Tom and I enjoyed both of our visits to historic Fernandina Beach. It is a good place to spend a day or a week, especially during the winter.