Fernandina Beach & Amelia Island Museum of History
By Hilda Mitrani
The Amelia Island Museum of History tells of the eight different flags that have flown over Amelia Island, also known as Fernandina Beach, since May of 1562 when explorer Jen Ribault claimed it for France. He gave the area the name Isle of Mai and named the St. Mary’s River, which divides Florida and Georgia, after the Seine!
Fernandina Beach has a unique history that is honored by the Amelia Island Museum of History daily and at a monthly presentation called “3rd on 3rd”. The next program is Friday, July 16 at 5:30 p.m. It comes just after Bastille Day, which is timely since the first of the eight flags that have flown over the area was French.
Just three years after the French landed, the Spanish began their first occupation. It lasted nearly 200 years from 1565 until 1763. The third flag aloft was the British, raised by James Oglethorpe. He claimed the area for England and named it after King George II’s daughter, “Amelia”. The British occupation lasted until 1783, when the Spanish laid claim to Florida once again.
The next 10 years saw much of Fernandina's colorful history as five of the island's eight flags were raised and lowered. During the second Spanish occupation, the area known as “Old Town” was given its name, Fernandina, in honor of King Ferdinand of Spain.
In 1811, Old Fernandina was thriving due to its proximity to the United States. However, it was smuggling and slave-trading that were its biggest industries, which led to trouble with the neighboring United States' government.
Of the multiple flags that flew overhead in this era, the Patriots’ flag in 1812 was number 4, the Green Cross of Florida in 1817 (number 5) and finally the Mexican flag, also in 1817 (number 6). It was a pirate named Luis Aury who raised the Mexican flag here. Curiously, he did so without telling anyone in Mexico!
From 1821 onward, the standards flown here were from the United States although during the Civil War, it was the Confederacy's waving overhead. Statehood came in 1845 and this northeast region of Florida has prospered with tourism and various industries.
At the Amelia Island History Museum, the past is revisited during a one-hour tour in the Eight Flag Gallery. You can catch it Monday through Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. On Sundays, the tour is offered only at 2 p.m. Other interesting tours at this spoken world museum include the Historic Pub Crawl.
Whatever you choose to call it, Amelia Island has abundant natural beauty, a gorgeous beach, gourmet restaurants and a downtown that is historic, some say haunted and also, lots of fun!
Research for this story included:
- “Festive, Fabulous Fernandina Beach” by John Paul Jones in Florida Monthly magazine