Under a cloudy sky, cooler temperatures and an often brisk breeze, we decided to take a local “road trip” to Amelia Island, Florida’s most northerly barrier island and southernmost sea islands stretching north to South Carolina.
Named for Princess Amelia, daughter of George II of Great Britain, Amelia Island is the only place in the United States to have been under the dominion of eight different flags.
In 1562 French Huguenot explorer Jean Ribault becomes the first (recorded) European visitor to Napoyca and names it Isle de Mar. In 1565, Spanish forces led by Pedro Menendez de Aviles drive the French from northeastern Florida, slaughtering Ribault and approximately 350 other French colonists.
In 1573, Spanish Franciscans establish the Santa Maria mission on the island, which is named Isla de Santa Maria. The mission was abandoned in 1680 after the inhabitants refuse a Spanish order to relocate. British raids force the relocation of the Santa Catalina de Guale mission on St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia, to the abandoned Santa Maria mission on the Island in 1685.
Georgia’s founder and colonial governor, James Oglethorpe, renames the island “Amelia Island” in honor of princess Amelia (1710-1786), King George II’s daughter, although the island was still a Spanish possession. After establishing a small settlement on the northwestern edge of the island, Oglethorpe negotiates with Spanish colonial officials for a transfer of the island to British sovereignty. Colonial officials agree to the transfer, but the King of Spain nullifies the agreement. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ratifies Britain’s victory in the Seven Years’ War, ceding Florida to Britain in exchange for Havana and nullifying all Spanish land grants in Florida. The Proclamation of 1763 established the St. Mary’s River as East Florida’s northeastern boundary.
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. n 1811, surveyor George J. F. Clarke plats the town of Fernandina, named in honor of King Ferdinand VII of Spain.
With the approval of President James Madison and Georgia Governor George Mathews in 1812-1813, insurgents known as the “Patriots of Amelia Island” seize the island. After raising a Patriot flag, they replace it with the United States Flag. American gunboats under the command of Commodore Hugh Campbell maintain control of the island until Spanish pressure forces their evacuation in 1813.
Green Cross of Florida Flag
Spanish forces erect Fort San Carlos on the island in 1816. Led by Gregor MacGregor in 1817, a Scottish-born soldier of fortune, 55 musketeers seize Fort San Carlos, claiming the island on behalf of the “Green Cross.”
Mexican Rebel Flag
Spanish soldiers force MacGregor’s withdrawal, but their attempt to regain complete control is foiled by American irregulars organized by Ruggles Hubbard and former Pennsylvania congressman Jared Irwin. Hubbard and Irwin later join forces with the French-born pirate Luis Aury, who lays claim to the island on behalf of the Republic of Mexico. U. S. Navy forces drive Aury from the island, and President James Monroe vows to hold Amelia Island “in trust for Spain.”
On January 8, 1861, two days before Florida’s secession, Confederate sympathizers (the Third Regiment of Florida Volunteers) take control of Fort Clinch, already abandoned by Federal workers who had been constructing the fort. General Robert E. Lee visits Fort Clinch in November 1861 and again in January 1862, during a survey of coastal fortifications.
United States Flag
Union forces, consisting of 28 gunboats commanded by Commodore Samuel Dupont, restore Federal control of the island on March 3, 1862 and raise the American Flag.
As testament to its shrimping past, there is a monument to the industry near the waterfront
The island has been home to an array of cultures and colorful characters: Timucuan Indians, European explorers, pirates, bootleggers, Gilded Age millionaires, and shrimpers all make up the colorful tapestry of this treasured island’s rich history. They’ve left behind a legendary legacy (and much to explore). This home, a former sea captain’s residence located in Old Town, was used as Pippi Longstocking’s home in the movie that was filmed on Amelia Island in the late 1980’s.
Across much of the northern and interior section of the 18 square mile island are magnificent live oaks, evergreen species native to the southeastern part of the United States … whose branches are draped with or supporting other plant species as rounded clumps of ball moss, Spanish moss, resurrection fern, and parasitic mistletoe.
Our first stop was in in the small city of Fernandina Beach (est. population 12,000), a 50 block area located on the north end of the island. The old Town section was established in 1811 and named for King Ferdinand VII of Spain. In 1853, the town site was moved less than a mile south to take advantage of the new Florida Railroad and subsequent tourism boom. The original town is now called Old Town Fernandina.
For more than 6 decades — from the 1920s to the 70s — 80 to 100 shrimp boats would be docked in Fernandina and ten shrimp boats were being built at one time, the reason Fernandina Beach is known as the “birthplace of the modern shrimping industry”.
As we began wandering through the town, we stumbled across
Remnants of Yulee’s railroad ventures can be seen in the rusting and graffiti-covered rail cars along what appeared as an abandoned siding in the center of town
although we were then surprised when an engine with similar cars slowly passed.
Heading out of town, there were many grand old homes dating back more than a century!
We’ve since discovered a self-guided walking tour we could have taken … which we’ve planned to take on a subsequent visit!
We also stumbled across a marker the invasion of the Island during the American War of Independence
a 19th-century masonry and stone (two wall system of earth and brick) coastal fortification, built as part of the Third System of seacoast defense conceived by the United States. It is located on a peninsula near the northernmost point of Amelia Island overlooking Cumberland Sound. This site was first fortified in 1736 by the Spanish, when they held colonies in Florida. From 1736, various nations to control the territory have garrisoned and fortified this site to protect the entrance to the St. Marys River and Cumberland Sound.
Since its construction in 1847, it was manned during the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I and World War II.
Our final stop for the day was at Kingsley Plantation, located on St. George Island. This 1,000 acre island was used for growing crops during the plantation period. The agricultural use ended around 1900 and since then the fields have reverted back to forest.
These buildings were constructed from “Tabby”.
Tabby was a labor-intensive concrete made from oyster shells, sand and water. The oyster shells were cooked in a kiln for lime. The cooked shells dissolved in water and sand was mixed in to make cement. The concrete mixture was poured in layers into forms. Both floors and walls were made from Tabby. It was fire resistant and durable. It also holds temperatures well.
Much of the plantation is dedicated to the history of slavery and that of Zephaniah Kingsley, who operated the property from 1813-1839, and his wife, Anna.
Something we didn’t know; while Florida was under Spanish rule, free blacks were regarded as citizens and had many privileges. When Florida became a United States Territory, new territorial laws discriminated against black people, free and enslaved.
Zephaniah Kingsley, Jr.
was a plantation owner, slave trader, and merchant who built several plantations in the Spanish colony of Florida in what is now Jacksonville. He served on the Florida Territorial Council after Florida was acquired by the United States in 1821.
Kingsley was a relatively lenient slave owner who gave his slaves the opportunity to earn their freedom. He married a total of four slave women, practicing polygamy. His first wife, Anta Madgigine Jai Kingsley (who became known as Anna),
was a 13-year-old slave when Kingsley purchased her. He took her as his common-law wife and later trusted her with running his plantation when he was away on business. He had a total of nine mixed-race children with his wives. He educated his children and worked to settle his estate for them and his wives.
His interracial family and his business interests caused Kingsley to be heavily invested in the Spanish system of slavery and society. Like the French colonies, it provided for certain rights to a class of free people of color and allowed multi-racial children to inherit property.
After the United States took control of Florida and American discriminatory laws threatened the multi-racial Kingsley family, most of them moved to Haiti. Kingsley died soon after, and Anna returned to Florida to dispute her husband’s relatives’ contesting Kingsley’s will; they sought to exclude Anna and her children from their inheritance. The court honored a treaty between the United States and Spain, and Anna was successful in the court case, despite a political climate hostile toward blacks. She settled in the Arlington neighborhood of Jacksonville, where she died in 1870 at 77 years old.
The conditions of the plantation, while somewhat more benign than some of the more ruthless slave owners, such as depicted in “12 Years a Slave” were still incredibly dehumanizing.
Kidnapped from their tribal homes in Africa, these slaves were packed into shelves in which each only had 2’ 7” of space above the boards on which they lay.
Some of the original restraints used on these slaves were also on display.
In an unusual step, Kingsley allowed his African slaves to keep their tribal names instead of forcing Anglicized names upon them. Children born on his plantation were also given African names.
While the exploitation of enslaved people differed throughout the Americas. the common thread was the profit motive for the owners while for the slaves, it was a loss of freedom!
Many crops were grown on the Kingsley Plantation, but sea island cotton produced the highest profit. Growing and processing it required a complex work structure … and thus a task system was used to manage the requirements of its production. Often these tasks were parceled out in ¼ acre increments. Each slave was assigned a task to plow, plant, pick or gin cotton. Other slaves were tasked to such daily chores as carpentry, blacksmithing, cooking, ironing, and other care and maintenance of the plantation.
Before dawn, slaves left for their day’s labor or to use their specialized skills. The returned physically exhausted and hungry, drained by the unending and unrelenting drudgery. However, when their assigned tasks were done, slaves used whatever energy they had left during the rest of the day to tend to personal needs, including growing their own food.
From their earliest age, children were trained to do their parents’ work. They were terrified of the punishment their parents endured. As such, parents taught their enslaved children strict obedience so they could survive. Still, as with the children of their “masters”, the found time to play.
The slaves’ quarters were retreats in which they could find identity and strength through family, faith and shared experiences! Many American traditions originate from the daily activities and beliefs of these enslaved people. Such practices which survive today revolve around cooking, singing, dancing, worshiping and healing. While daily work was individually-focused, life in the slave quarters revolved around family and community!