Amelia Island is one of the southernmost of the Sea Islands, a chain of barrier islands that stretches along the east coast of the United States from South Carolina to Florida. It is 13 miles (21 km) long and approximately 4 miles (6 km) wide at its widest point. Amelia Island is situated off the coast in Nassau County, Florida, south of Cumberland Island, Georgia. Fernandina Beach and Amelia City are both located on the island.
Named for Princess Amelia, daughter of King George II, Amelia Island is also rich in history and tradition. Native American bands associated with the Timucuan mound-building culture settled on the island, which they called Napoyca, circa 1000. They would remain on Napoyca until the early 18th century.
Since then, the island has frequently changed possession and been under eight different flags – the only United States location to have done so.
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.
In 1702, this mission was again abandoned when South Carolina’s colonial governor, James Moore, leads a joint British-Indian invasion of Florida.
Georgia’s founder and colonial governor, James Oglethorpe, renames the island “Amelia Island” in honor of princess Amelia (1710-1786), King George IIdaughter, 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 River as East Florida 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. Amelia Island was the final location of Santa Catalina de Guale, the main mission of Spanish Florida to the Guale chiefdom.In 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. Spanish erect Fort San Carlos on the island in 1816.
Green Cross of Florida Flag
Led by Gregor MacGregor , a Scottish-born soldier of fortune, 55 musketeers seize Fort San Carlos, claiming the island on behalf of the “Green Cross” in june of 1817.In colonial history, it became known for an episode called the Amelia Island Affair.
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 Louis 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 Monroevows to hold Amelia Island “in trust for Spain.”
On January 8, 1861, two days before Florida 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.
It is host to the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, the Amelia Island Jazz Festival, the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival, the Amelia Island Film Festival, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance and the Amelia Island Blues Festival. Amelia Island was the main filming location for the 2002 John Sayles directed film Sunshine State. The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking was also filmed there in 1988.
Amelia Island hosted a Women’s Tennis Association tournament for 28 years (1980 to 2008). From 1987 to 2008 it was known as the Bausch & Lomb Championships.
In 2009-2011 Amelia Island also hosted the Pétanque America Open.