An Island Worth Fighting For

September 2, 2022
Amelia Island teal glyph
Amelia Island logo Amelia Island logo
The Timucuan natives were the first to inhabit these shores, calling the island Napoyca. At least six other names would follow. However, it is the eight official flags that have claimed dominion over this barrier island which has given Amelia Island the moniker "Isle of Eight Flags". Take a look at this colorful history (and impress people by being able to name all eight in order.)  

French, 1562-1564

In 1562, French Huguenots led by explorer Jean Ribault were the first European visitors to Napoyca and name it Isle de Mai. They established a short-lived settlement named Fort Caroline at the mouth of the St. Johns River near what is now Jacksonville. In 1565, Spanish forces led by Pedro Menendez de Aviles drove the French from northeastern Florida, slaughtering Ribault and approximately 350 other French colonists.

Fun Facts/Influence Today:
  • FORT CAROLINE NATIONAL MEMORIAL was established by the National Park Service in 1953 along the banks of the St. John's River in Jacksonville in the spot thought to be where the original fort once stood. Visitors enjoy walking around this peaceful spot with so much history.
  • THE RIBAULT CLUB was established in 1928 on Fort George Island (Jacksonville) as a playground for the affluent. It is now a site for grand parties, events and weddings.
  • LE CLOS, a French restaurant in downtown Fernandina Beach, serves delicious Provençal dishes by candlelight in a charming, intimate 1906 cottage.
  • Isle De Mai is a prominent subdivision on Amelia Island.
The Blue Capetian flag is the former royal coat of arms of the Kingdom of France consisting of three gold Fleur-de-lis on a solid-blue background.

Spanish, 1565-1763 and 1783-1821

In 1573, Spanish Franciscans established the Santa Maria mission on the island named Isla de Santa Maria. The mission was abandoned in 1680 after the inhabitants refused a Spanish order to relocate. British raids forced 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 1783, the Second Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War and returned 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 platted the town of Fernandina, named in honor of King Ferdinand VII of Spain.

Fun Facts/Influence Today:
  • The original town of Fernandina Beach is known as OLD TOWN. Old Town is located along the Amelia River and is the last Spanish platted area in the Western Hemisphere.
  • The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island's newest oceanfront al fresco restaurant COQUINA was inspired by the island's Spanish heritage. 
Marked with an x-shaped cross to symbolize the rough branches of the tree on which Saint André was crucified, The Burgundian Saltire represented Spanish rule in Florida.

British, 1763-1783

Georgia's founder and colonial governor, James Oglethorpe, renamed 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 negotiated with Spanish colonial officials for a transfer of the island to British sovereignty. Colonial officials agreed to the transfer, but the King of Spain nullified the agreement. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ratified 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.

Fun Facts/Influence Today:
  • Our island was named for Princess Amelia Sophia Eleanor of Hanover, second daughter of King George II.
  • During the early period of British rule, the island was known as Egmont Isle, after Lord Egmont who had a 10,000-acre plantation covering almost the entire island. After his death in 1770, his widow appointed Stephen Egan as her agent to manage it. The plantation style of farming can be attributed with both Egmont and Egan. Today, you can enjoy EGANS CREEK which runs north to south through the center of the island.
  • ​Every second weekend in December, we celebrate DICKENS ON CENTRE, which transforms historic downtown Fernandina Beach into merry ole England.
The red Cross of St. George, combined with the white Scottish Cross of St. Andrew, forms Britain's Union Jack Flag.

Patriots, 1812

With the approval of U.S. President James Madison and Georgia Governor George Mathews in 1812-1813, insurgents known as the "Patriots of Amelia Island" overthrew the Spanish and seized the island. After raising a Patriot flag on March 17 and replacing it with the U.S. flag the next day, Spain demanded the island’s return. American gunboats under the command of Commodore Hugh Campbell maintained control of the island until Spanish pressure forced their evacuation in 1813.

Fun Facts/Influence Today:
  • These retired Revolutionary War generals were in control for less than a week. But, they were the first to raise the U.S. flag over the island, however briefly.
The Latin “Salus populi lex suprema” means “The well-being of the people is the supreme law.”

Green Cross, 1817 

Scottish born soldier of fortune, Sir Gregor MacGregor, received a document from Lino de Clemente, Pedro Gual, and Martin Thompson, each of whom claimed to speak for one or more of the Latin American republics. They called themselves the "deputies of free America" and called upon MacGregor to take possession of "both the Floridas, East and West" as soon as possible. MacGregor led a small band of musketeers to capture Fort San Carlos and claimed the island from its Spanish defenders on June 29, 1817 without either side firing a single shot. MacGregor raised a flag showing a green cross on a white field—the "Green Cross of Florida"—and issued a proclamation on June 30 urging the island's inhabitants to return and support him. Four months later after receiving little support, they were forced to leave and their flag was all but forgotten.

Fun Facts/Influence Today:
  • Scotsman Gregor McGregor sojourned here for less than three months but we do know he brought the island its first printing press so he could print money to pay his soldiers. It's rumored that he may have brought the first Scotch to the island as well and visitors to our local bars have been thinking that one through over a good malt ever since!
  • New to the historic district of the island is GREGOR MCGREGOR MINI GOLF
MacGregor's flag, a green St. George's Cross on a white background was called the Green Cross of Florida.

Mexican Revolutionary, 1817

Spanish soldiers forced MacGregor's withdrawal, but their attempt to regain complete control was foiled by American irregulars organized by Ruggles Hubbard and former Pennsylvania congressman Jared Irwin. Hubbard and Irwin later joined forces with the French-born pirate Luis Aury, who claimed the island on behalf of the Republic of Mexico. U.S. Navy forces drove Aury from the island, and President James Monroe vowed to hold Amelia Island "in trust for Spain."

Fun Facts/Influence Today:
  • AURY ISLAND at Omni Amelia Island Resort is named for Luis Aury
  • The enslaved Africans Luis Aury brought to the island are commemorated by the MIDDLE PASSAGE marker on the parade ground at Old Town.
White and blue are traditional colors used in Mexico since early colonial times in religious festivities. White-blue flags charged with either a depiction of the Virgin Mary or an eagle and snake were flown by the very first rebels led by Hidalgo going back to September 1810. This particular battle flag, used by Aury to annex Amelia Island, is a plain white and blue checkered flag without an emblem.

National Flag of the Confederacy, 1861-1862

On January 8, 1861, two days before Florida's secession, Confederate sympathizers (the Third Regiment of Florida Volunteers) took control of Fort Clinch, already abandoned by Federal workers who had been constructing the fort. General Robert E. Lee visited Fort Clinch in November 1861 and again in January 1862, during a survey of coastal fortifications but federal troops regained it on March 3, 1862 and occupied Fernandina for the duration of the War.

Fun Facts/Influence Today:
  • The walls of FORT CLINCH are of two different colors. The lower half of the walls are of brick from St. Mary's, Georgia, built by the United States starting in the 1840's. The upper half is of brick from Philadelphia, built by the occupying Union troops. 
  • Southern men loyal to the Confederacy left cannon balls, minie balls and uniforms that can be seen at the AMELIA ISLAND MUSEUM OF HISTORY.
  • Senator Yulee, who voted for secession, built the railroad, a hotel and laid out downtown Fernandina to imitate Manhattan, calling Fernandina the Manhattan of the South. He even gave us CENTRAL PARK!
The white stars on the blue field represent the original Confederate States of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas.

United States, 1862-Present 

Union forces, consisting of 28 gunboats commanded by Commodore Samuel Dupont, restored Federal control of the island on March 3, 1862 and raised the American Flag. The prosperity of the late 1800s prompted a building boom including two elegant hotels attracting well-heeled visitors such as the Vanderbilts, DuPonts, and Carnegies. Early in the 20th century, the modern shrimping industry was founded here.

Fun Facts/Influence Today:
  • Today, you'll find a very patriotic town flying the U.S. flag in many locations.
"Old Glory" consists of thirteen stripes for the original colonies: seven red stripes symbolizing hardiness and valor, and six white stripes symbolizing purity and innocence. The white stars represent the fifty states of the Union, and the blue background symbolizes vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

Discover More

To learn more, take the fascinating one-hour “Museum Tour” held twice a day at the AMELIA ISLAND MUSEUM OF  HISTORY. Included free with admission to the museum, the tour provides an in-depth, insider’s view of the museum’s popular Eight Flags Gallery. All eight flags are also on display at the Amelia Island Welcome Center (located at the foot of Centre Street), staffed by friendly ambassadors who stand ready to help you make the most of your own explorations.

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Located just off the coast of northeast Florida, Amelia Island is easy to reach, but hard to forget. With 13 miles of beautiful beaches, abundant native wildlife, and pristine waters, this barrier island has long been a beloved destination for visitors and residents alike.