September 2, 2022
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The red Cross of St. George, combined with the white Scottish Cross of St. Andrew, forms Britain’s Union Jack Flag.
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.
The Latin “Salus populi lex suprema” means “The well-being of the people is the supreme law.”
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.
MacGregor’s flag, a green St. George’s Cross on a white background was called the Green Cross of Florida.
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.”
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.
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.
The white stars on the blue field represent the original Confederate States of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas.
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.
“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.
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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