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Amelia Island is an island in Nassau County, Florida. One of the southernmost of the Sea Islands, a chain of barrier islands stretching along the east coast of the United States from South Carolina to Florida, it is 13 miles (21 km) long and approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) wide at its widest point. The communities of Fernandina Beach and Amelia City are both located on the island.
Named for Princess Amelia, daughter of George II of Great Britain, the island has changed hands between colonial powers a number of times. It is claimed that eight flags have flown over Amelia Island: French, Spanish, British, Patriot, Green Cross, Mexican, Confederate, and United States.
Native American bands associated with the Timucua people settled on the island, which they called Napoyca, circa 1000. They would remain there until the early 18th century. In 1562, French Huguenot explorer Jean Ribault became the first recorded European visitor to Napoyca, and named the island Île de Mai. In 1565, Spanish forces led by Pedro Menendez de Aviles drove the French from northeastern Florida by attacking their stronghold at Fort Caroline on the Rivière de Mai (later called Río de San Juan by the Spanish) and then slaughtering Ribault and perhaps 350 other French colonists who had been shipwrecked further down the coast.
Spanish Franciscans established the Santa María de Sena mission in 1573 on the island they named Isla de Santa María. In the early 17th century some of the remnants of depopulated indigenous Mocama settlements were moved to Santa María de Sena.
In 1680, British raids forced the Christian Guale Indians to abandon the Santa Catalina de Guale mission on St. Catherines Island, Georgia, and relocate to the Santa María de Sena and Santa Catalina missions on Isla de Santa María. In 1702, these missions were finally abandoned when South Carolina's colonial governor, James Moore, led a joint British–American Indian invasion of Florida.
Georgia's founder and colonial governor, James Oglethorpe, renamed the island "Amelia Island" in honor of Princess Amelia (1710–1786), George II of Great Britain's daughter, although the island was still a Spanish possession. After ordering the garrison of Scottish Highlanders to build a fort on the northwestern edge of the island, Oglethorpe successfully negotiated with Spanish colonial officials for its transfer to British sovereignty, but the King of Spain rescinded the agreement.
Oglethorpe withdrew his troops in 1742, and the area became a buffer zone between the English and Spanish colonies until the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, when Spain traded Florida to Great Britain for control of Havana, Cuba. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ratified Britain's victory in the Seven Years' War, ceding Florida to Britain in exchange for Havana, Cuba and nullifying all Spanish land grants in Florida. The Proclamation of 1763 established the St. Marys River as East Florida's northeastern boundary.
During the early period of British rule, the island was known as Egmont Isle, after Lord Egmont who had a 10,000 acre estate covering almost the entire island. The so-called “New Settlement” (present-day Old Town, on the south side of the mouth of Egan’s Creek adjoining the Amelia River, was presumably its headquarters. Egmont had only recently begun his development of the island in 1770 when Gerard de Brahm prepared his map, the "Plan of Amelia, Now Egmont Island", which depicted most of the planned development at the north end. Egmont died in December 1770, whereupon his widow, Lady Egmont, assumed control of his vast Florida estates. She persisted in development of the plantation and made Stephen Egan her agent to manage it. He was able to grow profitable indigo crops there until it was destroyed by rebel troops from Georgia in 1776.
In the late 1770s and early 1780s, British loyalists fleeing Charleston and Savannah hastily erected new buildings at the settlement, calling their impromptu town Hillsborough. When Spain regained possession of Florida in 1783, the Amelia harbor served as an embarkation point for loyalists abandoning the colony who tore down the buildings and took the lumber with them. In June 1785, former British governor Patrick Tonyn moved his command to Hillsborough town, from whence he sailed to England later that year.
After the British evacuation, Mary Mattair, her children, and a farmhand were the sole occupants left on Amelia island. She had received a grant from Governor Tonyn of the property on the bluff overlooking the Amelia River. Following the exchange of flags in 1784, the Spanish Crown allowed Mattair to remain on the island. In trade for the earlier British grant, the Spanish authorities awarded her 150 acres within the present-day city limits of Fernandina Beach. The site of Mattair's initial grant is today's Old Town Fernandina.
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 by the governor of the Spanish province of East Florida, Enrique White.
In June 1795, American rebel marauders led by Richard Lang attacked the Spanish garrison on Amelia Island. Colonel Charles Howard, an officer in the Spanish military, discovered that the rebels had built a battery and were flying the French flag. On August 2, he raised a sizable Spanish force, sailed up Sisters Creek and the Nassau River, and attacked them. The rebels fled across the St. Marys to Georgia.
On March 16, 1812, Amelia Island was invaded and seized by insurgents calling themselves the "Patriots of Amelia Island" under the command of General George Mathews, a former governor of Georgia, with the tacit approval of President James Madison. A group, mostly Americans, calling themselves the "Patriots" had banded together to drive out the Spanish and reported to General Mathews, who moved into a house at St. Marys, Georgia, just nine miles across Cumberland Sound from Fernandina on the northwest end of the island.
That same day, nine American gunboats under the command of Commodore Hugh Campbell formed a line in the harbor and aimed their guns at the town. General Mathews, who was ensconced at Point Peter on the St. Marys River in Georgia, ordered Colonel Lodowick Ashley to send a flag to Don Justo Lopez, commandant of the fort and Amelia Island, and demand his surrender. Lopez acknowledged the superior force and surrendered the port and the town. John H. McIntosh, George J. F. Clarke, Justo Lopez, and others signed the articles of capitulation; the Patriots then raised their own standard. The next day, March 17, a detachment of 250 regular United States troops were brought over from Point Peter, and the newly constituted Patriot government surrendered the town to General Matthews, who took formal possession in the name of the United States, ordering the Patriot flag struck and the flag of the United States to be raised immediately.
General Mathews and President Madison had conceived a plan to annex East Florida to the United States, but Congress became alarmed at the possibility of being drawn into war with Spain, and the effort fell apart when Secretary of State James Monroe was forced to relieve Matthews of his commission. Negotiations began for the withdrawal of U.S. troops early in 1813. On May 6, the army lowered the flag at Fernandina and crossed the St. Marys River to Georgia with the remaining troops. Spain seized the redoubt and regained control of the island. The Spanish completed construction of the new Fort San Carlos to guard Fernandina in 1816.
Gregor MacGregor, a Scottish-born soldier of fortune, led an army of only 150 men including recruits from Charleston and Savannah, some War of 1812 veterans, and 55 musketeers in an assault of Fort San Carlos on June 29, 1817. The commander, Francisco Morales, struck the Spanish flag and fled. MacGregor raised his flag, the "Green Cross of Florida", a green cross on a white ground, over the fort and proclaimed the "Republic of the Floridas". On September 4, faced with the threat of a Spanish reprisal, and still lacking money and adequate reinforcements, MacGregor abandoned his plans to conquer Florida and departed Fernandina with most of his officers, leaving a small detachment of men at Fort San Carlos to defend the island. After his withdrawal, these and a force of American irregulars organized by Ruggles Hubbard and former Pennsylvania congressman Jared Irwin repelled the Spanish attempt to reassert authority.
On September 13 the Battle of Amelia Island commenced when the Spaniards erected a battery of four brass cannons on McLure's Hill east of the fort. With about 300 men, supported by two gunboats, they shelled Fernandina being held by Jared Irwin. His "Republic of Florida" forces included ninety-four men, the privateer ships Morgiana and St. Joseph, and the armed schooner Jupiter. Spanish gunboats began firing at 3:30 pm and the battery on the hill joined the cannonade. The guns of Fort San Carlos, on the river bluff northwest of the hill, and those of the St. Joseph defended Amelia Island. Cannonballs killed two and wounded other Spanish troops clustered below. Firing continued until dark. The Spanish commander, convinced he could not capture the island, then withdrew his forces.
Hubbard and Irwin later joined forces with the French-born pirate Louis Michel Aury, who laid claim to Amelia Island supposedly on behalf of the revolutionary Republic of Mexico. Aury surrendered the island to Commodore J.D. Henley and Major James Bankhead U.S. forces on December 23, 1817. Aury remained over two months as an unwelcome guest; Bankhead occupied Fernandina and President James Monroe vowed to hold it "in trust for Spain". This episode in Florida's history became known as the Amelia Island Affair.
Although angered by U.S. interference at Fort San Carlos, Spain ceded Florida. The proclamation of the Adams-Onis Treaty on February 22, 1821, two years after its signing in 1819, officially transferred East Florida and what remained of West Florida to the United States. The U.S. Army made little use of the fort and soon abandoned it.
On January 8, 1861, two days before Florida 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 located on the north end of the island. General Robert E. Lee visited Fort Clinch in November 1861, and again in January 1862, during a survey of coastal fortifications.
Union forces consisting of 28 gunboats commanded by Commodore Samuel Dupont raised the American flag and restored Federal control of the island on March 3, 1862.
Amelia Island is host to the annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival (more than 150,000 people visiting each May), the Amelia Island Jazz Festival, the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival, the Amelia Island Film Festival, the automotive charitable event 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.
There are seven golf courses on Amelia Island. Amelia Island Plantation is a resort that features the Amelia River Course, the Long Point Course, the Oakmarsh Course and the Ocean Links Course. The Golf Club of Amelia Island is at the Summer Beach Resort, and the Royal Amelia Golflinks are located nearby.There is also the nearby Fernandina Beach Golf Club, known to locals as the "City Course".
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