The Occupation of Amelia

The Occupation of Amelia Island

The flags, dates and history of the occupation of Amelia Island

French Flag 1562

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French Flag 1562 – 1564

In 1562 French Huguenot explorer Jean Ribault becomes the first recorded European visitor to Napoyca and named it ‘Isle de Mar’ for the month of May. The French occupation takes place just 70 years after Columbus discovered the Americas. The island and surrounding area was populated by Timucuan Indians. The Huguenots establish a short lived settlement they called Fort Caroline near mouth of the St. Johns River, easterly of present day downtown Jacksonville. The exact location of Fort Caroline has been lost to history. Ribault’s fleet proceeded north exploring and charting several rivers in Northeast Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

The flag is called the Capetian Banner.

Cross of Burgundy Spanish Flag of occupation of Amelia 1565

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Spanish Flag 1565 – 1763

The Spanish, who had long maintained a claim over Florida, decided to oust the French from Fort Caroline. Three years later in 1565, Spanish forces led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés drove the French from Northeastern Florida. They killed Ribault and approximately 350 French colonists and held Florida for almost 200 years. In 1573, Spanish Franciscans established the Santa Maria mission on Amelia Island, which they called Isla de Santa Maria. The mission was abandoned in 1680 after the inhabitants refused a Spanish order to relocate. In 1685 British raids forced the relocation of the Santa Catalina de Guale mission, on Georgia’s St. Catherines Island, to the abandoned Santa Maria mission on the island. In 1702, this mission was again abandoned when South Carolina’s colonial governor, James Moore, led a joint British-Indian invasion of Florida.

The flag is called the Cross of Burgundy, the jagged ‘X’ symbolizes the rough branches of a tree used to crucify Saint Andrew.

Union Flag of Great Britain occupied Amelia in 1763

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British Flag 1763 – 1783

While the island was still a Spanish possession, James Oglethorpe, Georgia’s founder and colonial governor, renamed the island “Amelia Island” in honor of Princess Amelia, King George II’s daughter. Oglethorpe established a small settlement on the northwestern edge of the island. He negotiated with Spanish colonial officials for a transfer of the island to British sovereignty. The colonial officials agreed to the transfer, but the King of Spain rescinded the agreement.

The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, ratified Britain’s victory over France in the Seven Years’ War. Spain ceded Florida to Britain in exchange for Havana, nullifying all Spanish land grants in Florida. The Proclamation of 1763 established the St. Marys River as East Florida’s northeastern boundary.

The Union Flag of Great Britain is a combination of the red Cross of St. George, the patron saint of England, and white Scottish Cross of Saint Andrews symbolizing their union.

Spanish War Ensign Flag 1785-1931

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Spanish Flag 1783 – 1812

In 1775 the American Revolutionary War, aka the American War of Independence, began as a conflict between Great Britain and its thirteen American colonies, which declared independence as the United States of America. Although not officially allied with the Americans during the Revolutionary War, Spain cooperated with them as co-belligerents against the British in some actions. In 1783, the Second Treaty of Paris ended hostilities, and under its terms Great Britain ceded East and West Florida to Spain, and all British inhabitants of the Florida, including those on Amelia Island, had to leave within 18 months unless they swore allegiance to Spain and professed Catholicism. In 1811, surveyor George J. F. Clarke platted the town of Fernandina, naming it in honor of Spain’s King Ferdinand VII.

In 1785, King Charles III replaced the existing war ensign flag (a white field with the Spanish coat-of-arms centered on it), with a new, distinct ensign which could not easily be mistaken with those of other countries. By the time of this occupation or shortly after, the Spanish War Ensign Flag had replaced the Cross of Burgundy as the Spanish Flag

East Florida Patriot Flag occupies Amelia 1812

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East Florida Patriot Flag 1812 – 1812

Since the 1790s many Americans had been moving into Spanish controlled East Florida. Known as “Patriots” they were eager to help Florida become an American territory. In 1810 the ‘Patriot War’ began. American residents of West Florida’s Baton Rouge District overthrew the local Spanish authorities, seized the corresponding fort and requested protection from the United States. On March 13th 1812, with the approval of President James Madison and Georgia Governor George Mathews, insurgents known as the “Patriots of Amelia Island” seized the island. After raising a Patriot flag, they replaced it with the United States flag the following day. American gunboats under the command of Commodore Hugh Campbell maintained control of the island in an attempt to secure East Florida to prevent a Spanish-English alliance in the area in advance of the war. On May 13, 1812, the British brig Sappho fired on Gunboat no. 168, which had fired on the loyalist merchant vessel Fernando to prevent her from escaping the port of Fernandina. Outgunned, the American gunboat withdrew, which enabled several vessels to escape from the port. The Seminoles joined the Spanish, raiding homes and attacking Patriots and Patriot sympathizers. By June, the U.S. declared war on Great Britain starting the War of 1812. The Patriot War managed to accomplish the one thing the War of 1812 failed to do: it ultimately brought new territory into the United States.

The Latin expression, ‘Salus populi lex suprema’ means the well being of the people is the supreme law.

Spanish War Ensign Flag 1785-1931

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Spanish Flag 1812 – 1817

Spanish pressure forced the American evacuation from the island by 1813. With the withdrawal of the Americans, Amelia was again under the control of Spain. Spanish forces erected Fort San Carlos on the island in 1816 to defend the Spanish colonial town of Fernandina, now called Old Town, which occupies a peninsula on the northern end of Amelia Island. The fort stood on on a bluff overlooking the Amelia River on the southwest side of the town next to the harbor. It was made of wood and earthworks, backed with a wooden palisade on the east side, and armed with an eight or ten gun battery. Fort San Carlos’s gun battery allowed it to control the mouth of the St. Mary’s river which controlled access to Amelia Island. Two blockhouses protected access by land on the south and the entire village was surrounded with military pickets.

Green Cross flag of Florida 1817

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Latin American Patriots’ Green Cross of Florida Flag 1817

On June 29th 1817, led by Gregor MacGregor, a Scottish soldier and adventurer, 55 musketeers seized Fort San Carlos claiming the island on behalf of “the brethren of Mexico, Buenos Ayres, New Grenada and Venezuela”. MacGregor claimed to be Brigadier General of the armies of the United Provinces of New Grenada and Venezuela (where he had successfully fought and led troops), and General-in-Chief of the armies for the two Floridas, commissioned by the Supreme Director of Mexico

Bandera del Supremo Gobierno Mexicano Amelia Island Flag 1817

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Mexican rebel Flag 1817

A couple of months later, on September 4th 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. On September 17th 1817, French-born pirate Louis Aury sailed into the port of Fernandina. Following negotiations with MacGregor’s lieutenants, Ruggles Hubbard and Jared Irwin, Amelia Island was dubiously annexed to the Republic of Mexico on September 21, 1817, and its flag raised over Fort San Carlos.

Amelia Island Affair 1817 – 1821

Three months later, on December 23rd 1817, United States forces under the command of Commodore J.D. Henley and Major James Bankhead accepted Aury’s surrender of the island. Aury remained for over two months as an unwelcome guest while Bankhead occupied Fernandina. President James Monroe vowed to hold Amelia Island “in trust for Spain.” This episode in Florida’s history became known as the Amelia Island Affair.

It is not clear which flag flew over Amelia Island during this time. More than likely the United States was flown however, an argument persists that it was the Spanish flag. Given the lawlessness of this period, its just as likely that Amelia’s official flag was the pirate’s “skull & crossbones.”

United States 23-Star Flag 1820

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United States Flag 1821 – 1861

Amelia Island finally became United States soil in 1821 when Florida became a territory. The Adams-Onís Treaty, aka the Transcontinental Treaty, was signed on February 22, 1819 by John Quincy Adams and Luis de Onís y González-Vara, but did not take effect until after it was ratified by Spain on Oct. 24, 1820 and the United States on February 19, 1821. Under the Treaty the U.S. received Florida and inherited Spanish claims to the Oregon Territory, while ceding all its claims on Texas to Spain.

The 23-Star Flag (pictured to the left): This Flag became the Official United States Flag on July 4th 1820. Two stars were added for the admission of Alabama (the 22nd state on December 14th 1819) and Maine (the 23rd state on March 15, 1820) and was to last for 2 years. The only President to serve under this flag was James Monroe (1817-1825).

The 27-Star Flag: This Flag became the Official United States Flag on July 4th 1845 when Florida officially became a state. A star was added for the admission of Florida and was to last for only 1 year. The only President to serve under this flag was James Polk (1845-1849).

Stars and Bars Confederate Flag Amelia 1861

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Confederate Flag 1861 – 1862

On January 10th 1861, Florida delegates met in Tallahassee, the state capital, and voted to secede from the United States. Florida became one of the six original Southern states to form the Confederate States of America. Two days prior to the formal secession (January 8,th), Confederate sympathizers (the Third Regiment of Florida Volunteers) took control of Fort Clinch, already abandoned by the Federal workers who had been enlarging the structure. The American Civil War, aka the War of Northern Aggression, started in April 1861, when Confederates attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina, just after Abraham Lincoln was elected. General Robert E. Lee visited Fort Clinch in November 1861 and again in January 1862, during a survey of coastal fortifications. Since rifled cannons had made its brick defenses obsolete, he decided to withdraw the troops for better use elsewhere. The Union finally won the war when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at the battle of Appomattox on April 9th 1865. Four years of intense combat left 620,000 to 750,000 soldiers dead, more than the combined number of American military deaths in World War I & World War II, and much of the South’s infrastructure destroyed.

States Flag 34 Stars 1861

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United States Flag 1862 +

Commanding the largest force ever assembled by the US Navy, Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont received orders to attack Port Royal Sound, South Carolina in November 1861. Arriving off the sound, his ships silenced the Confederate forts guarding its approaches during the Battle of Port Royal on November 7th. Du Pont then captured Tybee, Georgia, which opened the way for the capture of Fort Pulaski in Chatham, Georgia. The fort’s surrender strategically gave control the port of Savannah to the Union. Sailing southward, on March 3rd 1862, his 28 gunboats entered the St. Mary’s River, occupied Amelia Island and raised the American flag. Then continuing south he also secured Jacksonville Florida for the Union.

The 34-Star Flag: This Flag became the Official United States Flag on July 4th, 1861. Even after the South seceded from the Union, President Lincoln would not allow any stars to be removed from the flag. A star was added for the admission of Kansas on January 29th 1861, and was to last for 2 years. The only President to serve under this flag was Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865).

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Occupy Amelia Graphic

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