An Island of Eight Flags

Only minutes from the Florida-Georgia state line, Amelia Island is a small barrier island off the coast of northeast Florida. The island and the town on it, Fernandina Beach, have a rich history, which includes a Native American Timucuan settlement, Spanish rule, pirates, shrimping, and much more. Because of its varied history, Amelia Island’s identity has been shaped by the eight different flags that have laid claim to the island, resulting in a mixture of interesting influences on island culture.

One important historical aspect of the island is its name, which changed many times before settling on Amelia Island. French rule switched the island’s name from the Timucuan Napoyca to Île de Mai in 1562. In 1573, Spain overtook the island and changed the name to Isle de Santa Maria. However, in 1735, Georgia founder James Oglethorpe raided the island, which was then Spanish territory, renaming it Amelia after Princess Amelia, the youngest child of King George III. The island was ultimately transferred to Great Britain in 1763 after the French and Indian War, only decades before the United States won its independence.

The past has influenced modern-day Amelia Island in countless ways. One such aspect is the historical statues and monuments around the island. When plantation owners Mary and Domingo Fernandez died in the mid-1800s, they left Bosque Bello Cemetery to the City of Fernandina as a place to remember the “early founders of Fernandina.” The beautiful cemetery is now recognized as an historic site.

Other special places on the island include the Civil War-era Fort Clinch (which never saw battle), the Amelia Island Museum of History (once the town jail), the Amelia Island Lighthouse (the oldest operational lighthouse in Florida, built in 1838), the American Beach Museum, and Old Town Fernandina (the original site of the city of Fernandina and the location of the Spanish Fort San Carlos).

The Palace Saloon holds great significance as the oldest bar in Florida, opening its doors in 1903. It sits in the historic district on Centre Street in downtown Fernandina Beach. Construction in 1878, it was a dry-goods store and known as the Prescott Building before Louis G. Hirth bought the building and turned it into a bar.

In addition to sites and monuments, various individuals who lived in Fernandina also made an impact on island culture. In Rob Hicks book, Legendary Locals of Amelia Island, he writes about some of the people who lived on the island. He says that the history of Amelia Island can be divided into three parts: “The Island Becomes Amelia,” “The Rise of ‘New’ Fernandina,” and “Building Today’s Amelia Island.” Individuals who contributed to the foundation of the island include James Oglethorpe, Princess Amelia (the island’s namesake), Scottish adventurer Gregor MacGregor, and French privateer Luis Aury.

The Rise of “New” Fernandina highlights a specific individual who influenced the future of the island after its establishment, leaving a legacy behind. David Yulee had a large impact on the establishment of the Florida railroad system, with the island’s first train running in 1861. Another important person was Emma Love Hardee; a leader in the First Presbyterian Church and dedicated worker in the Ladies Civic League and Woman’s Club. Emma Love Hardee Elementary School, currently in operation on the island, was named after her and continues to honor her service.

Recent islanders have also made an impact on present day island culture. One such example is William Jones Davis, the first person to use a power-driven boat to drag a shrimping net, changing the shrimping industry for years to follow. Additionally, a woman named Dee Dee Bartel moved to Fernandina in the 1950s, became a shrimp boat captain, and later created an event to celebrate shrimping, which turned into what is now celebrated as the annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival.

With eight different flags flying over it throughout its history, Amelia Island displays a variety of historical influences, while more recent arrivals continue to make their mark.

Madelyn Campbell was homeschooled in Fernandina Beach, played golf for Fernandina Beach High School, and is a senior at Southeastern University in Lakeland, where she is also on the golf team.