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Amelia Island is Florida's Golden Isle that the French visited, the Spanish developed, the English named and the Americans tamed. It is the only U.S. location to have been under eight different flags.
The Island's first recorded European visitor was the French Jean Ribault on May 3, 1562. He named the island "Isle De Mai." Two years later, Rene de Laudonniere founded Fort Caroline nearby.
The Spanish under Pedro Menendez defeated the French and founded St. Augustine in 1565. During their long dominion, the Spanish concentrated on educating and converting the Indians, and the Island name of "Santa Maria" was derived from a mission here. The mission and settlement were destroyed in 1702 by the English. Oglethorpe renamed the island "Amelia" after the daughter of George II.
The Island became known as "Egmont" from Earl of Egmont's large indigo plantation. Revolutionary forces invaded in 1777 and 1778.
Spanish 1783-1821 (with 3 interruptions)
After the Revolution, Britain ceded Florida back to Spain. Jefferson's Embargo Act of 1807, which closed U.S. ports to foreign shipping, made the border town of Fernandina a center of smuggling and piracy.
With secret U.S. blessings, the so-called "Patriots of Amelia Island" overthrew the Spanish and hoisted their own flag on March 17, 1812. They replaced it with the U.S. flag the next day, but Spain demanded return of the island. The Spanish completed Fort San Carlos in 1816.
Green Cross of Florida
To liberate Florida from Spanish control, Sir Gregor MacGregor seized Fort San Carlos in June, 1817, and hoisted his Green Cross standard. After his withdrawal, the Spanish attempted to regain control but were repelled by forces led by Jared Irwin and Ruggies Hubbard.
Mexican Rebel Flag
Irwin and Hubbard were joined by the pirate Luis Aury, who gained control and raised the Mexican rebel flag. U.S. troops occupied the island in December, 1817, and held it "in trust for Spain."
United States 1821 to present (with one interruption)
Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821. Work began on Fort Clinch in 1847. In the 1850s, Fernandina moved from Old Town to become the terminus for Florida's first cross-state railroad. Organized by Senator David Yulee, the railroad ran from Fernandina to Cedar Key.
Confederates took over Fort Clinch in April, 1861, but federal troops regained it in March 3, 1862, and occupied Fernandina for the duration of the War.
The Golden Years 1875-1900
Fernandina's Historic District retains evidence of the town's greatest period of prosperity. Tourists flocked here via steamboats direct from New York to stay in two elegant hotels. Shipping boomed with lumber, phosphate and naval stores. The Spanish-American War fostered gun running from the local port, and troops again occupied Fort Clinch. After the turn of the century, tourism surged southward.