Fernandina Beach is in Nassau County Florida on Amelia Island. It is the northernmost city on the eastern coast of Florida.
The first recorded European visitor was Jean Ribault in 1562. He named it Isle de Mai.
The Spanish Franciscans established the Santa Maria mission in 1573. The island was named Isla de Santa Maria. This mission was abandoned in 1685. In 1682 the mission became the Santa Catalina de Guale misson relocated from St. Catherines Island in Georgia. This mission was abandoned in 1702 with the attack of Governor Moore of South Carolina on Florida.
James Oglethorpe renamed the island "Amelia Island" in honor of Princess Amelia (1710-1786 - King George II's daughter.)
In 1811 surveyor George J. F. Clarke platted the town of Fernandina and named it in honor of the King Ferdinand VII of Spain.
On March 13, 1812 during the Patriot War the island was taken over by the "Patriots of Amelia Island."
Amelia Island. (Niles Register, Vol. 2) Savannah, March 26 Extract of a letter from St. Mary's dated March 20th. "The insurgents or patriots, formed a camp on Rose's Bluff, opposite St. Mary's, at the same time the gun-boats, were ordered to proceed down to the sound, when they were moored, their guns loaded and every man to his station--several signal guns were fired by the commodore; the insurgents then embarked in boats from Rose's Bluff, and proceeded to Amelia island, where they landed, col. Lodowick Ashley at their head, and demanded the surrender of the island, which was refused by the commandant, but who requested a parlay until he could send a deputation to commodore Campbell, who was then sailing up and down the harbor, to ascertain whether he would assist the insurgents in case they were resisted--the commodore's reply, was, that he would assist the insurgents. The island was then surrendered to col. Ashley, and the flag of the patriots was immediately displayed on the ramparts of the fort, which was soon succeeded by the flag of the United States. The United States troops are now in possession of the island of Amelia--the country of East Florida in possession of the patriots, and the town of Augustine and the garrison in possession of the soldiers of Ferdinand the 7th. The governor of that place is determined to hold out to the last extremity."
Patriots War In 1812 Col Ashley commander of the U. S. Troops and 9 American Gun-boats under the command of Commodore Campbell formed a line in the harbor and brought their guns to bear on the fort. Don Jose Lopez commander of the fort and the Island of Amelia was requested to surrender the place. His articles of capitulation:
Articles of Capitulation, made and entered into between Don Justo Lopez, Commandant of Amelia Island, in the Province of East Florida, part of the dominions of his C. M. Ferdinand VII, on the one part; and John H. McIntosh, Esq. commissioner, named, and duly authorised by the Patriots of the district, of the Province, lying between the Rivers St. John's, and St. Mary's, including the islands of the same, on the other part, viz:
1. In consequence of superior forces, all communications and other resources cut off from St. Augustine, being impossible to defend the port and town of Fernandina; Don Justo Lopez, agrees to surrender the said port, and town, to the forces of the Patriots, with all the arms, public provisions, money, &c., that are in his possession, and all the duties owing to Government.
2. The Commandant and troops, shall march out with the honors of war, and after laying down their arms, shall receive their parole not to take up arms against the Patriots, during the present contest.
3. Individuals who are considered bona fide residents, who have grants, or just claims to obtain lands, or lumber by memorial, or evidence, or purchase, shall have them fully guaranteed, and in case of memorial, having complied, or not, with the conditions specified.
4. The property of persons, of every description, shall be considered sacred, and neither examined, or touched, but remain, and be used in the same manner, before the capitulation.
5. The island, twenty-four hours after the capitulation, shall be ceded to the United States of America, under the express condition, that the port of Fernandina, shall not be subject to any of the restrictions in commerce, which at present exists in the United States; but shall be open to British merchant vessels, and produce, and considered a free port, until the first of May, 1813.
6. The inhabitants, who have been bona fide residents of the district, and have had permission to cut lumber, shall have the same continued until the first of May, 1813, to the exclusion of others, and exactly as heretofore.
7. All vessels of every description shall be protected, and clearances given to any port, as before, (excepting to the coast of Africa,) as well as all vessels of every description, arriving before the first of May, 1813, which have cleared from a Spanish port, three months before the capitulation, and being the property of Spanish subjects of this Island.
8. All British, and other merchandise, which has been regularly entered, according to the laws and regulations of the Spanish Government, shall be exported from here, and admitted in the ports of the United States free of duties, until the first of May, 1813; and all vessels now owned by Spanish subjects, of this island, shall have the right, and receive registers in the same manner as American vessels.
9. The inhabitants of this island who wish to remove shall have twelve months time to sell their property, or remove it, as may be most agreeable, without molestation, and in case of war between the United States and Spain, in said time, said inhabitants shall be allowed to appoint agents to sell their property.
Fernandina, at 4 o'clock P. M. 17th March, 1812. Signed,
George Atkinson, Justo Lopez, George I. F. Clarke, John H. McIntosh. Charles W. Clarke, Archibald Clark.
Fernandina at this time contained about six hundred inhabitants. At the time smuggling was carried on to a great extent and the slave trade fostered. There was five fathoms on the bar of the St. Mary's at high water making it one of the deepest inlets on the coast.
The day after the surrender Lieut Ridgely was appointed to take command of Fernandina. Col. Ashley, with three hundred men were marched towards St. Augustine, by the Cowford, now Jacksonville. A detachment was sent to Laurel Grove to seize Zephaniah Kingsley. He was offered his liberty on condition of joining the Patriots. He joined them.
Spain forced the Americans to evacuate in 1813.
Fort San Carlos was built by the Spanish on the island in 1816.
The Rest of the Revolution (Niles Register, Vol 2) Extract of a letter from Fernandina, March 21. "In my last I gave you a hint of what was going on here, I have now to inform you that a large party of men crossed the river St. Mary's about 20 miles above this place, and succeeded in revolutionising all the country between St. Mary's and St. John's. Amelia is the only place that showed any resistance, but from the threats of the American gun-boats, under the command of commodore Campbell, and the formidable appearance of the revolutionists, the commandant of Amelia surrendered the town and garrison of Fernandina without firing a shot, on the following terms: that the commandant and troops would be allowed to march out with the honors of war, and upon delivering their arms would receive their parole, not to take up arms against the revolutionists during their present contest. That all individual property, whether lands or otherwise, shall be considered sacred, and whether he examined or touched, but remain and be used to the same manner as before the capitulation; the island 24 hours after the capitulation shall be ceded to the United States of America under the express conditions, that the port of Fernandina shall not be subject to any of the restrictions in commerce which at present exist in the United States, but shall be open as heretofore to British and other vessels and produce, on paying the lawful duties and tonnage, and in case of a war between the United States of Great Britain, the port of Fernandina shall be open to British merchandise and merchant vessels, and considered a free port until 1st May, 1803. (sic)
The inhabitants who had grants to cut lumber shall have the same continued until 1st May, 1813.
All vessels of every description shall be protected and clearance given to any port as before, excepting to the coast of Africa, as well as all vessels arriving before the 1st May, 1813.
All British or other merchandise, which have been regularly entered according to the laws and regulations of the Spanish government shall be exported from here and admitted in the ports of the United States free of duties, until the 1st May, 1813. And all vessels owned by Spanish subjects of this island, shall be entitled to regular American registers.
All in habitants of this place, who do not choose to remain under the American government, are allowed one year to settle their business, and should a war take place, between the United States and Spain, they will be allowed to appoint agents to settle their business.
The above is as near the substance of the terms or capitulation, as I can at present recollect. I have only to add that general George Mathews, agent for the United States, has confirmed the same, on account of his government.
P. S. -- On the morning of the 18th, the gunboats came and anchored before the town, immediately put springs on their cables, loaded their guns with cannister shot, and levelled them at this defenceless place, when they were ordered by the commandant not to pass the garrison they answered that they did not come in a hostile manner, but that they would aid and assist the patriots, and was it not from their interference we could have deviated any force the revolutionists could bring before us.
You will observe that goods are not allowed to enter from here until the president approves of this measure.
MacGregor (1786-1845) In 1817 Gregor MacGregor seized Fort San Carlos and claimed the island for Mexico, Buenos Ayres, New Grenada and Venezuela. Spain forced their withdraw by Americans organized by Ruggles Hubbard and Jared Irwin who had joined forces with the French Pirate Luis Aury took the island for the Republic of Mexico. U. S. Navy drove Aury and held the island in trust for Spain. MacGregor was trying to sell the Florida to the United States for 1,500,000.
He was a British army veteran who had fought under Miranda and Simón Bolívar in the revolutionary wars in Venezuela and Colombia, 1811–16. In March 1817 he came to the United States with the object of raising money and troops to take possession of Amelia Island off the coast of Florida in the name of the Venezuelan revolution. United States troops occupied Amelia Island in December 1817.
Letter from John Quincy Adams to Don Luis de Onis John Quincy Adams as United States Secretary of State pointed out the problem of Amelia Island and East Florida to Don Luis de Onis. (See letter)
Nassau County Officials 1834 Spicer C. Braddock - Clerk C. C. Lewis Bailey, Jr. - Sheriff John Johnson - Coroner Stephen Fernandez - Surveyor
Fort Clinch Fort Clinch was named for General Duncan Lamont Clinch, a veteran of the Seminole and Mexican wars. Construction of the fort began in 1847. By 1861 it still was not finished.
Civil War The Third Regiment of Florida Volunteers took control of Fort Clinch on January 8, 1861. Commodore Samuel Dupont, United States Navy, took control of the island on March 3, 1862.
The Fernandina Spy. (Augusta Chronicle, July 21,1861) We are informed from a reliable source that the person who has made himself so busy in Washington, advising an attack on Fernandina, is a Mr. J. E. Conant, who has been for about two years Assistant Treasurer of the Florida Railroad Co. He had previously been employed as a clerk by one of the Congressional Committees in Washington. His loyalty was expected some two months since, and he was requested to elave Fernandina for a climate more suited to his peculiar views. His present course is probably actuated by revenge. Savannah Republican, 20th.
The Blockade at Fernandina (Augusta Chronicle, August 13, 1861) We take the following from the Savannah Republican
Fernandina, Fla., Aug. 9, 1861 – The blockade off this port is much more strict since the burning of the prize barque Alvarado, on Monday last. In addition to the war-sloop (supposed to be the Vincennes,) a propeller is seen hovering about the bar. The Federalists seem determined that no more prize vessels shall approach our harbor, even as near as the Alvarado came, which was about a mile and a half from the shore.
The destruction of the barque’s cargo was not total after all. There has been saved from the wreck about $150,000 worth of wool and cooper, which are in charge of Col. L. Dozier, Prize Commissioner. The Yankee captain of the barque and his wife, who hauled up the United States flag, Union down, on the barque after the prize left her, are in custody of Col. W. S. Dilworth, commanding the forces at this post, and will be by him forwarded to Richmond by the next trip of the St. Johns.
Civil War Long before this the town was well fortified against an attack by sea. Fort Clinch, the most important of the defensive works, was completed prior to the Civil War, and, being without a garrison, was promptly seized by the Confederates in 1861. It is a pentagonal structure of brick and concrete, with bastions and detached scarps, loopholed for musketry. The armament at that time included two large rifled guns, and twenty-seven 32-pounders.
The permanent works were flanked with water batteries, and strengthened with sand embankments under the supervision of competent military engineers. A battery of four guns was erected on Cumberland Island.
Approach by sea was impracticable in the face of these guns, and in view of the tortuous channel. The harbor, however, was important to both parties, as it afforded a haven for blockade-runners considerably nearer than any other to the neutral ports at Bermuda and on the Bahamas. The Confederate garrison was about two thousand strong, under command of General J. H. Trapier.
On the morning of August 6, 1861, the inhabitants were called to arms and to witness a race between the United States Ship Vincennes and the Alvarado, a prize of the Confederate privateer Jeff Davis. The latter was making for the bar under all sail, but was forced ashore, abandoned by her crew, and afterward fired by boat crews from the Vincennes, it being obviously impossible to set her afloat again. In February, 1862, an expedition was organized at Port Royal by Commodore Dupont, U. S. N., and sailed on the last day of that month for the capture of Fernandina. The fleet consisted of nineteen vessels, mainly gunboats of light draught.
On reaching the upper end of the sound Commodore Dupont anchored to wait for the tide, and there learned from an escaped negro slave that the garrison at Fernandina was already abandoning the town and the fortifications. The lightest and fleetest gunboats were immediately dispatched down the Sound under Commander Percival Drayton to prevent the destruction of property if possible, while the rest of the fleet took the outside passage. Cumberland Sound proved too shallow, however, and only the Ottawa could get through. Drayton went aboard of her and pushed on. As he passed Fort Clinch a boat's crew was sent to hoist the American flag as a signal to the fleet. A white flag was displayed at Fernandina, but shots were fired at the Ottawa, and a railway train drawn by two engines was discovered just moving off. It was naturally supposed to contain troops, and an exciting chase ensued, as the track was for some four miles within range of the river. The Ottawa endeavored to disable the engines with her large rifled gun, but the train had the advantage of speed, and eventually left the gunboat behind, escaping across the bridge. A steamer, the Darlington, crowded with refugees, was less fortunate, being captured by the Ottawa's boats.
It is significant of the then existing conditions of warfare that Commander Drayton was a native of South Carolina, while John Brock, captain of the captured steamboat, was a Vermonter.
It subsequently appeared that the Confederate authorities had attempted to remove all the inhabitants under the mistaken idea that they were in danger of brutal treatment from the captors.
Of the United States forts seized by the Confederates, Fort Clinch was one of the first to be regained by Government forces. The occupation of Fernandina restored to Federal control the whole of the sea-coast of Georgia, and afforded a convenient base of operations against Jacksonville and St. Augustine.
After the capture of the Darlington, the Ottawa steamed up the St. Mary's River as far as King's Ferry, fifty-two miles, to reconnoitre, and while returning was fired upon by infantry, said to have been the Twenty-ninth Mississippi Regiment, in ambush on shore. The fire was instantly returned at short range with grapeshot, and with such deadly effect that no further opposition was experienced. Several men were wounded on board the Ottawa.
The Freedmen's Orphanage (The National Freedmen, 1866) (Note: The Orphanage was founded in 1862. It would be moved to Magnolia Springs by the Freedmen's Bureau.)
In consequence of our threatened dispossession of the premises occupied by us at Fernandina, Fla., as an Orphan Asylum, our Secretary, Mr. Estes, left for Fernandina early in the month to adjust the questions of title involved in the property, and. if unsuccessful in retaining possession, to arrange for the disposal or removal of the children under our care. He has not yet returned. We learn from him by letter, under date of May 10th, that after due consultation and deliberation, he had finally concluded to surrender the house to the opposing claim ants on the first of July next. Miss Merrick has since reported to us in New York, and later has visited Washington. We are endeavoring to obtain from Government a grant of certain disused arsenal buildings in Florida, and if successful, shall be enabled to continue our work of relief and education in that State; but at present all decisive arrangements are still incomplete, and we are compelled to wait the result of further developments to determine our future course. Respectfully submitted. HENRY A. DIKE, Chairman Executive Committee. NEW YORK, May 28, 1866.
Sir:— In obedience to the vote of your Committee I repaired to Fernandina, Fla., and after making myself acquainted with the condition of things, arranged with Gen. Finegan to give him possession on July 1st ensuing, of the house and grounds which had been used by Miss Chloe Merrick for the Orphan Asylum. This was in harmony with the instructions of Mr. Shaw and with the conclusions of Miss Merrick. I knew that it was the wish of the Association to conciliate, rather than exasperate, the people among whom their enterprises are being prosecuted. Gen. Finegan visited both of the schools, making an address to the scholars at one of them, in which he expressed surprise and gratification at their proficiency, and gave assurances of his countenance and support wherever it could be made effectual. His address, it appeared to me, was received with much satisfaction, and when it was suggested that probably Gen. Finegan might become the first Vice-President of the National Freedman's Relief Association from the South, their risibilities were as fully excited as became the duty of the time and place.
The children of the Asylum had a healthy, tidy, happy, contented look. Their recitations, their songs, marches, and their devotedness to their instructress interested me. The field belonging to the establishment, and the patches which belonged to individuals were well tended; and in the transfer of the mansion, Gen. Finegan agreed that the product of all should go to those who had planted and tended the ground.
Maj. Gen. Howard, Commissioner, has provided for the continuance of the Asylum for Colored Orphans at Fernandina, by setting apart a large Government building for its use,
Florida (The National Freedmen, March 12, 1865) Fernandina, Fla., The following sketch of our work in Florida is from one of our pioneer teachers, now Superintendent of the Orphan Asylum at Fernandina. It will be found interesting, containing, as it does, some incidents in the establishment of our schools in that State:
Dear Sir: --- I shall be happy if in this imperfect sketch you find anything to encourage you in the good work begun here, for a long neglected and despised race.
On the last day of March, 1862, Gen. Saxton, then Military Governor of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, left Beaufort for Florida, on board the steamer Ben de Ford, for the purpose of encouraging enlistment for the first regiment of black troops ever raised in this country. (33rd USCT)
As no provision had been made for the destitute, then "contrabands" of this State, at the request of the General, Mrs. Francis D. Gage, who was then in this department to investigate and report in regard to the condition of the people, Miss Cornelia Smith, and myself, accompanied him to establish schools, and to learn and relieve as far as possible their necessities at this place.
The day of our arrival was warm and sunny as a May day at the North. Amelia Island, on which the town is situated, lay, with its evergreen mantle sprinkled with flowers, basking in sunshine. All nature combined to make one exclaim with the discoverers of this land: "Florida!" --- the land of flowers.
But war had given the town another appearance, not in harmony with nature that day. The guns of Fort Clinch looked out ominously over the entrance to the harbor and to St. Mary's river; and blockade vessels lay hard by, in light slumber, with one eye open watching the waters, with a broadside toward the town. Deserted houses were now occupied by half- clad negroes, and as ill-clad sallow whites, betokening war and war's desolation.
As the boat neared the wharf, soldiers were seen crowding about to learn the news from home, which came to them as "cool waters in a thirsty land." Negroes lounged about, seemingly unconcerned.
It was the Sabbath, but not the calm of Christian holy-day. Drums were beating, the bugle call was sounding, pickets were passing to and from their posts, and mounted men rode hastily about. No steady ringing of bells called to worship. Once during the day the bell sounded a hasty call, to gather the people not to a worship such as we are wont to witness, but perhaps as true a worship. To call a slave to become a soldier. The church was soon filled with all classes anxious to know the import of the General's mission. In terms the most simple could comprehend, he told them the intentions of the Government toward them, of their new relations as "freedmen," and of the opportunity now offered them of establishing for themselves their liberty and rights as men. The earnest eloquence of those sad appealing faces, as they listened to the words which gave a new inspiration to their lives, told how deep and rich was the mine of feeling heretofore disregarded.
Two colored men followed the General with a stirring appeal to their brethren to join them in forming this first regiment of colored volunteers. As a first result of this meeting, nearly 200 returned with the General, though counter influences were brought to bear to keep them from going with him, to swell the ranks of that force which perhaps more than any other hastened the end of the rebellion.
The jubilant notes of that sable crowd must long remain in the memory of those who heard their son of triumph: "Good news came from heaven to-day."
Soon after the audience began to disperse, the women crowded about us, some with tearful eyes, others, whose sad faces seemed to say, they had forgotten to weep---for deeper sorrow had dried the fountain of tears---pressed our hands in welcome as laborers among them. Then we felt that ours was a blessed mission, to minister to such hearts, and to assist them to attain a higher plan of living as free women.
The Handbook of Florida (Norton, 1890) Pop. 4,000 --- Lat. 30 degree 40' -- Long. 81 degree 26' W. -- Mean rise and fall of tide, 6 feet. The Egmont Hotel, $2 upward, special rates for permanent guests, open at all seasons. Railroads, Steamers, etc. -- The Florida Central & Peninsula Railroad affords direct communication with Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Cedar Key, Orlando, Plant City, etc. The steamers of the Mallory line make weekly trips to and from New York, leaving New York on Fridays. Time, 48 hours. Cabin passage, including room and table, $23. Coastwise steamers ply daily through Cumberland Sound to and from the Georgia ports.
History The harbor of Fernandina, the finest on the coast south of Chesapeake Bay, was known to the early explorers, and was probably used by them as a safe anchorage. De Gourgues made it his base of operations against the Spaniards, in 1568, when it was the head-quarters of an Indian tribe able to muster some three thousand warriors. It was not until 1808 that a permanent settlement was established by the Spaniards. During the period of the embargo under Jefferson's administration it assumed considerable importance as a sea-port. In 1818, just after the second war with England, a movement known as the Patriot War was inaugurated, with the secret connivance of the United States Government, and its first act was the capture of Fernandina, the Spanish garrison offering no resistance worth mentioning. The leader of this movement was one McGregor, a Scotchman who forthwith inaugurated a period of prosperity for Fernandina by making it a headquarters for the freebooters who still infested the Spanish main. McGregor was before long forced to abdicate, and the collapse of the "patriot army" soon followed.
Fernandina grew slowly to be a place of some importance. The railroad was opened in 1861, and at the outbreak of the Civil War the inhabitants numbered about two thousand.