Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island, April 28 – May 1

The festivities for Fernandina’s 48th Annual Shrimp Festival kick off Thursday night (April 28) with a pirate parade and continue for three more days in beautiful historic downtown Fernandina Beach, with arts and crafts shows, children’s games and activities, live entertainment, and of course great seafood.

So what is the deal with “eight flags”? Eight different country’s flags have flown over Amelia Island (more than any other location in the United States). First the French arrived. Huguenot Jean Ribault was the first European to set foot on Amelia Island (which he named “Isle De Mai”) in 1562. This didn’t sit well with the Spanish, since Juan Ponce De León had claimed all of Florida for Spain when he landed just north of present-day St. Augustine in 1513. So, in 1565, the Spanish sent Pedro Menendez de Avile to kick the French out of Florida and off Isle De Mai, with great success. They renamed the island “Santa Maria.” Later there were invasions from the British—the earliest around 1702, but the island remained a Spanish territory until the first Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years’ War in 1763, and Britain returned Cuba to Spain in exchange for all of Florida. British General James Oglethorpe gave Santa Maria its new name, “Amelia,” after the daughter of King George II. But the British underestimated how unfriendly the Indians could be, how much swamp land there was, and how many mosquitoes, snakes, and alligators there were in Florida, so twenty years later England traded Florida back to Spain. In 1812, a small group of U. S. patriots who called themselves the “Patriots of Amelia Island” overthrew the Spanish on the island and raised their own flag for a very brief time. In the summer of 1817, Sir Gregor MacGregor seized control of Spain’s recently completed island fortification, Fort San Carlos. MacGregor flew his “Green Cross” flag, but withdrew a short time later. A few months after that, French pirate Luis Aury raided the island and raised the Mexican flag—unbeknownst to Mexico, by the way. By December of that year, U. S. troops had taken over the island and were holding it in trust for the Spanish. In 1819 Spain and the United States signed a treaty: the U. S. got Florida in exchange for taking over $5 million in debts that Spain owed the citizens of the United States. It took two years to iron out all the details, but in 1821 the United States officially acquired Florida and consequently Amelia Island from Spain. In April 1861 Confederate troops occupied Fort Clinch at the north end of the island, but Federal troops regained it a year later. (history lesson—excerpt from Visiting Small-Town Florida, Third Edition, Pineapple Press 2011).

Bruce Hunt

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