History of Fernandina Beach, Florida

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Fernandina Beach is a historic town on Amelia Island and one of the oldest towns in Florida. It was originally home to the Timucua Indians before being settled by the Spanish in the 17th century.

The following is a timeline of the history of Fernandina Beach:

1000 A.D.:

  • The Timucua tribe begins inhabiting Amelia Island, which they call Napoyca.

1685-86:

  • Fernandina Beach is settled by the Spanish when they built a fort and mission and name the island Isla de Santa Maria.

1702:

  • The fort is destroyed by Governor James Moore of Carolina when the British occupy the island and rename it Amelia Island, after King George II’s daughter.

1763:

  • The British take over the island when the Treaty of Paris is signed and a large population of loyalists settle there during the American Revolution.
Seal of Fernandina Beach, Florida
Seal of Fernandina Beach, Florida

1783:

  • The second Treaty of Paris secedes Florida back to Spain.

1807:

  • The town becomes a Free Port which attracts a number of privateers, smugglers, slave traders and pirates to the island.
  • On August 9, Spain grants a tract of land on Amelia Island to Don Domingo Fernandez, which includes the site of modern day Fernandina Beach.

1811:

  • The town of Fernandina is founded and named after King Ferdinand VII of Spain.

1812:

  • On March 16, during the War of 1812, Amelia Island is invaded by American forces under the command of General George Matthews in an attempt to annex East Florida from the Spanish.

1813:

  • Congress opposes the idea of becoming engaged in a war with both Spain and the United Kingdom and withdraws its troops from Amelia Island in May. Spain regains control of the island.

1816:

  • The Spanish build Fort San Carlos on a bluff overlooking the Amelia River in order to defend Amelia Island.

1817:

  • In June, a Scottish military adventurer Sir Gregor McGregor captures the island and seizes Fort San Carlos.
  • In August, fellow conspirator Ruggles Hubbard, the former high sheriff of New York City, sails into Fernandina Harbor aboard his own brig Morgiana to join McGregor.
  • On September 4, McGregor decides to put his lieutenants, Ruggles Hubbard and Jared Irwin, in charge of Amelia Island and departs Ferandina for his home in Baltimore. Hubbard’s troops occupy Fort San Carlos and defend the island from the Spanish.
  • On September 13, the Battle of Amelia Island takes place when the Spanish bombard Fernandina in an attempt to capture the island but fail and withdraw by nightfall.
  • On September 17, a French privateer and Mexican revolutionary named Luis Aury sails into Fernandina Harbor, makes an alliance with Hubbard and Irwin and claims the island for Mexico.
  • On October 19, Hubbard dies of a fever and is believed to have been buried on Amelia Island.
  • On December 23, the United States Navy forces Aury to surrender and Florida is soon taken over by the United States and held “in trust” for Spain before the United States formally takes possession of it in 1821.

1822:

  • The Memorial United Methodist Church is built on Sixth Street.

1825:

  • On January 1, Fernandina Beach becomes an incorporated city in Florida.

1838:

  • The Amelia Lighthouse is built on O’Hagan Lane.

1847:

  • Fort Clinch is built on Atlantic Avenue.
Fort Clinch, Fernandina, Fla, engraving, circa 1861
Fort Clinch, Fernandina, Fla, engraving, circa 1861

1860:

  • The Lesesene House is built by Dr. John F. Lesesne on 5th Street.
  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 1,390.

1861:

  • The Merrick-Simmons House is built on 10th Street.
  • On January 8, Confederate sympathizers take control of Fort Clinch and fortify it.

1870:

  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 1,722.

1878:

  • The Old Nassau County Jail is built on 3rd Street.

1880:

  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 2,562.

1884:

  • The The Old Nassau County Jail is expanded to two stories.

1885:

  • The Fairbanks House is built by George Rainsford Fairbanks on 7th Street.
  • The Tabby House, a Victorian-style house, is built on 7th Street.

1890:

  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 2,803.

1891:

  • The Nassau County Courthouse is built on Centre Street.
  • The John Denham Palmer House is built on Atlantic Avenue.

1893:

  • The Old Nassau County Jail is replaced with a new jail building.

1895:

  • The Bailey House, a late Victorian-style house, is built on 7th and Ash Streets.

1900:

  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 3,245.

1910:

  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 3,482.

1912:

  • The U.S. Post Office and Customs House – courthouse, an Italian Renaissance Revival building, is built on Centre Street.

1920:

  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 3,147.

1930:

  • The Memorial United Methodist Church is built on Sixth Street.
  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 3,023.

1938:

  • The Old Nassau County Jail is replaced with a new two-story masonry building.

1940:

  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 3,492.

1950:

  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 4,420.

1960:

  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 7,276.

1970:

  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 6,955.

1980:

  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 7,224.

1987:

  • In May, the film The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking begins filming in Fernandina Beach at a house known locally as Captain Bell’s House on Estrada Street.

1990:

  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 8,765.

2000:

  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 10,549.

2010:

  • The population of Fernandina Beach is 11,487.

Sources:
“Florida; Nassua County.” National Register of Historic Places, nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com/fl/nassau/state.html
“History of Amelia Island.” Explore Amelia, exploreamelia.com/Amelia_Island_History.shtml
“Pirates, Flags and Buried Treasure – Folklore of Amelia Island.” Nassua Florida, 27 Sept. 2017, nassauflorida.com/blog/article/pirates-flags-and-buried-treasure-folklore-of-amelia-island
“Explore Historic Sites.” Destination Amelia, destinationamelia.com/activities/explore-historic-sites/
“Florida’s Historic Places: Fernandina and Amelia Island.” Florida Center for Instructional Techonology, fcit.usf.edu/florida/lessons/fernandina/fernandina.htm
“Fernandina Beach History.” Visit Florida, visitflorida.com/en-us/cities/fernandina-beach/old-florida-getaway-for-the-centuries.html