After the British evacuation, Mary Mattair, her children, and a farmhand were the sole occupants left on Amelia island. She had received a grant from Governor Tonyn of the property on the bluff overlooking the Amelia River. Following the exchange of flags in 1784, the Spanish Crown allowed Mattair to remain on the island. In trade for the earlier British grant, the Spanish authorities awarded her 150 acres within the present-day city limits of Fernandina Beach. The site of Mattair’s initial grant is today’s Old Town Fernandina.
In June 1795, American rebel marauders led by Richard Lang attacked the Spanish garrison on Amelia Island. Colonel Charles Howard, an officer in the Spanish military, discovered that the rebels had built a battery and were flying the French flag. On August 2, he raised a sizable Spanish force, sailed up Sisters Creek and the Nassau River, and attacked them. The rebels fled across the St. Marys to Georgia.
In 1783, the Second Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War and returned Florida to Spain. British inhabitants of Florida had to leave the province within 18 months unless they swore allegiance to Spain. In 1811, surveyor George J. F. Clarke platted the town of Fernandina, named in honor of King Ferdinand VII of Spain by the governor of the Spanish province of East Florida, Enrique White.
On March 16, 1812, Amelia Island was invaded and seized by insurgents known as the “Patriots of Amelia Island” under the command of General George Mathews, a former governor of Georgia, with the tacit approval of President James Madison. A group, mostly Americans, calling themselves the “Patriots” had banded together to drive out the Spanish and reported to General Mathews, who moved into a house at St. Marys, Georgia, just nine miles across Cumberland Sound from Fernandina on the northwest end of the island.
That same day, nine American gunboats under the command of Commodore Hugh Campbell formed a line in the harbor and aimed their guns at the town. General Mathews, who was ensconced at Point Peter on the St. Marys River in Georgia, ordered Colonel Lodowick Ashley to send a flag to Don Justo Lopez, commandant of the fort and Amelia Island, and demand his surrender. Lopez acknowledged the superior force and surrendered the port and the town. John H. McIntosh, George J. F. Clarke, Justo Lopez, and others signed the articles of capitulation; the Patriots then raised their own standard. The next day, March 17, a detachment of 250 regular United States troops were brought over from Point Peter, and the newly constituted Patriot government surrendered the town to General Matthews, who took formal possession in the name of the United States, ordering the Patriot flag struck and the flag of the United States to be raised immediately.
General Mathews and President Madison had conceived a plan to annex East Florida to the United States, but Congress became alarmed at the possibility of being drawn into war with Spain, and the effort fell apart when Secretary of State James Monroe was forced to relieve Matthews of his commission. Negotiations began for the withdrawal of U.S. troops early in 1813. On May 6, the army lowered the flag at Fernandina and crossed the St. Marys River to Georgia with the remaining troops. Spain seized the redoubt and regained control of the island. The Spanish completed construction of the new Fort San Carlos to guard Fernandina in 1816.
Gregor MacGregor, a Scottish-born soldier of fortune, led an army of only 150 men including recruits from Charleston and Savannah, some War of 1812 veterans, and 55 musketeers in an assault of Fort San Carlos on June 29, 1817. The commander, Francisco Morales, struck the Spanish flag and fled. MacGregor raised his flag, the “Green Cross of Florida”, a green cross on a white ground, over the fort and proclaimed the “Republic of the Floridas”. On September 4, faced with the threat of a Spanish reprisal, and still lacking money and adequate reinforcements, MacGregor abandoned his plans to conquer Florida and departed Fernandina with most of his officers, leaving a small detachment of men at Fort San Carlos to defend the island. After his withdrawal, these and a force of American irregulars organized by Ruggles Hubbard and former Pennsylvania congressman Jared Irwin repelled the Spanish attempt to reassert authority.
On September 13 the Battle of Amelia Island commenced when the Spaniards erected a battery of four brass cannons on McLure’s Hill east of the fort. With about 300 men, supported by two gunboats, they shelled Fernandina being held by Jared Irwin. His “Republic of Florida” forces included ninety-four men, the privateer ships Morgiana and St. Joseph, and the armed schooner Jupiter. Spanish gunboats began firing at 3:30 pm and the battery on the hill joined the cannonade. The guns of Fort San Carlos, on the river bluff northwest of the hill, and those of the St. Joseph defended Amelia Island. Cannonballs killed two and wounded other Spanish troops clustered below. Firing continued until dark. The Spanish commander, convinced he could not capture the island, then withdrew his forces.
Hubbard and Irwin later joined forces with the French-born pirate Louis Michel Aury, who laid claim to Amelia Island supposedly on behalf of the revolutionary Republic of Mexico. Aury surrendered the island to U.S. forces on December 23, 1817, and President James Monroe vowed to hold it “in trust for Spain”. This episode in Florida’s history became known as the Amelia Island Affair.
Although angered by U.S. interference at Fort San Carlos, Spain ceded Florida in 1821. The Adams–Onís Treaty officially transferred East Florida, and what remained of West Florida, to the United States as of February 22, 1821.
On January 8, 1861, two days before Florida secession, Confederate sympathizers (the Third Regiment of Florida Volunteers) took control of Fort Clinch, already abandoned by Federal workers who had been constructing the fort located on the north end of the island. General Robert E. Lee visited Fort Clinch in November 1861, and again in January 1862, during a survey of coastal fortifications.
Union forces consisting of 28 gunboats commanded by Commodore Samuel Dupont raised the American flag and restored Federal control of the island on March 3, 1862.
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Notes & Currency
- 18__ Fernandina $3 Obsolete Note
- 1882 $50 Jacksonville Note Charter #3869
- 1902 $10 Punta Gorda Note Charter #10512
- 1882 $5 Palatka Note Charter #3223
- 1902 $5 Key West Note Charter #7942