Ahoy, matey! is a greeting you would not be hearing these days in the modern world, but it is not uncommon to hear it used today in Amelia Island.
Aside from being a popular beach destination, it is also known for its Amelia Island pirates roaming around to this day. But this won’t give you a shiver in your timbers as they are just friendly reenactors from the Fernandina Pirates Club, a civic and charitable organization that donates its proceeds to the enrichment and betterment of the community.
Amelia Island has a rich 400-year history that includes pirates, historical sites, attractions, privateers, and being under control of eight different countries at one point. Don’t be a landlubber, read on to find out more about Amelia Island’s pirate history.
Amelia Island Pirate History
According to Amelia Island history, the island was named after Princess Amelia, the daughter of King George II after being dubbed the Isle of Eight Flags. Some of the flags include France, Spain, Georgia, Britain, the Timucuan Indians, and finally, the US.
Amelia Island used to be a haven for pirates, smugglers, and bootleggers of liquor, slaves, and stolen treasure as their galleons can easily access the island even at low tide due to it being situated along the coastline of Northeast Florida. The island was so full of pirates that at one point, most of the 300 or so vessels anchored in the harbor were pirate galleons.
Since Amelia Island was not part of the United States back then, the pirates brought their contraband to the island to eventually smuggle up the St. Mary’s river and into the United States.
The most infamous of the pirates is Luis Aury who dared to take over the island in 1817. He claimed to be an officer of Mexico and then hoisted the Republic of Mexico flag for three days. He was eventually forced to surrender by Americans three months later.
Nowadays, it is rumored that his ghost still haunts the jailhouse on Third Street. Other notorious pirates who have also inhabited the island over a 200-year period are Jean LaFitte, Blackbeard, and Captain Kidd.
Fun pirate fact: According to local legend, a buried booty lays unclaimed somewhere in the historic downtown Fernandina Beach. It is marked by a chain hanging from a big oak tree (called the money tree by locals). People have claimed to see the chain on a tree, but when they go back to the place with a shovel, the tree and chain are nowhere to be found.
After a tumultuous period in the presence of pirates and criminals, the United States Naval forces decided to snatch the island from the grasp of Spain and eventually took it over to restore order and respectability.
Over the next century, Amelia Island was revamped and it was dubbed as the “Queen of Summer Resorts” by the 1896 edition of American Resorts magazine due to its thousands of wealthy vacationers, including prominent families such as DuPonts, Carnegies, and Vanderbilts. It was also transformed into the center of the shipping and shrimping industries.
These days, Amelia Island is generally a peaceful place to relax and have a vacation in with its many sprawling beachfront resorts and pristine waters. However, the island still commemorates and celebrates its stormy pirate history with the annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, a weekend-long festival held every first weekend of May in the historic district of Fernandina Beach. People enjoy concerts, boat contests, cooking demonstrations, pirate lessons, and the apex of the festival, a pirate “invasion” care of the members of the Fernandina Pirates Club.
There are also year-round pirate-related tours and attractions on the island. The Old Town Carriage Company shares fun pirate lore while giving an educational tour through the streets of Fernandina Beach which are filled with pirate statues and pictures.
You can also find out more about the Amelia Island pirates and the complete Amelia Island history in the Amelia Island Museum of History. You can also drink ale where the pirates used to in The Palace Saloon, the state’s oldest bar.
You can also take your kids to play at the Fernandina Beach’s Pirate Playground, a public play area with a swashbuckling theme. Also, experience treasure hunts and a weekend tuck-in service by Luis Aury and Princess Amelia reenactors in the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, located near many of our top Amelia Island vacation rentals.