History of Nassau County FL

“No man would immigrate into Florida — no, not from Hell itself,” stated John Randolph of Roanoke in the United States House of Representatives. He declared that the newly annexed territory in 1821 was nothing more than a “land of swamps, of quagmires, of frogs and alligators and mosquitoes.”

But prior to the annexation of Florida by the United States, settlers had moved to Florida for any number of reasons: some to find land in less crowded circumstances; some to escape persecution for their beliefs, either political or religious; and, some for the adventure of being here. The area that is now Nassau County was a buffer zone between the groups which kept trying to wrest control of Florida from each other. Fernandina was a “free port” and, during the early 19th century, was the center of smuggling, piracy, and intrigue. The little town was important because of its close proximity to Georgia and provided a base of operations for businessmen and politicians.

The only permanent settlements in Florida in 1821 were at Fernandina, St. Augustine and Pensacola with a population of less than 5000. During the Spanish Period, the territory had been divided into East Florida and West Florida which became the original counties of St. Johns and Escambia on 21 July 1821. Duval County was formed in 1822 from a part of St. Johns County and Nassau County was cut from Duval County on 29 December 1824 as the tenth Florida county.

By 1993, the “swamps and quagmires” of Nassau County were home to about 49,000 people!

Fernandina from 1811 until 1821

Old Town Fernandina Land Plats – 1811-1821

Fernandina was the last city platted by the Spanish in the New World, thirty years after the plat of Los Angeles. The plat of what is now known as Old Town follows the traditional elements of city planning in the New World by the Spanish. A town plaza faced the harbor with streets laid out in a grid pattern with lots measuring 46 feet wide and 96 feet deep. The Spanish Governor’s order to rezone Fernandina was signed on May 10, 1811, and read as follows: “Whereas, for the purpose of regulating the town of Fernandina on the Island of Amalia in this province, which town your Governor has observed to grow day by day, and in Order to lend it greater usefulness, comfort and beauty, I, Governor (White) ordered the Surveyor General, George I. F. Clarke, to prepare a plat of that establishment and of possible improvements which could be made in it.” The land grants given here were originally published in the American Guide Series, “Seeing Fernandina: A Guide to the City and its Industries,” in 1940. The material was compiled from documents in Spanish land grants. Square 1 Half Lot 1: Granted to Miguel Mabrite, at some time previous to 1814, presumably to build a dwelling house. Half Lot 2: Granted to Jose Jimenez, who built an eating place on it about 1813. Half Lot 3: Granted to James Cashen, Subaltern (military) Judge of the Island of Amalia and the Frontier for the Spanish Government, about 1809....

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1907 Nassau County Map

Pro Cuba and City Expansion, 1895-1937

Building up to the Spanish-American war the port of Fernandina was used as a base of operation for those sympathetic to the Cuban plight. Arms, ammunition, and recruits were shipped from her port to Cuba. Once War was declared Fort Clinch was prepared for up to 10,000 soldiers and the economy of Fernandina began to grow again. But it was short lived as additional railroads built out in the early 20th Century to cities like Jacksonville and Savannah. Finally, in the late 1930s, the mills arrived in Fernandina and released the citizens of the community from their reliance on cotton and tobacco to timber and industry.

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Print shows soldiers on the dirt road leading up to Fort Clinch which was occupied by Federal troops in early 1862.

War Between The States and Reconstruction, 1860-1895

Fort Clinch was an immediate target of acquisition for the Union during the Civil War. The Union Navy arrived on 2 March 1862 firing cannon volleys at the last two retreating railroad ships of citizens from evacuated Fernandina. As in most wars, not all citizens evacuated, and those left behind found themselves in an occupied territory once again, with limited freedom. But freedom did come to the black slaves of Fernandina which far outnumbered their white owners. And when the reconstruction period began after the War it was the "black" county of Nassau which rose to power in the government offices of Nassau County, while the white citizens still held the land and controlled the jobs. It was this inimical system that led to the strikes in the 1880s by the black workers until again the Yellow Fever broke out and all citizens were to busy nursing, to think of other troubles.

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1900 Nassau County Map from the Rand, McNally & Co. Atlas

American Proprietors, 1818-1860

In 1818, Fernandina comprised of about 40 wooden houses which sheltered a population of around 150 people. The town was incorporated the same year as Nassau county was created, 1824. It wasn’t until the Railroad arrived on the Island from Cedar Keys did the growth of Fernandina and Nassau County appear promising. Then all Hell broke loose with the start of the Civil War.

History of Nassau County

This material was written and compiled by “Workers of the Writers’ Program of the Works Projects Administration in the State of Florida, Sponsored by the Florida State Planning Board, and copyrighted by the City Commission of Fernandina in 1940.” There were no subsequent copyrights on this material and the material entered the public domain in 1968, or 28 years after the publication of material. Note: This material uses phraseology and words which may be considered offensive to readers today....

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1900 Nassau County Map

Heyday for Pirates, 1817-1818

What peace was gained by the Patriots in 1816 was dashed upon the shores of Amelia Island when “General” Gregor McGregor sailed into Fernandina and the Spanish authority hastened retreat. This occupation by English forces was ended by the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1818. Finally, in 1821, without the exchange of actual cash, America purchased the rights to Florida, and the Spanish flag was lowered while the 23 starred flag of the United States was raised at Fernandina.

1862 St. Mary's River and Fernandina harbor, Florida

The Semblance of Spanish Authority, 1785-1816

After the English government ceded control of Florida over to the Spanish, Amelia Island citizens found themselves under control of yet another government, with their titles to land in question. All that Spain required was a change of allegiance from England to Spain. Out of this question of land title, and the Patriots refusal to change allegiance was born the Republic of Florida.

Pigeon Creek Primitive Baptist Church

History of Pigeon Creek Primitive Baptist Church

When Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821, the Pigeon Creek Baptist Church was the only known Protestant Church within it's territory. This article provides a brief history of the founding of the church by Nassau County residents, It's original organizational document and a list of those who signed it, minutes from the early meetings, and a few tombstone readings from it's picturesque cemetery.

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