Fernandina has roots in Mexico and Spain


Continuing our focus on Fernandina Beach’s Bicentennial and what a farmers’ market in 1825 would have produced, this week we are exploring how Fernandina has roots in Mexico and Spain, and our rich Latin history. Twice, Spain’s colors flew over Amelia Island. A settlement called “Santa María” was established by Spain on the island in 1566. By the late 1500’s, the Spanish had built missions all over the island in an effort to convert the indigenous Timucua people to Christianity and to establish Spanish control over the region. For nearly two-hundred years, this was a formative time for Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island, shaping the history, culture, and identity as a Spanish colonial outpost in the New World.

After the Treaty of Paris, Britain gained control of Florida from Spain, and held the territory for 20 years, from 1763 to 1783. In the late 18th century, the British brought people from the Spanish island of Minorca to NE Florida. Many of these families settled in St. Augustine and Fernandina, where they played a prominent role in the community. The Minorcans brought with them their own culture, language, and culinary traditions, which would have influenced the local cuisine in Fernandina.

Since Fernandina has roots in Mexico and Spain, this week we are featuring seafood ceviche and salsa, items you could find 200 years ago, as well as items you can find today at the King of all Guacamole booth in our small, coastal town. Ceviche is made from onions, peppers and herbs, mixed with fresh local seafood that is cured in citrus juices. Salsa is made from tomatoes, onions, and peppers, with other fruits and vegetables, and plenty of fresh herbs and seasonings.

When the Spanish regained control of Florida, in the late 18th century, they established a new town which they named “Fernandina” in honor of King Ferdinand VII of Spain. It was during this second occupation that Fernandina became a strategic port used for trade between Spain and its colonies in the Americas. Textiles, wine, olive oil, and manufactured goods were imported, while products like tobacco, sugar, and cotton were exported. Fernandina’s naturally deep-water port, and quick access to the Atlantic Ocean, made it a valuable port for naval operations and well as a resupply point for Spanish ships. The U.S. Embargo Act of 1807, made Fernandina – which was still Spain – popular for smuggling and piracy, and it became a significant concern in the region. Patrols and raids were conducted to protect Spanish shipping interests in the area. Combating piracy was a key focus of the Spanish military efforts during this time.

Control of this strategic location created a lot of political turmoil between 1812 and 1821. One incident may have resulted in a very important culinary introduction for Fernandina Beach. A gentleman named Jared Irwin, who served twice as Georgia’s Governor, partnered with a man named Ruggles Hubbard, a New York City sheriff. The two joined forces with the French pirate, Luis Aury. After much discussion, Aury, on behalf of the Republic of Mexico, laid claim to the island. The flag of the Revolutionary Republic of Mexico was raised, dubiously annexing Amelia Island to Mexico on September 21, 1817.  Thus, potentially, bringing the addition of guacamole to the local cuisine. A Mexican avocado dish that dates back to the time of the Aztecs. Another delicious item you will find at the King of All Guacamole booth, and perhaps would have enjoyed should you have been a resident of an 1825 Fernandina.

Our Latin influence and Spanish heritage can still be seen locally today, and we are thrilled Fernandina has roots in Mexico and Spain. Perhaps, one of the most significant reminders is Old Town. Old Town Fernandina was the last town platted under the Laws of the Indies in the Western Hemisphere. The 1542 document describes where to build a new settlement, how the town should be laid out, where to put the church, the homes, and the cemetery. When the Spanish built the original Fernandina, now Old Town, it was intended to provide protection from the expansion of the United States.