Presented by Dr. Eugene Emory
Several unique historical features characterize Franklin Town from what had been mostly Spanish territory under the Harrison family’s ownership to an area consumed by what is now a world renowned vacation resort. Franklin Town does not appear to have been the subject of any collection of formal writings or books, even though there are several volumes devoted to Amelia Island, Fernandina and American Beach. One might rightly ask, is there a story to be told? Second, and perhaps more valuable as a living legacy, is that Franklin Town existed as a distinct community until around 1972 when the Sea Pines Corporation purchased the last remaining acres held by the descendants of the Harrison and Franklin Town family clans. Thus, the fabric of life in the hamlet originally known as “Harrison Plantation” and later as “Franklin Town”, aside from chattel slavery, changed very little from 1790 until 1972! Several of Franklin Town’s residents are with us today, one of whom will be a presenter in this symposium. Several others who are now in their eighth or ninth decade, and some older, live at American Beach, Stewartville, Fernandina and Jacksonville.
Minnie Hamilton Mallinson who is a direct descendent of the Harrison Family, started coming to Franklin Town 87 years ago as a three year old, honeymooned on the Harrison Homestead close to Franklin Town 70 years ago and has vivid memories of talking with former residents of Franklin Town who had lived as slaves on the Harrison Plantation. “Sandy” as she is affectionately known, is still alive and well, having also consented to be interviewed as part of this symposium. Her daughter, Mary Long, is the owner of the Harrison Family Cemetery, the final resting place of the plantation owners and their families, will speak today.
George Green, a current resident of American Beach and direct descendant of one of the family clans that lived in the Harrison Plantation/Franklin Town settlement for more than 150 years will also speak today. He is the caretaker of the Franklin Town Cemetery, the final resting place of many descendants of the workers on the Harrison Plantation. The two cemeteries, in close physical proximity to each other give hints of the social bonds yet cultural divide that characterized the “peculiar institution”. They tell their own stories of life and death, deeds and misdeeds intertwined in ways known and unknown.
As if life on the southern end of Amelia Island was not enigmatic enough, we are humbled by the recent discovery of burial records of over 1000 Amelia Island residents who died between1896-1916; the majority of whom were of African descent. Teen Peterson and Lauri DeGaris will lead us through these records as they reveal the “epidemiology” of African American life on Amelia Island from slavery to freedom.
The presentations, while focusing on the untold history of the Harrison Plantation/Franklin Town Settlement and families, will provide a broader context for understanding the social evolution of this area, its linkages to the Afro-Cuban Diaspora, the important role of recently discovered burial records in shedding light on longevity, health and disease during a period in which the southern end of Amelia Island was literally “a land apart” from Fernandina proper. Preserving and communicating Amelia Island’s southern history through fund raising efforts, forums such as the Timucuan Science and History Symposium, cooperatives agreements with the American Beach Museum and the National Park Service and eventually interpretive tours of important landmarks is the goal of Franklin Town.org.
The Search for Franklin Town; 1790-1972
To our knowledge, the first formal presentation of the history of Franklin Town was presented at the 2015 Timucuan Science and History Symposium. The search for Franklin Town is an ongoing project designed to document and interpret life on the southern end of Amelia Island during a period of land development, social upheaval, political conflicts and chattel slavery involving Africa, Spain, Great Britain, France, the United States and indigenous Native Americans. A host of others, described by some historians as marauders and carpetbaggers also laid claim to the island named Amelia. A focal point of our search revolves around the untold story of the Harrison Plantation and its descendants, especially those who settled in close proximity to Amelia Island. An admixture of land grants to English and Spanish subjects along with full scale wars and periodic skirmishes preceded permanent U.S. control of Amelia Island under the Treaty of Paris in 1821. An important subtext to this history is the central role of slavery as practiced by Spain, Great Britain and primarily the Confederate States of America which, after much bloodshed, led eventually to the founding of Franklin Town by the previously enslaved descendants of the Harrison Plantation. American Beach, whose social ancestry originates with Franklin Town and entrepreneur A.L. Lewis, is arguably the last remaining predominately African American oceanfront settlement in the U.S. where once several intact communities thrived along the Atlantic seaboard from Maryland throughout the confederacy to Spanish Florida.