Historic Markers Across Florida

Old Fernandina/Shipwreck, Slavery and Survival

Marker ID:  
Location: Fernandina Plaza Historic State Park in old Fernandina, FL
County: Nassau
Coordinates: N 30° 41.320    W 081° 27.414
  30.68866666    -81.4569
Style: Interpretative Sign **
Waymark: WMPZ1B


Old Fernandina
In 1811, the town of Fernandina was platted according to the Spanish Law of the Indies, which prescribed how the site for a Spanish settlement should be selected, and how the town should be laid out in classical grid form. This law also stated that there must be a means of fortification to protect the town and a centrally located plaza for use by all residents. You are standing on the site of the historic plaza grounds that once laid in front of the Spanish Fort San Carlos.

Part of the armament of Fort San Carlos included cannons like the one before you. These iron, 6-pound cannons were used by the Spanish, English and French. At just over 6 feet long and weighing in at over 1200 pounds, it had the ability to fire 6-pound solid ball or 6-pound exploding shell at a range of 1600 yards using a 1.5 pound cannon powder charge. This distance is well within the range of McClure's Hill to the southeast, which cannons like this fired upon the Battle of Amelia in 1817. They were also used to protect the harbor and inlet from invaders.

The cannon required a gun crew of six men and could be loaded in 3.5-4 minutes. This particular type of cannon was in service from the mid-1700's to the 1830's It was mounted on a four wheel truck carriage, also known as a garrison carriage and was in use at Fort San Carlos from 1817 to 1821. This authentic cannon was found in the marsh and donated to the Florida Park Service.

The Saga of the Slave Ship Guerrero
A nearly two year ordeal for 100 enslaved Africans in Florida ended when they departed from Fernandina in 1829 and relocated to a settlement for freed slaves called New Georgia, in Liberia, Africa.

The Spanish slave ship Guerrero, carrying 561 enslaved Africans to plantations in Cuba, hit a coral reef off Key Largo on December 19, 1827. The 520 survivors were rescued. While 398 were sold as slaves in Cuba by the smugglers, approximately 120 made it safely Key West on another ship.

The slaves were taken to St. Augustine from Key West in February, 1828, where they were held at Fort Marion (Castillo de San Marcos National Park). Eighty nine of the Africans who could work were hired out to plantation owners; 32 to Zephaniah Kingsley (Kingsley Plantation National Park) and 20 to Joseph Hernandez (Washington Oaks Gardens State Park), among others.

Finally, in 1829, the U.S. Government decided to bring together the remaining 100 slaves and take them to Fernandina. Here, they were housed at the site of Fort San Carlos (Fernandina Plaza Historic State Park) until their departure for Liberia on the ship, Washington's Barge, September 30, 1829.

Although slavery was legal in the United States, importation of slaves had been prohibited by the U.S. Constitution since 1808. But, because slaves from the Guerrero were shipwrecked, they were considered cargo, not people. The U.S. government, including President John Quincy Adams and Congress, were involved in the political dilemma. The United States formed New Georgia to serve as a free settlement for slaves shipwrecked or captured from slave smuggling ships.