Tucked away towards the back of DNW’s recent coin and medal catalog was a noteworthy historic piece with strong U.S. connections: a Green Cross of Florida, Amalia Island Medal of 1817 in copper (BHM 957; E 1093; MH 806a; Rulau 10).
This scarce 33 mm medal bears a plain Greek Cross enclosed in a wreath and the legend DUCE MAC GREGORIO LIBERTAS FLORIDARUM [Liberty for the Floridas under the leadership of MacGregor].
The reverse shows the date 29 JUNII 1817 within a wreath surrounded by AMALIA VENI VIDI VICI [Amalia, I Came, I Saw, I Conquered].
The piece was struck and issued by one of the more colorful characters to bestride South & Central America in the early 19th century: General Gregor MacGregor, Scottish soldier, adventurer, and con artist.
The late 18th and early 19th century saw numerous efforts by different nations and groups to wrest Florida from the Spanish. One such attempt was undertaken in 1817 by MacGregor, an ex-British Army officer who had fought alongside Simon Bolivar in Venezuela.
As part of ongoing personal crusade against Spain, he set out to capture at least one port in Florida, if not the entire country.
In the United States, he raised some $160,000 and recruited a band of 200-odd mercenaries. In June 1817, he headed to Amalia [Amelia] Island with a group of 55. On June 29, they surprised the Spanish garrison at San Fernandina, whose commander overestimated the number of attackers and surrendered without a shot being fired.
MacGregor celebrated by raising a flag bearing the “Green Cross of Florida” on a white field. The following day, he issued a proclamation urging the island’s inhabitants to support him. This was ignored, as was a second proclamation.
Apart from the populace’s lack of enthusiasm for his conquest, MacGregor had a couple of other problems. He lacked money and reinforcements. When a Spanish reprisal loomed on the mainland, he abandoned his plans to conquer all of Florida.
On Sept. 4, he left Fernandina with most of his officers. A small detachment of men remained who successfully repelled two Spanish attempts to recapture the island.
On arrival at Nassau, MacGregor arranged to have medallions struck commemorating his Amalia triumph. These may have been produced in England but more likely Paris. It is one of these that was offered by DNW.
Carling Gresham’s 1992 booklet, “General Gregor MacGregor and the 1817 Amelia Island Medal” (self-published, Pomona Park, Florida, 27 pp, 1992), records 11 known specimens of the medal. The DNW catalog notes that the likely number is “probably close to 20.”
That sold by DNW came graded EF “with some original colour [sic].” At the end of the day, it took a handsome $4,986, or three times upper estimate.
In case any reader is a little short on their Floridian history, Spain did not get Amalia Island back. The island remained in the hands of the mercenaries for a further three months before surrendering to U.S. forces, who then held the island “in trust for Spain” until the Florida Purchase of 1819.
For those wanting more information, a copy of Gresham’s scarce booklet was available on Amazon when I last looked.
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