Amelia Island is steeped in maritime and pirate history. To help tell the salty tales of the past, the Maritime Museum in Amelia Island has its doors open to the public.
The museum is only two dimly lit corridors, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in the astonishing amount of artifacts packed inside its halls.
Noël, one of the museum curators, was standing guard at the entrance to the museum.
“I used to be a police officer up north,” she says. “But I turned it all in for a pirate’s life down here in Amelia Island.”
Noël was kind enough to show us around the museum, giving us notes and anecdotes along the way. If you’re more of a self-guided museum-goer, you can always move at your own pace–but we definitely recommend Noël’s upbeat and passionate narration.
Among the most impressive artifacts on display at the Maritime Museum is the gigantic 40-carat Brazilian emerald. The emerald was found by chance inside of a conch shell off the coast of Key West, Florida. The Santa Margarita, the shipwreck on which the emerald was discovered, was a 17th-century Spanish galleon. Noël has some theories about the emerald being hidden inside a conch shell.
“Everything on the ship’s manifest was taxed by the monarchy,” she says. “I can never prove it, but it seems to me that someone was hiding this emerald in a conch to avoid paying taxes on it.”
If you’re looking for perfectly round and smooth coins on display, Noël is quick to clear up any misconceptions about Spanish coins.
“Some people think you just pull these perfectly rounded and smooth coins out of the bottom of the ocean,” she says. “The stamp was the most important part. The coins didn’t have to be rounded off. That’s why you see so many uneven edges on all of these.”
And Noël talked about the dangers of offshore diving in the area, giving us a whole new perspective on just how special the artifacts are.
“We’re diving completely blind,” she says. “You’re just feeling around in total darkness for stuff that feels out of the ordinary. Not to mention, the waters around here are completely loaded with sharks.”
The museum also plays host to a wide selection of weapons, uniforms and instruments from all of the major American wars.
Come in and see what history is lingering below the surface at the Maritime Museum.