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A Civil War Orphanage

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By Joshua Whitfield Somewhere between 11th and 12th streets in the woods behind the Nassau School Board, there once stood a beautiful three-story mansion surrounded by a grove of citrus trees. The house was built in the 1850s for an Irish immigrant named Joseph Finegan, who had made a name for himself in Jacksonville as a lumber mill operator, a lawyer, and as one of David Yulee’s partners in the Florida Railroad. By the time his mansion was completed, Finegan had established himself as a significant property owner and slaveholder in Fernandina

However, Finegan would not be able to enjoy his home. In 1861 he and a number of delegates to the Florida Secession Convention voted to secede from the United States, which made Florida the third state to secede following South Carolina and Mississippi. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Finegan joined the Confederate army and eventually attained the rank of Brigadier General.


When the United States reclaimed Fort Clinch in 1862, Amelia Islan…