The earliest date on a gravestone in St. Augustine belongs to Elizabeth Forrester. Elizabeth was born in 1732 and died on December 20, 1798. She is buried in Tolomato Cemetery.
In 1798, St. Augustine was more than 230 years old. We Rabbits already know there are a large number of dead heretics buried in the dunes at Matanzas Inlet, but what about the deceased residents of this settlement over the years?
It’s quite likely that the Tolomato Cemetery site contains graves from the first Spanish period (ending 1763) when the location was an Indian mission. Several other sites have been identified as burial locations including the current headquarters of the Florida National Guard at St. Francis Barracks. Prior to the arrival of the British in 1763, this location was a Franciscan monastery/convent and mission. Recent excavations on the property have found remains of a non-European individual. Other cemetery locations include Nuestra Senora de la Soledad located on what is now part of the convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Parish of St. Augustine cemetery located off Aviles Street.
How did these cemeteries become “lost”? The settlement endured several large fires in its early history. First Drake then Moore burned the town during their attacks and Oglethorpe later bombarded the town for six months. Another factor could be the lack of stone available to mark the graves. The only stone found in this area is a shell-rock called coquina which really isn’t suitable for gravestones. Even if fires didn’t get them, graves marked with wooden markers would soon be lost to the climate and termites. Even 19th century graves in the Huguenot Cemetery can no longer be identified because their wooden markers have rotted away.
Although the graves may be lost, their souls are not. The St. Augustine Historical Society has translations of early church records going back to 1594, along with many other historical documents covering the many periods of St. Augustine’s history.
- Buker, George E., and Jean Parker Waterbury. The Oldest City: St. Augustine, Saga of Survival. St. Augustine, Fla: St. Augustine Historical Society, 1983.
- Thompson, Sharon and Marsha Chance, A Survey of Forty-Six Historical Cemeteries in St. Johns County, Florida. Jacksonville, FL: Environmental Services, Inc., 2004.
- Wittemann, A. St. Augustine. Thomas and Georgine Mickler collection. Brooklyn, N.Y.: A. Wittemann, 1904. <http://purl.fcla.edu/fcla/tc/fhp/CF00001677.pdf>. (photo of Huguenot Cemetery)