In 1777 a group of survivors from the failed New Smyrna colony arrived in St. Augustine. At the time, Florida was under British rule, but the majority of these survivors were Catholics of Minorcan ancestry with some Greek Orthodox also in the mix. Known collectively as the Minorcans, these people had their own priest who moved their parish from the Smyrna colony to their new home in St. Augustine.
The northern part of the town near the Castillo de San Marcos was largely uninhabited since the time the British took over the Florida territory from Spain. It was this part of the town that the Minorcans settled and began building a new life. During the first Spanish period, a Guale Indian village and Franciscan mission called Tolomato was located just outside of the town’s defenses next to this new Minorcan Quarter. When the British came, the Indians evacuated to Cuba along with the Spanish residents of St. Augustine. Father Camps, the Catholic priest who had served the Minorcans throughout their New Smyrna ordeal, petitioned the British governor to use the mission burial ground at Tolomato as a graveyard for this new Catholic parish in the middle of Anglican St. Augustine. His petition was granted.
Florida was returned to Spanish control at the end of the American Revolution in 1783. Although most of the British left the colony, the Minorcans chose to stay. Their make-shift parish church was soon replaced with a proper cathedral facing the town’s plaza as more priests arrived to minister to the growing colony. Tolomato Cemetery continued to support the community. Florida would change hands several more times – becoming a U.S. territory in 1821, a state in 1843, a part of the Confederacy in 1861 and finally a return to statehood. By the early 1880s, St. Augustine had grown substantially and Tolomato Cemetery was now surrounded by residences. In 1884, bowing to pressure from local citizens, the city passed a resolution closing both Tolomato and the Public Burying Ground (Huguenot Cemetery) located just a few blocks away.
Although officially closed, two more burials would take place here. Catalina Usina Llambias died in 1886 and her son granted her deathbed wish to be buried at Tolomato. In 1892, Robert Sabate was buried next to Mattie and Marcella Sabate. In both cases, family members were fined $25.00 for these illegal burials.
The mortuary chapel at the back of the cemetery was built to contain the remains of Father Varella, a hero of Cuban independence, who died here in 1854. His remains were later removed to Cuba. Father Camps died in 1790 and was buried here. Ten years later his remains were re-interred at the newly-built cathedral.
- Griffin, P. C. (1991). Mullet on the beach The Minorcans of Florida, 1768-1788. St. Augustine, Fla: St. Augustine Historical Society.
- Quinn, J. (1975). Minorcans in Florida: Their history and heritage. St. Augustine: Mission Press.
- Buker, G. E., & Waterbury, J. P. (1983). The Oldest city: St. Augustine, saga of survival. St. Augustine, Fla: St. Augustine Historical Society.
- Harvey, K. (1992). America’s First City: St. Augustine’s Historic Neighborhoods. Lake Buena Vista, FL: Tailored Tours Publications.
This article has been reposted from The Graveyard Rabbit of Moultrie Creek by permission of the author.