When the Diocese of St. Augustine was established in 1870, Tolomato Cemetery was serving the local Catholic community. The City of St. Augustine ordered Tolomato and the public burying ground (Huguenot) closed in 1884. Catholic burials were then held at the Mission of Nombre de Dios. Because its location on the water was not ideal for a permanent cemetery, the diocese continued to look for a more appropriate cemetery location.
Also at this time St. Augustine was enjoying a boom in tourism thanks to Henry Flagler’s railroad and elegant hotels. City fathers wanted the new cemeteries away from the primary tourist areas. Evergreen Cemetery, the new public graveyard, was located across the San Sebastian River in what was then called New Augustine (now West Augustine). The diocese also chose a spot west of town, but further to the south. San Lorenzo Cemetery opened in 1892 and is the oldest cemetery still operated by the Diocese. It continues to accept burials today.
A mortuary chapel was built in 1924. It is often called the Bishops House because Archbishop Josephy Hurley and Bishops John Moore, William Kenny and Patrick Barry are interred there. Surrounding the chapel are the graves of nuns from the Sisters of St. Joseph and priests who have served the diocese. Note that the statues you see on either side of the steps have been removed to the museum at the Mission of Nombre de Dios.
The cemetery is operated by the diocesan Office of Catholic Cemeteries and is located between U.S. 1 and Old Moultrie Road just south of the intersection of U.S. 1 and Old Dixie Highway.
Inventory of Huguenot Cemetery (also known as the Old Public Burying Ground) in St. Augustine, Florida taken in 1892 and transcribed from multiple volumes of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register (1893 – 1896).
In 1821 control of Florida changed yet again – this time the Spanish flag was replaced with the American flag as Florida became a United States territory. How this came about is a story in itself, but that’s not what we’re discussing today. Instead, we are here to discuss the history of the Huguenot Cemetery located just outside the city walls in St. Augustine. Although there was a transfer of government in early July of 1821, not much else changed right away. St. Augustine was still a very Spanish and very Catholic town. While Americans had been migrating to Florida during the years of negotiations, there were no civil systems to support them. Land ownership issues had not yet been addressed and the only religious institution – and cemetery – in town belonged to the Catholic Church. When a yellow fever epidemic hit in September, no one was prepared.
During Spanish rule, Protestants had been buried on Anastasia Island. This was no longer suitable. A committee was appointed to find a suitable location for a Protestant burial ground. They selected a location just outside the city gate in an area that in earlier days served as a cleared no-mans land just outside the towns defensive walls. It was assumed that because of its original purpose, it was owned by the Spanish crown therefore was now government land. The city council agreed and plans went forward to quickly turn this land into a burial ground to handle the growing number of epidemic victims.
Unconfirmed stories described fever victims buried in mass graves. This is quite possibly true based on confirmed stories of the large number of deaths. Rev. Andrew Fowler, an Episcopalian minister from Charleston, spent most of October and November in St. Augustine ministering to the sick and dying. He reported conducting 95 funerals during that period.
Four years later, the commission established to handle disputes over land ownership was presented a claim by Lorenzo Capella that he had title of the land being used for the graveyard. Before the commission could rule on the claim, Capella sold the property. It took another seven years of negotiations and resolutions to finalize ownership with the Presbyterian Church.
The graveyard remained open for burials until 1884. Local residents began petitioning the city council to close both the Protestant and the Catholic graveyard located nearby, complaining about possible health issues resulting from the cemeteries being located so close to residential areas. A resolution passed to close the cemeteries with the last burial on August 13th.
Throughout its time of active burials, no known Huguenot was ever buried in this graveyard. However, it is possible there is a grave belonging to a parishioner of the Huguenot Church in Charleston, South Carolina. To the local population it was known as the Public Burying Ground, the Protestant Ground and the Old Protestant Graveyard. It appears that the name Huguenot Cemetery was more a result of the increase in tourism in the 1870s. One can see references to the Huguenot Cemetery in various travel articles and books about the area, but Florence Mitchell, in her history of the cemetery, states:
Legal documents, throughout the cemtery’s history, have prefaced the name of the cemetery with the expression, “known as,” whether describing the Protestant or Huguenot Cemetery. It seems that no one ever bestowed a formal name on the cemetery.
After the graveyard was closed it began a long period of neglect. Several short-lived projects made attempts to clean and repair the site but it wasn’t until 1979 that a project began which worked to restore and protect this historical site. Today the Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery, Inc. provide the oversight to insure the graveyard receives the care it deserves. To learn more about the Friends, contact the Memorial Presbyterian Church office, 36 Sevilla Street, St. Augustine, FL 32084.
Mitchell, Florince S. Sacred to the Memory: A History of the Huguenot Cemetery, 1821-1884 St. Augustine, Florida. 1998, St. Augustine: Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery, Inc.
Harvey, Karen. America’s First City, St. Augustine’s Historic Neighborhoods – Second Edition. 1997, Lake Buena Vista: Tailored Tours Publications, Inc.
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.