The Huguenot Cemetery
The Huguenot Cemetery was established soon after Florida became a U. S. territory. The cemetery, located just outside St. Augustine’s north gate, was first used for the interment of victims of the 1821 yellow fever epidemic and then for the burial of members of city’s Protestant population. The cemetery property was acquired by the Rev. Thomas Alexander and then sold to the Presbyterian Church in 1832. By the late 19th century, over-crowding of graves, and the resulting concerns for sanitation and public health, required that the small public and religious burying grounds in St. Augustine be closed. New cemeteries, such as San Lorenzo and Evergreen, were subsequently opened to parishioners and the public.
The Huguenot Cemetery is significant because it was the first cemetery in St. Augustine dedicated for Anglo-American civilians. The burial traditions and funerary materials expressed at Huguenot, compared with the nearby Tolomato Cemetery (established by the Catholic Church in 1777), demonstrate both the differences and commonalties in funerary practices and religious attitudes of two distinct groups residing in 19th century St. Augustine. The grave markers at Huguenot Cemetery display a range of funerary art popular in the 19th century, including false box tombs with inscribed ledgers and finely carved headstones by highly skilled stone carvers in vogue during the 1820s-40s, and the more elaborate monuments that were favored during the Victorian period. The work of several important stone carvers in the southeastern United States has been identified at the cemetery, including Thomas Walker and members of the White family who had shops in Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia.
The Concerns: The Presbyterian Church has owned the Huguenot Cemetery since 1832. After the cemetery was closed to burials in 1884, the church continued maintenance of the grounds, and some efforts of restoration were made in 1946 and again in 1951. However, it eventually became necessary to keep the entrance gates locked and restrict visitation to the site. While the burial site was relatively secure from vandalism and theft, natural weathering and deterioration of the markers continued.
The Response: In 1989 the Cemetery Restoration Committee of Memorial Presbyterian Church was formed. It initiated a program to document the Huguenot Cemetery’s gravemarkers and research genealogical information about those who are buried there. In 1990, participants in the Preservation Institute: Caribbean made measured drawings of the more significant gravestones and box tombs at the cemetery. In 1991-92 the Restoration Committee was successful in obtaining a survey & planning grant from the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Division of Historical Resources to develop a master preservation plan for the cemetery. The Plan’s recommendations were adopted by the Committee and, as funds could be raised, work began on those funerary markers determined to have a high priority for restoration. The Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery was formed, and the organization published Sacred to the Memory: A History of the Huguenot Cemetery, 1821-1884, St. Augustine, Florida in 1998. The cemetery is located in a high-traffic area between the Visitors Information Center and the Old City Gate to St. Augustine’s historic St. George Street. To prevent the one-half acre site from being negatively impacted by large numbers of visitors, members of the Friends group give guided tours of the cemetery at specified times of the week. The resident and contact person for Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery is Charles Tingley, who can be reached at the St. Augustine Historical Society’s Research Library, 904-825-2333.
The Huguenot Cemetery in St. Augustine, Florida located across from the historic City Gate was a Protestant burial ground between the years 1821 and 1884. The Spanish colonial city of St. Augustine, along with the entire Florida Territory became defacto American possessions after the 1819 signing of the Adams-Onis Treaty. The actual physical occupation of the city and Florida territory occurred in 1821.
Prior to American occupation the Spanish city of St. Augustine was predominately Catholic and the only burial ground within the city, the Tolomato cemetery, was reserved for Catholics. Recognizing a need for a formal Protestant burial ground an area just outside the city gate was chosen by the new American administration in St. Augustine. The first burials occurred in 1821 just prior to a yellow fever epidemic which claimed the lives of a large numbers of the city’s inhabitants.
The cemetery until title to the cemetery property was acquired by the Rev. Thomas Alexander, who then turned over it to the Presbyterian Church in 1832, burials continued until 1884 when both Huguenot and Tolomato cemeteries were closed. The cemetery is believed to hold at least 436 burials according to city records. The cemetery although named “Huguenot Cemetery” isn’t believed to contain any members of the Huguenots, a French Protestant sect started in the 16th century in France.
Ghosts: The cemetery is reputed to be haunted by a variety of ghosts and is one of the stops on the city’s flourishing ghost tour industry along with the neighboring Tolomato Cemetery. One of the alleged ghosts is that of a specter named Elizabeth. According to the various themes of her origin, she has been described as the daughter of a Spanish era guard at the City Gate who would often visit him and greet people entering the city or she is the ghost of a thirteen or fourteen-year-old girl who died in the 1821 yellow fever epidemic either at the City Gate or was left at the entrance of the cemetery.