Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Family Reunion at Tolomato Cemetery

Tolomato Cemetery was open to the public on the 3rd Saturday, and as usual, we sat at the gate ready to answer questions from our visitors. A family came in and asked about an ancestor, Francisco Xavier Sanchez, a First Spanish Period resident who is buried at Tolomato.  Immediately behind them, another family arrived, still wearing the tourist trolley stickers, also inquiring about Francisco Xavier Sanchez, who died in 1807 at the age of 71. We showed both of the families the burial record – although the exact location of his grave at Tolomato is no longer known - and then witnessed one of the most surprising family reunions we have ever seen.

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It turned out that both families were related to Francisco Xavier Sanchez, but while one family was directly descended from him, the other was descended from his brother,  Jose Sanchez de Ortega. The two families did not know each other and in fact neither one of them knew of the existence of the other.  But suddenly they found their long lost cousins right there at the gate of Tolomato Cemetery.

The slightly complicated story is that the two brothers were born and baptized in St Augustine during the First Spanish Period, but their paths in life took them to completely different places. When the British arrived in 1763 to take possession of St Augustine as a result of the settlement of the French and Indian War, most of the Spanish citizens left and went to Cuba. Eight Spanish citizens remained behind, mostly for the purpose of settling property transactions and handling the transition,  and Francisco Xavier Sanchez was one of them. However, Jose Sanchez de Ortega went to Cuba with the rest of the Spanish, Indian and black population of St Augustine.

Of the families at the gate of Tolomato, the first man who had inquired, Earl Sanchez, was the descendant of Francis Xavier Sanchez.  The second man, Alfredo Sanchez, was from Cuba (he had arrived here as a refugee after Castro’s takeover and lives in South Florida) and was the descendant of  Jose Sanchez de Ortega, most of the rest of whose descendants still live in Cuba.

Sanchez Family

And here they were, more than 200 years later, purely by coincidence meeting at the gate of the cemetery where their common relative, Francis Xavier Sanchez, has rested for these 2 centuries.  In the photo above, they are standing at the vault of the James S. Sanchez family (a descendant of Francisco Xavier Sanchez), where they all said a prayer for their departed family members. Goosebumps all around!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Venturing at Tolomato

Yesterday was our monthly open-to-visitors day at Tolomato, and in addition to more than 200 other visitors, we had some 80 Venture Scouts visit Tolomato as part of an orienteering or geocaching excursion to St Augustine.  Venturing is a program for young people who have “aged out” of Scouting, which only goes through age 14, but want to continue with the wonderful activities and fellowship of Scouting.  Most of the members of the groups who passed through seemed to be between 16 and 21, and included some foreign exchange students, as well as people from all over Florida and Georgia.

Groups were given the coordinates of different locations in St Augustine and had to find them with a GPS device and then find some item or place within the location and have their photo taken next to it. In our case, they had to find the vault of Elizabeth Forrester, which is the oldest extant vault in the cemetery.

Some of them found it right away, some of them explored the entire cemetery before finding it, but they all found it and had their photos taken next to it – wearing the colored bandannas that identified their particular group.  Elizabeth Forrester, who died at the age of 16, would probably have been happy to know that this youthful company would visit her so many centuries later.

In this photo, one of the groups says a little prayer for Elizabeth Forrester.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Another Tolomato sighting…in color this time!

A couple of weeks ago, we published a photo found by John Garofalo. It was an old black and white photo that someone who works for the parish had come across in a used book store somewhere up north…and of course, it had no date or any other information.

Matt Armstrong was browsing among the postcards at the Jacksonville Public Library’s on-line postcard collection and, lo and behold, the same photo turned up - in color this time. It makes a lovely postcard!


The date given for the postcard, which is clearly a colorized version of the photo we saw earlier, is 1908. Of course, that means the date that the post card was done. Since it was the custom in those pre-copyright days to buy up large quantities of photos and publish them without attribution, we’re still not much closer to finding out when the original was done or by whom. But at least it’s a pretty postcard, even though it appears to have the Varela Chapel confused with the Mission Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche.  Oh well, they’re both picturesque. 

Look at all the trees and vegetation and Tolomato had at that time, not to mention the wooden grave enclosures that were still standing at that unknown date. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Quaker Cemetery in Charleston

I passed by this interesting site on my trek from a parking garage to the downtown district on a visit to Charleston yesterday. The photo you see below seems to show just the wall and fence of the parking garage, which is on King St. in Charleston, SC. But if you read the sign, you’ll discover that this was actually a very old Quaker cemetery, moved elsewhere in the 1960s. The fence itself was put up in the mid-19th century, and it was left behind to mark the spot when the parking garage was built.

Quaker Cem2

The sign in the middle tells the story of the cemetery, and it also tells us about some of the very interesting people buried at the cemetery. One of them is Mary Fisher Bayley Crosse, who went from England to the Ottoman Empire in 1660 and was known as “she who sp0ke to the Great Turk.” Like St Francis in his visit to the Sultan several centuries earlier, she was attempting to convince him that the way of peace would be preferable to that of conquest. But her luck seems to have been about the same as that of St Francis, who was allowed safe passage back but seems to have made little or no impression. And somehow, after all this, her final resting place ended up being Charleston, South Carolina.


Below is the place where the long-gone Quakers are currently buried. The site is part of the modern Courthouse complex, which is built on the site of the 18th century courthouse.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Like Tolomato!

Thanks to the labors of Matt Armstrong, Tolomato Cemetery now has a Facebook fan page … and we want you to go look at it and like it right now!  Our page is Historic Tolomato Cemetery.  Go, like us, and friend us.

Matt has been very busy on the Facebook page and just posted a gallery of the great photos taken by Mary Homick. He has also put up some photos of the great things he has been working on. One of the best is this model he has recently created as part of a larger project.  It is based on wide-angle photographs that Matt arranged to have taken a few months ago and will be part of a more interactive web page in the future. But in the meantime, enjoy this most charming and elegant interpretation of Tolomato.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Mission Evening

Here’s a tranquil shot of the Mission grounds one recent evening.  You can see some of the many gravestones in the background.


There are a number of headstones there and probably even more burials that are no longer marked.  The site, of course, was not always a cemetery, but was the area where Menendez landed and where the first chapel was built.

After Florida became part of the US, the government seized certain Church properties, declaring that they had been owned by the Spanish Crown and were thus to be handed over to the US.  Lawsuits followed and eventually some of the properties were returned to the Church, but the Mission passed into private hands and was used by a local farmer for grazing his cattle.  Seeing the ruins of an old chapel that stood on the spot, the farmer decided to return the property to the Church and sold it to the diocese for $1.00.

It was the site of several restored chapels after that time, and entered into use as a sort of “overflow” cemetery in the late 19th century.  Looking at the gravestones, I was a little puzzled, however, since it is commonly thought that all burials at Tolomato, the Huguenot Cemetery, and the Mission ceased in 1884 at the orders of the City of St Augustine.  While we know that the first two cemeteries had an occasional burial after this time, most of the markers at the Mission appeared to date from about 1885 through the early 1890s.  So obviously, post-1884 burials must have been permitted at this site.

A mystery. I will have to find out more about this.  Anybody have any ideas?