Saturday, April 28, 2012

Don Juan McQueen…at last!

One of the most frequent questions of our visitors is about John McQueen, aka don Juan McQueen. He was one of our many colorful 18th and 19th century St Augustine residents and appears in Eugenia Price’s books on St Augustine, Maria, and, of course, Don Juan McQueen.

He spent much of his life in South Carolina and Georgia, where he was a land speculator, ship owner and captain…and Revolutionary War patriot, who had business connections with France and carried letters from Washington to Lafayette to enlist the aid of the French in the American Revolution. 


After the war, he seems to have owned much of coastal South Carolina and Georgia, including places like Sapelow Island, but unfortunately his land deals went bad and he had to flee the new United States to avoid debtor’s prison…and ended up in Spanish Florida, specifically, in St Augustine. Here his career flourished and he became an important local citizen, the friend of people ranging from Fr. Miguel O’Reilly, first pastor of what is now the Cathedral, to the Spanish governor at the time (and don Juan conveniently arranged to live nearby, so that he could profit from any spare land grants that might be available!). 

He was in the process of building a house a few miles north of St Augustine, to which he wished to bring his wife and children after long years of separation, but he died suddenly of a fever.  His body was brought to St Augustine and he was buried at Tolomato Cemetery in 1805. A few years later, he was followed by his friend, Fr. Miguel O’Reilly, who died in 1812.


But while Fr. Miguel O’Reilly had a vault, John McQueen had no marker, or at any rate, if he had had one originally, it had disappeared long ago.  So while we knew that he was buried at Tolomato, there was nothing to show people.

But the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) changed all that. Today they installed a very beautiful marker for him…right next to the vault of his old friend, Fr. Miguel O’Reilly, incidentally…and suddenly made our history visible!


A group of about 80 people assembled, many of them from St Augustine and including people such as George Gardner and St John’s County Commissioner Cindy Stevenson, and of course DAR officers and members from the area and beyond.  It was a particular honor because this is the first DAR patriot’s marker in St John’s County.

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The current Chapter Regent, Lynne Cason, started with a few words and Father Ed Booth from the Cathedral did the invocation.  Former Regent Virginia Hassenflu told John McQueen’s never-dull story. Then, after a dignified ceremony, enhanced with an ROTC color guard (top photo), the marker was unveiled.  Above, Lynne Cason, Shirley Thompson and Fr. Ed Booth, who blessed the marker.

And here it is:


But just for you blog readers, here is the scene a couple of weeks before, while Lynne’s husband and other men from the Garrison were installing it:



A beautiful job, a wonderful addition to both Tolomato and St Augustine…and, as Virginia Hassenflu said, we can just look at it and imagine the shades of don Juan McQueen and Fr Miguel O’Reilly playing checkers together on a warm evening…

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

And another thing we did…

Easter travels have prevented me from staying up to date here, but now that I’m back, I wanted to post a few more photos from our last Preservation Work Day.

In addition to our foray into masonry, we did a lot of headstone and vault cleaning. We had bought a lifetime supply of D2 from Cathedral Stone Products (thank you, Cathedral Stone, for your fast, helpful service!) and we were ready to use it!


We had some “old” volunteers, and Matt Armstrong directed them and showed the newbies how to clean markers.  Below, you see them preparing to clean a ledger stone.


Our big project was the vault of Fr. Miguel O’Reilly, the first pastor of the Cathedral. He died and was buried at Tolomato in 1812, but the current ledger stone on his vault was placed in the 1870s by “some of the old parishioners,” who remembered his hard work, intelligence and zeal. We think that the original 1812 top, which wasn’t really a stone but looked more like a stuccoed peaked roof, was possibly destroyed by a falling tree or collapsed from its own weight and needed restoration around that time.


In the last few years, the stone had gotten very dark and was almost illegible, as you can see above.  But our careful cleaning – which will look even better after the sun has bleached the lichen stains – has revealed it again.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Masonry Preservation at Tolomato Cemetery


We had a great preservation work day at Tolomato this weekend (March 31).  Matt Armstrong had gotten a number of people from his Flagler College contacts and Sarah Miller of FPAN put the information out on her list. Of course, the TCPA had also notified members and people who had signed up to receive notifications.

We had a lovely cool morning and all the tools and D2 (a cleaning solution) we needed. BTW, many thanks to the great people at Cathedral Stone Products, which expedited our last-minute order.

Life was good and it got even better when John Beaty arrived from Gainesville. John is a specialist in historic masonry, currently completing his doctorate in the subject, and is also a really great person for working with volunteers.  That means: honest, dedicated, organized, clear and not condescending. 


Our original objective was to clean markers and we did. But that will be another post.

However, the really interesting thing was that we got to repoint the bricks in the Andreu vault, which is beginning to show some ominous signs of collapse.   Below is John inspecting the vault.  Notice the exposed brick and non-existent mortar at the lower right.


And here we are, diligently digging out the debris, removing the plant material, vacuuming and cleaning…and filling in all those ugly cracks. 


The mortar is historically accurate. It is hydrated lime from Virginia Limeworks, combined with native sand and some purchased earth colorings.


Everybody worked like mad.  Here we see John pointing out some details to Percy de la Cruz.


And then suddenly the heavens opened and lightning started shooting down everywhere.

So we covered the vault with a tarp and ran for the protection of the Varela Chapel…and I’ll tell you the rest of the story later. (Spoiler:  I saw the Andreu vault this morning and when we removed the tarp - it looked great!)