Sunday, December 1, 2019

Of Catafalques and Kings

In Spanish-heritage countries - and all Catholic rooted countries - November is the Month of the Dead. And it's over for this year, since today, Dec. 1, is the First Sunday of we  must honor November. It begins with the Feast of All Saints, November 1. Our Halloween, Oct. 31, is of course a shortened version of the full title in English, the "Eve of All Hallows," with the "Hallows" being the Saints. The next day is All Souls' Day, November 2, which is the day for cemetery visits and blessings. In Spanish, this was the Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead) or Día de las Animas, meaning the day of the [Holy] Souls.  These Souls weren't necessarily Saints (somebody who is already known or proclaimed to be in Heaven), but your Irish grandmother would have referred to them as the Holy Souls, because if they had made it to Purgatory, they were on their way to Heaven. But she might have said the "poor Holy Souls," because Purgatory meant they needed prayers, both at their funerals and afterwards.  And it is here that the catafalque comes in.  Below we see the All Souls' Day catafalque at St. Trinita in Rome, where the traditional rite is celebrated. This photo is from the Catholic News Live site, where you can find out more about it.

But first things first. In its Greek original, the word that is the base of catafalque means “platform.” And this indeed was and has always been its meaning.  In Western funeral and cemetery terms, however, it has a very specific and liturgical meaning, although now mostly unknown because of changes to Catholic ritual in the 1960s and 1970s decreed by the Second Vatican Council.  It was a platform, yes, but one with a very specific use: to hold the casket or the body of the deceased during the funeral service and, depending on the circumstances, also at the graveside for the burial. Often referred to as a bier if it was meant just for holding the casket, it could be very simple or very ornate. 

Below you see Lincoln’s catafalque, which bore his coffin through the streets and on trains to its burial place in Illinois, and is still used for placing the casket for a state funeral in the Capitol Rotunda.

But sometimes the catafalque itself became the focus, because it was used as the representation of the deceased when the body was not present - either because the body had been lost to war, shipwreck or some other disaster, or because the mass was a memorial, celebrated for someone who had already been buried in another place, or on certain dates following the burial, such as 40 days afterwards, a year afterwards, etc.  

We have to remember that both Catholic and Protestant funerals, prior to the Second Vatican Council, were very different from what we are accustomed to now. There were no "eulogies" detailing the deceased’s love of beer, embarrassing things he or she had said or done, etc. In other words, no chuckles.  It was a very solemn and thought provoking moment, because if it was a funeral with cuerpo presente, meaning that the body of the deceased had been brought into the church, this would be the last time that he or she would be before the altar. When they closed the casket (left open until the Mass began), it would also be the last time that this person’s mortal face would be seen on this earth.

So even when the deceased wasn't physically present, the catafalque remained, dressed as though for a funeral.  The above catafalque is in the Cathedral of Guadalajara in Sigüenza, Spain (below).  Notice the damage on the tower from the Spanish Civil War.

Essentially, this type of catafalque was a representation of the presence of the deceased and was used only when the body was not present, in other words, for a memorial mass. A memorial mass commemorates the death of the deceased, often at particular times: 40 days after his death, the year after, or whenever it was considered appropriate. So in many places, the catafalque was kept waiting in the back of the church for these needs. People who grew up prior to the Second Vatican Council can probably remember the black vestments, the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath, the Latin chant used at a funeral), and the other rites and signs of a Mass for the Dead.  One of the most important of these was the Final Absolution, prayers said just before the body was taken to the cemetery for burial. When the body was not present, these prayers were said at the catafalque.  Below we see another photo from Catholic News Live, which has interesting old-rite funeral information. Notice the coordination and solemnity.

And now for some spectacular catafalques. On a recent trip to Spain, I had the great good fortune to have friends take me to the little town of Atienza (shown below) in the province of Guadalajara in La Mancha.  It’s an area rich in history, ranging from geologic times to prehistoric man to modern Spain. And there, a truly remarkable man, don Agustín González Martínez, the 87 year old parish priest, has built not one but three museums, filled with local finds, ranging from church art to fossils. In fact, the 2 euro admission fee gets children a free fossil and a free mineral with their entrance ticket.  

Below, we see don Agustín strolling in Atienza with Benito Rodriguez Arbeteta, a well known Spanish art historian who has done considerable research on Atienza.

Don Agustín, in his rambles over the dry and rugged hills, walking or bicycling from parish to parish (at one point, he served 11 small rural parishes in the area), kept his eyes to the ground and picked up all sorts of small fossils and pieces of the local rare minerals.

He put the better pieces in the museums, where they are side by side with one of the most interesting collections of Spanish religious art that I have ever seen.  Here below, for example, is a magnificent figure, El Cristo del Perdón, by the Spanish Baroque sculptor, Luis Salvador Carmona.  The globe upon which Christ is kneeling and appealing to God for mercy depicts Adam and Eve and several other scenes of sinful humanity. 

But back to the catafalque. One of the things that was present in the church in Atienza was the 16th century catafalque, which now resides in the church museum.  I wasn’t sure if it pre-dated the Council of Trent, a Catholic council held in 1545-1563 that made some changes to the liturgy, but it definitely reflects an older, mediaeval sensibility.  Once thought to come from Mexico - since the Spanish immediately established workshops in the New World for the production of religious statuary and art, some of which was of such high quality it was then sold in Spain itself - scholars now believe it was produced in Spain.  

Around the sides are four scenes of death and judgment coming for people in different stations of life. In some there is a speech ribbon, with a figure representing death announcing its presence with a Latin phrase or. A particularly dramatic one has death with the visual depiction of a puff of breath, blowing out the candle of life for the unfortunate man in the painting.  However, the words on the stele say, "And the light shone in darkness," and in the ribbon, "and the darkness comprehended it not," from the Gospel of John.  So there is hope.

It is on wheels, like the larger ones that such as that waiting in the choir at the Cathedral in
Sigüenza, but it is only about casket-sized in length and about twice as deep.  The best source for information on this fascinating piece is Benito Rodriguez Arbeteta's paper, in Spanish only, Nemini Parco [I Spare No Man], available from

However, while technically all were equal before Death, in the case of royal death commemorations, enormous temporary catafalques were built for memorial masses to acknowledge that this person was a little more equal than others.  Below is the catafalque of the Spanish king Felipe IV, who died in 1665.

This was true throughout Europe and sometimes the deceased simply had to be "royalty" in his own field, and in fact some true (but temporary) works of art were created, such as the catafalque of Michelangelo, built by his artist friends.  And even atheists such as Voltaire got in on the act, certainly without the aid of religious services, although in his case the catafalque was more of a bier with his body propped on top in ceremonial splendor. He had been buried elsewhere before the French Revolution, and then was "resurrected" afterwards as the intellectual author of the Revolution. His body was then taken out of its burial place at an abbey (allowed only because his brother was the abbot) and sent to Paris. The catafalque was dragged by teams of peasants through the rain from his initial rural burial place and brought to the Pantheon in Paris, where he lies today.

With the decline in belief in the Resurrection, the Last Judgment and Eternity, things have gotten more modest and many people don't even have a funeral service or a burial. If they do have a funeral or burial service, the bier now consists of a folding stand that the funeral director wheels in, sometimes without a casket, but with an urn of cremated remains occupying the top of the stand. And memorial masses no longer have catafalques at all, and in fact they no longer even wear black, except in very traditional churches.

But what’s the connection with Tolomato?  It goes back to Second Spanish Period Governor Enrique White, who founded the town of Fernandina as a refuge for the Spanish King Fernando VII, exiled after Napoleon's invasion of Spain. Fernando was autocratic and widely hated, but after the French invasion, he suddenly became "El Deseado," the longed-for one. He did eventually get back into power and only a couple of years later wiped out the Spanish Constitution of 1812, which established a constitutional monarchy and to which there is a contemporary monument on the Plaza in St Augustine. The monument below is a replica in Avilés, Spain, with our friend, former Avilés City Councilman Román Alvarez González, standing in front of it.  As for Fernando VII, once he came back, he wound up being (justifiably) hated again. But in any case, at that point, Gov. White thought he was doing the right thing.

Getting back to Tolomato, Gov. Enrique White was the source of all sorts of civic improvements in St Augustine. Sometime before 1811, he requested that a plan be drawn up for the modernization of Tolomato Cemetery, which meant converting this somewhat haphazard space with its unmarked or unidentified burials – all facing east but otherwise helter skelter – into a modern late 18th century cemetery on a grid plan, with marked and numbered spaces, identifiable burials, and of course, different pricing for different areas. We can assume that this had the approval of the parish priest at the time, Fr. Miguel O’Reilly, since there are notations about the cost of quicklime and the wages of the sexton. A section of the map is shown below.  It was probably done by George F. Clarke, who platted Fernandina Beach in that same year at the request of Gov. White.

The Church paid for the burial of paupers, slaves and strangers, so one quadrangle was reserved for these groups. The primo sections were to the back of the cemetery, and the best of all were in the (never-built) wall with niches at the back of the cemetery, which would have been about 20 feet in front of the current Varela Chapel. The strip of land for the Varela Chapel was only bought in 1853, meaning that the cemetery ended at that point in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

But one thing prominently featured on the map is the catafalque, situated approximately where the current Varela Chapel is located.  It is shown on the map as a small rectangle at the west (back) end of the cemetery and is identified as a "túmulo," which in this case would mean bier or platform. The amount of stone to be bought for it, shown on the map, is fairly modest and it was not meant to be very high. However, in the Tolomato of Gov. White’s time, there was not even a dignified place to rest the casket for burial services outdoors at the cemetery, so it is probable that the "túmulo," mentioned in the map was a permanent stone bier.  These are found in some old cemeteries in the United States as well as Europe, and are often thought to be unidentified tombs, because they look like box tombs although with no name or decoration.  But they're not.

One of the purposes of construction of the Varela Chapel by the Cubans and other followers of Fr. Varela in 1853 was the provision of a funeral chapel for Tolomato. During his time in St Augustine, Fr. Varela had been bothered by the lack of one. The purpose of a funeral chapel was to provide an inside, consecrated place with an altar where funeral masses could be celebrated, since mass was generally not celebrated outside in those days.  Below we see a photo of the Varela Chapel, probably taken sometime in the early 20th century.

Unfortunately Governor Enrique White got no further than the plan. Money was short in Spain and Spanish America at that time as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, and there was growing hostility between Britain and the new United States, which began only about 75 miles north of St Augustine. And then, alas, Governor Enrique White himself died in early1811, his plans put in motion but never to be completed.

His fellow Irish Spaniard, Fr. Miguel O’Reilly died in 1812, and we hope that he was able to bury his friend, Gov. Enrique White, who was like him, Irish-born.  We know where Fr. Miguel O’Reilly is buried, but unfortunately, no one knows where Gov. White is buried. Somewhere in Tolomato.  

The accounts of the church say that he was shaved and prepared for his funeral by José Canova, a Canary Islander, and that he was buried under a cairn of stones at Tolomato. The town had planned to get him a more suitable monument, but events overtook St Augustine in this period, resulting in a change of flags only ten years later and the disappearance of the Spanish from Florida. The only place that bears his name is White Street in Fernandina (map shown below, for more information, visit the Amelia Island History Museum). But somewhere in the cemetery, sadly unmarked, lies Governor Enrique White, the Spanish governor who had loved Florida and had planned to put a catafalque in Tolomato.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Looking for Tolomato

The name Tolomato, beautifully wrought in metal over the new gate of Tolomato cemetery, declares the Indian heritage of the site, and one of the first things our visitors hear when they take our Third Saturday tour is the story of the Tolomato Indian mission that was located on that plot of land, long before it became a cemetery.  

This being St Augustine, in the 19th and 20th centuries, visitors heard much more sensational stories, ranging from tales of a 7-foot tall Indian named “Chief Tolomato” who appears at night -  mostly to the ghost tours - to the gruesome tale that a Franciscan friar was slain in the Varela Chapel (built 1853) by Indian raiders in the 16th century.  Not true, of course, although there is another Tolomato, far away and long ago, where this actually did happen.

The name Tolomato is somewhat like Brigadoon, the mythical town that appeared and disappeared, because it seems to keep popping up along the SE coast from Georgia to St Augustine.  Historians and archaeologists know where it started, but even so the details have remained elusive, with the exact locations of some of the sites that bore that name having been lost to things ranging from violence to time and sea water.
Because our TCPA docents start off by telling visitors the history of the name, it occurred to us one day at a meeting that we could make this long and complicated story a little more real for ourselves by taking a field trip to the original Tolomato and seeing where it all began. The area is now known as Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge and is on the Georgia coast, right across from St. Catherine’s Island and about 60 miles south of Savannah. It’s less than a 3 hour drive from St. Augustine, so we picked a date that we hoped was before the mosquitoes would be in full blossom. And then a small band of TCPA members set out, armed with our cameras.  Louise Kennedy took her usual great photos and several others of us did our IPhone best, but I'll have to post those elsewhere and send out a link.

Harris Neck is a little remote and not oversupplied with hotels or even places to eat, so to make life a little easier for ourselves, we stayed on Jekyll Island and made a day trip to Harris Neck.

First we found a fictional Tolomato, of course.  Hwy  17 from Jekyll Island to Harris Neck goes through Darien, a very interesting town that suffered greatly during the Civil War and in fact was burned to the ground. It recovered, became a sleepy Southern town with a Civil War museum, and is now on its way to becoming a modern “cute” B&B town.  But it also boasted, or thought it boasted, a Tolomato site, a ruined tabby chimney and walls that the town hoped was from the chapel.  Once word got out, the name Tolomato began popping up on local roads and historical markers. But alas, it wasn’t true: the site was actually all that was left of a late 18th century sugar mill.  That didn’t stop anybody, however, and a new luxury subdivision named Tolomato Island has already seized the name. 

But what name?  The name of the original Tolomato Mission, founded in 1595, was La Natividad de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Tolomato (The Birth of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Tolomato).  To “unpack” the name for those unfamiliar with Spanish church naming customs, it refers to three different things. First is the Catholic feast day on September 8 celebrating the Birth of Our Lady, which was also chosen as the official founding date of St. Augustine in 1565. Thus, the friars chose that name to refer to the founding of missionary efforts in Florida. 

Next is “Guadalupe,” which of course refers to the apparition of the Virgin to the Mexican Indian San Juan Diego in 1531. Guadalupe is a place in Extremadura, Spain, which had an early painting of the Virgin that was somewhat similar what Juan Diego saw and the image that appeared on the inside of his straw cape, and the 16th century Spanish bishop of the area, which is now part of modern Mexico City, was from Extremadura.  But as the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe (the image in the photo below) began to refer more commonly to the 1531 apparition to an indigenous Mexican, the Spanish then often included it in the name of churches directed to missionary activities among the Indians of the Americas.

Finally, we have “Tolomato,” referring to the place where the mission was located. Tolomato is thought to mean is thought to mean “on the river bank” or “between the river banks” in the Guale language. The aboriginal Tolomato population were Guale Indians, which refers to a language group or nation rather than a “tribe.” There were several major language groups along the SE coast, and the languages were not mutually intelligible. There were the Guale of north Georgia, a little further south there were the Mocama and then the Timucua, to name a few. 

The location of Tolomato was indeed on the bank, as seen above, or possibly between two rivers, since Harris Neck is actually a peninsula in the coastal marshes, with its tip pointing to Santa Catalina, aka, St. Catherine’s Island. There is an important mission site on St. Catherine’s Island that has been the subject of many excavations and even now has a rededicated cemetery and church, but in the 16th century, the Tolomato mission was considered the most important. It was probably the residence of the most important cacique, or chief, among the many groups of Guale Indians who lived in the area.  Below is a map in the visitor center at the park which will show you a little more on this.
However…a word of caution!  There were several missions scattered through the Sea Islands, and the only one that has been definitively identified is Santa Catalina.  There are researchers who think that a mission known as Talapo was the mission located on Harris Neck, and the Tolomato mission was actually located at a place now known as Sutherland Bluff, near Shellman Bluff and across from Sapelo Island in Georgia. However, we decided to go with the Harris Neck site, simply because it is the one that appears most often in the literature.  And we checked with the Federal ranger in charge of SE archaeology, Rick Kwasniewski, who told us that Indian and Spanish artifacts of the right period have been found at two locations on Harris Neck, with the most probable location of the Tolomato village being near the modern day boat ramp.  If some future excavation turns up something new, we’ll just have to make another trip!

In 1595, the Franciscans established a mission church at Tolomato, with a resident friar, Fr. Pedro de Corpa, a Franciscan from Astorga, Spain.  Early Southeast mission buildings were usually simple wooden and thatch constructions, and inventories carried out by Spanish governors and religious authorities revealed that most did not seem to have permanent tabernacles or even baptismal fonts. The missionaries would bring altar vessels and other things as they needed them for fear that they might fall into hostile hands if the mission was attacked.  So we don’t know exactly what the mission looked like, but it was probably fairly simple and not like the much later, more developed California missions.  Below is a recreation at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee of the mission chapel.

Basically, the villages functioned as any other village, ruled by their chiefs. But where the Indians  had originally been more migratory, they now lived a stable, agricultural life (since this was the European ideal), often with some common work to support the mission, such as the production of hides in the California ranching missions. They were also instructed in the Faith, began the day with prayers and hymns, attended Mass and were expected to conform to Catholic moral teachings, particularly in the area of marriage. Sometimes the Franciscan treatment of the Indians was good; at other times, it was harsh, although often the Franciscans stood between the Indians and even harsher treatment by the Spanish or Mexican civil governors.  And of course the missionaries were often caught in midst of the rivalries and animosities between different Indian leaders and groups.

The Franciscans extended this model across the country.  Below you see a painting of two 18th Franciscan friars, one of them from the Provincia de Santa Helena (which included St Augustine and the Florida Georgia missions).   He was killed in a hostile Indian attack in Arizona in the late 18th century, and the painting is in the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe, which also had a Franciscan presence.  

For the first two years, everything seems to have gone well for Fr. Corpa, but it changed literally overnight. One morning in late September or early October of 1597 – the exact date is unknown, but the friars’ report arrived in St Augustine on October 7, 1597 - as he recited his prayers, he looked up to see a group of hostile Indians, including the cacique of Tolomato himself, burst into his cell. Still kneeling, he was clubbed to death by one of the warriors at the command of the cacique.
Supposedly, he was then beheaded and his head was mounted on a post near the boat ramp, although the Spanish do not report finding it when they arrived. His body was buried in the woods near the village, and the church, the friar’s residence, and the council house were burned.  Later the Spanish found a statue of St Anthony de Padua (a popular Franciscan saint) and the altar – probably not the altar table as we think of it in modern churches, but the altar stone, ara, in Spanish – hidden in the woods near the ruined town.
Why this happened is still a subject of discussion. To make a long story short, the best book on this confusing subject is probably Murder and Martyrdom in Spanish Florida, by J. Michael Francis and Kathleen M. Kole (American Museum of Natural History, 2011).  

In any case, the attacks put an end to Tolomato and of all of the missions in the area, with most of the resident friars being killed, and one taken captive for a year.  The important mission buildings had been burned by the Indians themselves during the uprising, and in the succeeding months, most of what remained of the villages was destroyed by Spanish reprisals. However, within a few years, the Franciscans returned, and several of the other missions, most notably Santa Catalina, were revived. David Hurst Thomas, from the Museum of Natural History in NYC, did extensive work on the site, and remains interested in it. Click here for a really interesting - if lengthy - video about his work and its sequels on St Catherine's Island. Ignore the lemurs.

But by then Tolomato seems to have disappeared for good from Georgia, and the name is only found again in the 1620s, this time in Florida, in the reports of the Spanish Governor don Luis de Rojas y Borja. Residing in St Augustine, he speaks of the establishment of a new mission Indian village, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Tolomato, on the Guana River not far north of St Augustine.  The Guale Indian residents were to provide labor for ferrying goods across the river, cutting timber, etc. and they had their own village, church and priest at the new “Tholomato,” as it appears in the record.
This, alas, turned out to be just the first step in the long journey of the Indians from Georgia to Cordova St.  But since we're only looking at the beginnings of the journey, that story will have to wait for another post.

As for Harris Neck, its story after the departure of the Indians is also an interesting one.  After the gradual departure of the Spanish from the Georgia area and the destruction of the mission chain by British colonists from Georgia and South Carolina in the early 1700s, British settlers acquired land in the area.  The large hammock got the name Harris Neck in the mid-18th century, when one William Thomas Harris established a large plantation dedicated to cotton and rice growing.  It passed through his family and a large section was bought by Jonathan Thomas, who called it Peru Plantation and raised cotton there. One of his descendants, dying without heirs, left it to a former slave, who in turn sold parcels to other black - and some white - families after the end of the Civil War.  It is considered part of the Gullah-Geechee corridor, since most of the African American residents are descendants of slaves brought from West Africa to work the plantations, who then became landowners after the Civil War.

Things changed later in the 1880s, when some of the land was bought by wealthy people from Savannah and other parts of the South.  One of these was Pierre Lorillard, of the tobacco family, who built a mansion – really, more of a party house - for his mistress and friends who would arrive at his deep-water dock on their yachts. The mansion had fountains and formal gardens and was even used as the Officers’ Club for the Harris Neck airbase during WWII! But it had deteriorated by the time Harris Neck became a wildlife refuge in 1962 and was torn down. Below is the one remaining, algae-filled fountain, and above is the huge stork and marsh bird nesting area that is now the main feature of Harriss Neck.

The famous Georgia archaeologist Lewis H. Larson thought that this might be the location of one of the Tolomato mission village. A shell mound runs through the area, and Larson's excavations in the late 20th century turned up Spanish and native pottery fragments and even aboriginal house floors.  As we moved through the area, carefully and unsuccessfully trying to avoid ticks, we found intriguing traces of shell deposits that certainly predated the mansion.  It is not likely that the Lorillards spent much time shucking wild oysters in the gardens of their mansion.

Some of the later history of the land is not pretty.  When the land was seized by the government for the building of the airfield, the black families were compensated at $26.90 per acre, while white families received $37.31 per acre. In addition, after the war the families were not allowed to move back to their land as promised, but the entire property was turned over to McIntosh County as a park or wildlife area. 
In 1962, the land was taken back by the Federal Government because of mismanagement by the county government and turned into the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge.  It is famous as a breeding and nesting area for wood storks, herons, egrets and other coastal wading birds. In fact, during our stay, the trees were white with egrets, almost to the point where it looked as if snow had fallen. The area is visited mainly by birdwatchers and photographers, as well as occasional bicyclists and walkers, and a stop at the ranger station will give you some insight into the lively bird activity there.

And finally, of course, we found a cemetery.  At the very edge of the park, right next to the boat ramp and in another area considered likely to have been the location of Mission Tolomato, is the Gould Cemetery. It is named after the Gould family, which had owned the property, and it holds the remains of members of many of the longest-standing African American families of the peninsula.  We walked through the cemetery, seeing the old handcrafted concrete headstones and the more modern professionally created marble monuments, and noticing the same family names repeated. One family seems to have had a tradition of church work, with tombstones listing pastors and deacons and evangelists – and on the way out of Harris Neck, we happened to see one of these last names on the sign board of a tiny local church by the narrow road!  

We paid our respects to the residents of the cemetery and then walked over to the edge of the creek near the boat ramp, wondering if perhaps we were walking where the original Tolomato Mission had once stood.  Artifacts have been found at this site, and it certainly looks like a place that would have been ideal for the establishment of a village, since it is right next to a deep creek with access to channels leading to the sea and to St. Catherine’s Island.  The site is wide and bright and, nearly 500 years later, so peaceful that you can almost imagine our Tolomato Indian family poling their boats along the creek – probably laden with the oysters whose shells we would see as a sign of their presence all these many years later.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Irish Tolomato for St. Patrick´s Day

St Patrick's Day 2018 may  have come and gone - but it's still March, so there's still time for a St Patrick's Day post to share the special tour we did at Tolomato Cemetery to feature our many Irish burials.   Louise Kennedy, our genealogist par excellence, got to work and dug deep into the records and gathered together all of our marked Irish burials, so we were able to lead our St Patrick´s Day visitors through a pretty comprehensive tour of the Irish past of St Augustine.  And here it is, in screen form, for blog readers who didn´t have a chance to be out there with us on that sunny St. Patrick´s Day. 

Visitors are often surprised by the large number of people born in places such as County Antrim or Dublin and immediately think of Potato Famine immigration.  But it wasn't the potato's fault, because the Potato Famines started only in the 1840s, while but the Irish presence in St Augustine goes back to the beginning. 

In fact, some of the parish records of St Augustine from 1594, which are the oldest written records in what is now the US, were kept and signed by an Irishman, Fr. Ricardo Artur (Richard Arthur), who had served as a soldier in the Spanish army and then was the parish priest in this garrison town until about 1605.  (The records are held by St Augustine but have been digitized by Vanderbilt University and may be consulted on-line.)

The Spanish army included large numbers of Irishmen in what were referred to as the Hibernian Regiments. The wiki image above shows them with a Hibernian Regiment flag, which was a Spanish battle flag bearing the harp, symbol of Ireland. St Augustine often had these regiments stationed at the Castillo.  And many of the clergy, both diocesan priests and members of religious orders such as the Franciscans, were Irishmen who had been educated in Spanish universities and seminaries because of the repression in Ireland starting around 1556, under Henry VIII, which forbade them to receive this education in Ireland. Below is a photo of the entry to the building of the Colegio de San Patricio (St. Patrick's College or Seminary) in Salamanca, which closed in 1837 and is now used as a sort of student center.

So the Irish were a fairly large and important presence. In fact, a Florida scholar, Dr. Michael Francis, recently discovered indications that First Spanish Period St Augustine was celebrating St Patrick's Day as far back as 1600, ordering an extra measure of gunpowder so that they could fire the cannons to celebrate.  The next year, mention is made of a procession, probably following the statue of the saint set on a small platform carried by four people, as is still done in villages in Spain.  Below is the procession for Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Ponferrada, Spain.

Since the Irish and their descendants were scattered throughout the Spanish Empire, it should be no surprise that the very oldest extant individually marked grave in the State of Florida, that of Elizabeth Forrester (d. 1798), belongs to an Irish American transplant from the Northeast, Philadelphia, specifically. She was 16 at the time of her death and burial in Tolomato Cemetery.  Her father, Gerald Forrester, was born in Dublin, emigrated to Philadelphia, and then brought his family to Florida.  He was a merchant and ship's captain in St Augustine in the late 18th and early 19th century, and the family owned an orange grove in what would now be Lincolnville.  This lovely stone is wearing away but is beautifully carved and probably was ordered from carvers in the Northeast or possibly Charleston, which produced many markers located throughout Southern cemeteries.

Moving on a little bit, we have an important Irish burial that is no longer marked at all, that of Second Spanish Period Governor Enrique White.  He was also born in Dublin, served in the Spanish military and was appointed to the position of civil governor of Florida. He must have been an active and farsighted man, because in 1811 he came up with a plan to modernize Tolomato, going from its rather helter-skelter layout of burials to an orderly grid plan with numbered plots, priced according to the desirability of their location. This never came about because the political situation was tense (with the War of 1812 about to break out) and Spain and its financing for the colonies had been disrupted by Napoleon's invasion, followed by domestic strife and wars on the Spanish Peninsula.

One of the results of this was that the king, Fernando VII, had been forced into exile - but Governor Enrique White came up with a plan. He laid out a town on a neat grid plan, and even named it Fernandina, hoping to attract the royal family to take up residence there. For various reasons, this never happened either, and White himself died in 1811 with this project unrealized. However, one of the streets of the modern Fernandina Beach is named White Street in his honor.

As for his burial site, the Canary Islander who prepared Governor White for burial had him buried under a cairn of stones somewhere towards what was then the front of the cemetery.  This was meant to be a temporary situation, since the town had planned to order a nice marble marker for this important figure, but it seems that this never happened. So his exact burial location is unknown.

Next we have his contemporary, Fr. Miguel O'Reilly, whose tomb (above)  is next to that of another Irishman, Fr. Miguel Crosby, who replaced Fr. Miguel O'Reilly as the St Augustine parish priest upon O'Reilly's death in 1812.  Educated at the University of Salamanca, Fr. Miguel O´Reilly had first been sent to St Augustine to serve as the priest for the Minorcan community, but had been unable to enter the town because St Augustine was under the British, the American Revolution was going on, and the Americans had blockaded the harbor.  He turned back but later reentered St Augustine in 1784 as chaplain to the Hibernian Regiment assigned to the Castillo.  He was the first parish priest of the church that is now the Cathedral, which was completed in 1797, and was a very important figure in Second Spanish Period Florida.

Then there was Fr. Edward Mayne, born in County Antrim, whose family emigrated to Philadelphia and who then came to Florida after his ordination in Maryland, shortly after Spain had handed Florida over to the United States in 1821. These were tumultuous times, with shifting allegiances, blurred lines of episcopal authority, and conflicts between the older Spanish residents and the newcomers from the Northeast and South Carolina.  He was caught up in the chaos and at one point was locked out of the church by Geronimo Alvarez, head of the church wardens, and had to appeal to the bishop before he could get back in and take over the parish. But everything was finally resolved, tranquility returned, and by the time of his death in 1837, he was remembered on his gravestone as "gentle and humble of heart."  The stone itself is interesting, because it is very tall and has what are called "shoulders,"  the two projecting points on the top. This is much more typical of a Northern cemetery or even an Irish cemetery, but unfortunately we do not know where they got Fr. Mayne's beautiful (although alarmingly leaning) stone.

 Dating to roughly the same period, we have this beautiful vault, below, of Lucas Creyon, Esq. – born 1798.  “This stone records the affection of a brother. It contends against time to perpetuate the Memory of Lucas Creyon, Esq.native of the County of Sligo in Ireland, but for many years an inhabitant of Columbia, South Carolina. He died in the City of St, Augustine Oct. 21st, 1821. Aged 36 Years.  May his soul rest in peace Amen.” We know little more about him, although the ¨Esq.¨following his name suggests that he may have been a lawyer.

Taking a medium size jump ahead, we have a connection that goes back a ways. Here we see the vault of Major William Travers (1794-1840).  His plantation was burned during the Seminole War in 1840. 

Major William Travers was born in St Augustine, but his father, Dr. Thomas Travers, was born in Kildare and was a doctor. In fact, he had come to St Augustine as a doctor under the British and was made director of the Royal Hospital, now the Spanish Military Hospital, on Aviles St (at that time called Hospital Street).  When the Spanish returned, some of the British Period residents stayed on, and Dr. Thomas Travers chose to remain and was then made head of the Royal Hospital under the Spanish.  You can see a mannequin representing him, sitting in a reconstruction of his consulting room, at the Spanish Military Hospital. He was born in 1751 and died in 1807.  Like his son, he is buried at Tolomato Cemetery, but his grave is not marked and we do not know its exact location.

The Civil War was an important time for the Irish, and a couple of our markers remind us of this.  Michael Neligan's stone, above, is one of the Civil War VA markers at the front of the cemetery. He was undoubtedly of Irish descent, but was born in Connecticut and for reasons unknown, came to St Augustine.  He joined the Confederate Army at the age of 55; his son, Henry Neligan, joined the same regiment.  Fathers and sons often joined the army together.  He seems to have fallen ill during the war and for awhile was listed as AWOL, but eventually that was straightened out and he finished the war as a serving member. After the war, he ran a variety of businesses, including a boarding house, and was followed in this by his son.  He died in 1871, but his family continued to be a part of St Augustine. In fact, just today, driving back from I-95, I passed a construction company truck belonging to...Neligan Construction. It was a green truck, painted with shamrocks! Perhaps a descendant?

We have another interesting Civil War related Irish burial, shown above. This marker is one for Patrick Keenan, who died in St Augustine in 1877. He was born in 1844 in County Tyrone, but served in the Union Army in Pennsylvania, probably one of the thousands of Irish immigrants drafted immediately upon arriving in the United States. After the war, he joined the Regular Army and was stationed at the Castillo.  He died of tuberculosis, and the legend on his stone states that that the marker had been provided by his military companions in his company at the Castillo, "as a tribute of respect" for this man who had died so far from home and family.

The above marker is that of William Stubbs, who was born in Dublin in 1795 but lived most of his life in Michigan, where he was a farmer. He died in St Augustine in 1857, at the age of 62, but as late as 1850, he was listed in the Michigan census.  How did he come to be buried at Tolomato?  Was he possibly relocating late in life to Florida, as many people still do today, or was he perhaps a tourist, just traveling through?  We don't know much more about him than what appears on his stone.  However, several years ago, a visitor discovered his name on the stone and realized that William Stubbs was his ancestor. Perhaps someday we will learn more about him and his circumstances.

Finally, we have William O'Hara.  He was born in Meath in 1823, and came to St Augustine at some unknown point, where he married Antonica Alvarez in 1853.  He is buried near a couple of small obelisks and flower-engraved stones, all sadly marking the graves of O'Hara and Alvarez children.  So once more we see the Spanish and the Irish, together again, and once again we are reminded of the fact that this tiny town and this even tinier cemetery record the place where all the cultures of the vast Spanish and English speaking worlds flowed together into the new United States...and that the people above who now lie in Tolomato Cemetery played their part in this great history.