Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tolomato - Franciscan Mission

Last week, Flagler College hosted an excellent conference on the Franciscan missions, directed by the Franciscan studies scholar Dr. Timothy Johnson, with a focus on the little-known Southeast missions. 

The Franciscans arrived in Florida in the 16th century, after both the Jesuits and the Dominicans had failed to establish viable missions.  With their usual Franciscan practicality, mildness and hard work, they were able to build a chain of missions from North Carolina to Alabama. The Southeast missions were destroyed by the attacks of British colonists from South Carolina and Georgia in the 18th century.  Florida’s mission chain was already gone by the time the California mission chain was initiated.

Above, we see a group of conference attendees, including a Franciscan friar, listening to a talk on the history of the Tolomato Indian village. Tolomato was one of five such villages in St Augustine.  They were known as “refugee” Indian mission villages, since they were populated by Indians of various tribes who were fleeing the attacks of the British in the northern and western part of Florida and Georgia.  The villages were served by the Franciscans from the convento that is now the St Francis Barracks. All of the residents of these villages left for Cuba with the other Spanish citizens in 1763.

Here we see the City Archaeologist, Carl Halbirt. Carl has done some archaeological exploration in the parking lot and area immediately behind this chapel, which is where he believes the greater part of the village was located.  He hopes to get permission to do more digging on that site in the future.

And for you Franciscan historians out there: one thing that could be a really wonderful contribution to our knowledge would be a comprehensive, detailed history of the Tolomato mission, starting from its beginnings in Georgia.  The information is out there, but it is scattered and needs to be assembled into a coherent whole that could give us insight into this period and its personalities, conflicts and achievements.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Visitors, Visitors

We’ve had a busy week at Tolomato. We were open to the public last Saturday (don’t forget, we’re open every 3rd Saturday of the month) and had 359 visitors!  But we started off with a special group: our Haitian friends from Miami, who were in St Augustine to discuss plans at Fort Mose for a monument commemorating General Biassou and the Haitians in St Augustine. 


They arrived in their beautiful bus (typical of the jitneys that transport people around Haiti). Here we see General Biassou on the side of the bus, along with scenes of Fort Matanzas and Gen. Biassou’s house in St Augustine.



The delegation stayed for about an hour and were accompanied by City Commissioner Errol Jones (in the yellow shirt).  Some of the visitors had been to Tolomato before, but there were others for whom it was a first visit, and as usual, the new visitors were amazed by the depth and richness of our shared history at Tolomato.

Only a few days later, we had another, very different group:  the Florida Public Archaeology Network sponsored a “Lunch and Learn” event at the cemetery.  We gave a tour to the group of some 70 people who showed up for the event, which is designed to acquaint people with little known local archaeological activities.    The hit of the show was Sarah Miller and the Ground Penetrating Radar device.


Sarah has done two surveys of parts of Tolomato and the area behind it (which we believe to have been the site of the mission Indian village).  The first one, done in 2008, located some shallow “anomalies” in the ground that were probably the sign of gravestones that had fallen over and been buried under the grass, as well as some deeper but regularly spaced objects that were probably burials that had lost their markers or never had them to begin with.

GPR relies on the detection of differences in density; when the signals encounter an object denser than the earth, they bounce back and create an image. As long as the bones are solid and have not crumbled into something similar in density to earth, they will reflect the signals, so these deeper objects were probably burials.  They seemed to have been closely piled on top of each other, and we know that the earlier practices relied on “reusing” graves with successive burials. These people were probably buried in wooden boxes or, in the case of some of the earliest burials, perhaps in shrouds.

Later burials in metal or part metal caskets make it even easier. And of course, one of the other things we are looking for is the elusive foundation of the 18th century chapel for the mission Indian village of Tolomato. Sarah thinks they may have had some luck in the parking lot behind the Varela Chapel, since they have found a linear anomaly that may be a stone foundation. But then again, it could be a utility pipe…stay tuned for more information as it emerges!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Research Committee Meets

Our brand-new research committee had its first meeting last week at the Diocesan Archives.  Here we see the Chairman, Tom Caswell, and docents and/or members Janet Jordan and Louise Kennedy.  The back of the head belongs to docent Sue Barrow.  Sister Catherine Bitzer, Diocesan Archivist, took the photo.

Tolomato Cem. Docent Mtg.

The Research Committee will facilitate and coordinate research into Tolomato Cemetery, the people buried there and even preservation and materials issues.  Tom has gotten it off to a start with an on-line archive in the University of Florida Digital Collections, where we will collect texts and even digital artifacts such as photos, videos,  etc.  At the moment, there’s not much in it, but that will change over time and we hope it will eventually be a valuable resource.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Techie Tolomato

Tolomato has moved into the 21st Century with its very own QR code!  For the less techie among us, a QR code is a symbol similar to a bar code that users of smartphones (I-phone, Droid phones) can use to go directly to a website or some other internet resource.  They must have a QR code reader app, and then they can take a picture of the QR code with their cell-phone camera, wait a couple of seconds, and see their phone’s browser immediately open the website indicated by the code.


The QR code is in the corner of the small sign at the front gate that shows the hours when the cemetery is open to visitors.  Because of the fence, it was a little difficult to get the sign into position so that the QR code was readable.  However, it seems to work, and we hope that it will give visitors another way to connect with us.  We will also put in on announcements of our Visitors Days and other events.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The NCPTT at Tolomato

A few weeks ago, we got a call about an exciting event to be held at Tolomato in April: an NCPTT workshop. For those who may not be familiar with this acronym, it refers to the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a government entity created in 1994 to promote preservation training and work on our national heritage sites. The group sponsors workshops all over the country, usually in conjunction with local universities and preservation programs and organizations. They focus on techniques and plans for assisting professional and non-professional organizations in maintaining historic properties .
In our case, the workshop will include the repair of stone markers, a plan for our plantings, and the lime washing of a stone grave enclosure.  It will be attended by preservation students from the University of Florida and Flagler College.


This large grave enclosure belonged to the Hernandez/Gibbs family, and the stele in the middle commemorates Ana Hernandez, who died in 1838. The underlying material is coquina, and as you can see from these photos, it’s not in very good condition.


The work will involve the careful removal of plant material (Florida’s persistent airplant and lichen) along with any loose pieces of the Portland cement that was used in the past to repair the original coquina and stucco. Once the surface is cleaned, several layers of limewash will be applied.

Limewash is a solution made of water and lime, which in St Augustine was obtained by burning oyster shells in a lime kiln.  While limewash can be thickened with various materials, in this case it will be thin and will be applied in thin coats, as many as ten of them. This will have the effect of sealing the porous stone under it. However, traditional limewash, made of natural materials, wears off under the assaults of weather and plant life and must be reapplied fairly often. Limewashing protects the fragile coquina stone, and when it wears off, as we see here, the coquina begins to weather and disintegrate.


Stay tuned to see the work on the grave enclosure. We’ll post photos as we get them.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Greene-Miller Cemetery, Cumberland Island, Georgia

Tolomato Docent Louise Kennedy recently made a trip to Cumberland Island, a Georgia location a couple of hours north of St Augustine that is now a national park and can be reached only by a once-a-day ferry. One of the attractions of the place, which was formerly a plantation and estate, is its little family cemetery.
The cemetery is about the same age as Tolomato, although it continued in use for several decades longer than Tolomto. You will notice similarities in the vaults and markers.  It was very common for people who lived on these somewhat remote plantations to maintain cemeteries on their own property rather than going into town to bury family members in the church cemetery.
Louise gave us this account, with its accompanying photos, and tells us the stories of some of the people buried there.

By Louise Kennedy

This historic abandoned, slightly over-grown cemetery is located a little northeast of Dungeness, the old four story main house belonging to the Carnegie Estate on Cumberland Island, Georgia. Besides the visible headstones, there are also unmarked graves at the site.
Major General Nathanael Greene, of Revolutionary War fame, purchased the property at Cumberland Island on August 11, 1783. He died of sunstroke three years later and left the property to his wife, Catherine. She later married Phineas Miller, who had been the tutor to the Greene children, and who took over management of the farm. He died in 1803 and there is no marker for his grave. Catherine died in 1814, and the stone on her above-ground vault reads: “She professed great talents and exalted virtues.”
The property then passed to Catherine’s daughter Louisa, who was married to the plantation manager, James Shaw, a Scot. He died in 1820 and is buried under the table marker shown in the photo. The touching inscription reads: “Sacred to pure affection this simple stone covers the remains of James Shaw, His virtues are not to be learned from perishable marble but when the records of heaven shall be unfolded, It is believed then will be found characters as durable as the volume of eternity.”
Probably the best known person (formerly) buried at the Greene-Miller Cemetery is Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee, Revolutionary War general and the father of Robert E. Lee. He was a friend of Nathanael Greene. In 1818, while sailing north along the Georgia coast, he became ill and sought refuge at Dungeness. There, Louisa Shaw cared for him until his death on March 25 1818. Some hundred years later on May 28, 1913 Lee’s remains were removed to the campus of Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia, where they were placed along side those of his son Robert E. Lee. His marker is still visible in the cemetery, accompanied by a marker explaining that the remains have been moved.
Plantation employees as well as family members are buried at the cemetery. In a separate area are the graves of the housekeeper Catherine Rikart and her husband. She was born on July 26, 1831 in Mulhouse, Alsace, France and died 12 May 1911. Thomas M. Carnegie erected the markers etched in stone which read, “In affectionate memory of faithful and loyal service…” Her husband’s marker has been broken off of its base, but the footstone has the initials J.R.   Family cemeteries like this give us a little glimpse into the lives of people on the isolated plantations of the day.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Christian Brothers

The graves at Tolomato Cemetery bear witness to the many different individuals and groups who have played their part in St Augustine’s history. But one that is often overlooked is the grave of Rev. Louis de Gonzaga, a Christian Brother who died in 1861.

Three Canadian members of the Christian Brothers, a teaching order, were brought to St Augustine by Bishop Verot in 1859 to run a school for boys. They lived in a house on Charlotte St. on the lot directly behind the modern Cathedral Parish School and ran their school in the building.  Below is what is thought to be a photo of the building, possibly taken in the 1870s.  The building was later used by the Sisters of St Joseph as their early school and residence shortly after they arrived in 1866.  After the Civil War, a number of recently emancipated African Americans settled in the area around the school.


The stay of the Christian Brothers in St Augustine was brief.  The Civil War broke out in 1861, and St Augustinians feared that their town would be targeted by Union troops because of its importance as a supply depot. Most of the boys in the Christian Brothers school were from the local area, although there were some who were boarders and had come from Georgia and more westerly areas of Florida.  The brothers were afraid that the older boys would come to harm if the town was attacked by Union forces, so they closed the school and made arrangements to get the boarder boys back to their families. 

They left for Jacksonville on the train, and stayed with the boys for a couple of days until their families could pick them up or they could be put on trains headed for their homes.  Then the Brothers themselves left Florida and returned to Canada and New York.

Except for one:  Brother Louis.  He died on July 17, 1861, probably not long before the Brothers left for the North, and was buried at Tolomato Cemetery. He was 35 years old. 

Just a few days ago, his grave received a visit from members of his “family,” the Christian Brothers.  Brother Timothy, from Louisiana, and Brother George, from California, were in St Augustine for a conference and came to visit Tolomato.  Here they are with the marker of Brother Louis, which as you can see is not very legible anymore. 


But fortunately Matthew Kear painstakingly transcribed it, and below is the text:

Erected by the Catholics
of the city of St. Augustine
as a Tribute of respect for
the memory of Rev. Brother
LOUIS of G[onzaga] of the Order of the Brothers
of the Christian Schools
who departed this life July 17,
1861 aged 35 yrs. & 9 mons.
May he rest in peace. Amen.
Hail Mary.