Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Memorial Day History at Tolomato Cemetery

The cemetery was open for visitors last Saturday, and since we will not be open on Memorial Day, one of our members, Ray Hinkley, took advantage of the time to set out American flags in front of the markers of our veterans...of many wars.

Going chronologically, of course, we start with the American Revolution.  We did a longer post on this a couple of weeks ago, so you will probably remember that Florida was actually under the British during the period comprising the American Revolution (1775-1783). In fact, the reason the British left St Augustine, which they had gotten away from the Spanish in 1764 as a result of the French and Indian or Seven Years War, was the American victory and the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.  This required them to surrender their territory in the new United States and return territories taken from other colonial powers to their earlier owners.  Thus Florida returned to Spain, and was Spanish for another 40 years, until it became a US territory in 1821.

So there were no battles here and no American soldiers here, but some of those buried at Tolomato Cemetery nonetheless did participate in the American Revolution, so we felt they deserved commemoration.  Above you see flags in front of the DAR markers for don Juan McQueen - who, as a merchant captain with business interests in Paris, carried secret letters back and forth between General Lafayette in France and General George Washington - and Juan Francisco Ruiz del Canto, who provided crucial information and aided Spanish Governor Bernardo de Gálvez in the crucial 1781 Battle of Pensacola, which kept the British from taking over parts of the lower South.  Spain had become an ally of the Americans in 1779 and at that point possessed Louisiana and had a regiment based there. Gálvez defended or took Baton Rouge, Natchez, Mobile and Pensacola, and was considered so important by George Washington that he invited Gálvez to march at  his right hand in the grand parade in Philadelphia on July 4th, 1783.  Below, reenactor José Gueits appears in an 18th century Spanish uniform such as Gálvez' men might have worn.

We couldn't find anyone buried at Tolomato who had participated in the War of 1812, during which time St Augustine was Spanish, so we had to jump ahead to the Civil War.

And here we have both sides represented: above we see the markers for the Confederate veterans buried in the cemetery (although not in those exact locations).  Colonel John Masters of the Sons of the American Revolution made it his life's work to find unmarked Civil War soldier graves throughout Florida, searching through burial records and VA records, and then obtained and installed VA markers for them. These markers were installed in the year 2000.  The names on them are old St Augustine names, some of them Minorcan names while some of them, such as Bravo, are even First Spanish Period names.

The other side of the Civil War also appears in the two markers below, one for Frank Papy and one for Hector Adams.  They were both members of a regiment of the USCT, or US Colored Troops, units opened by the Union Army for the recently emancipated African Americans; sometimes these vets are referred to as the Freedmen.  This particular regiment was originally from South Carolina, but the recruiting station was at the Castillo, and Frank Papy, a waiter, joined when he was 19 while Hector Adams, a wagon driver, joined at the age of 50.  We know a fair amount about these men from their VA records. 

St Augustine had a number of other Freedmen, and there are more burials at the Mission Nombre de Dios, which was used as the parish cemetery during the 15 or so years between the closing of Tolomato Cemetery in 1884 and the opening of the current Catholic cemetery of San Lorenzo in 1898.

And finally, since Tolomato closed before any of the "Great Wars" of the 20th century, we have a veteran who died far from home, Patrick Keenan, born in Ireland. He joined the Army in Pennsylvania during the Civil War but remained in the service as Regular Army and was stationed with the 5th Regiment here at the Castillo.  He died of tuberculosis in 1877 at the age of 33, and his fellow soldiers in his new home provided this stone for his grave.  The inscription reads: "This Stone is Erected as a Tribute of Respect by his Comrades of Battery K, 5th Artillery."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tolomato Cemetery and the American Revolution

The Daughters of the American Republic (DAR) recently gathered again at Tolomato Cemetery  to dedicate the marker of a DAR American Revolutionary War Patriot - that is, a DAR member's ancestor who participated in the American Revolution in some way - buried in the cemetery.  The first commemoration, you will recall, was for Don Juan McQueen, who was from South Carolina but spent much of his life in St Augustine and is buried at Tolomato Cemetery.  He aided the American side by carrying messages from General Washington to General LaFayette in France when he made merchant voyages back and forth to Paris. 

But now we have a very different story.  The DAR's honoree this time was Juan Francisco Ruiz del Canto y Escalona, a Spanish citizen born on Spanish Street in St Augustine in 1730 during the First Spanish Period.  He was of Spanish descent on both sides, although his mother was a 6th generation St Augustinian.  Above we see all of our "Revolutionary War" corner, with markers for Don Juan McQueen, Francisco Sanchez (near the vault on the right) and our newest marker, for Ruiz del Canto.

Juan Francisco Ruiz del Canto was responsible for the supervision of the Castillo de San Marcos, and when the Spanish left St Augustine in 1763, he was appointed by the Governor as one of the group of three Spanish citizens who oversaw the mapping, sale and settlement of Spanish properties with the incoming British.  One of the other members of this little group was Juan Jose Elixio de la Puente, famous for his 1764 map of St Augustine.  Below, Elizabeth Gessner stands with a group of "Spanish soldiers" wearing uniforms of the First and Second Spanish Periods (1565-1763, 1784-1821).

Ruiz del Canto made many trips from Cuba to St Augustine for these purposes and also had many contacts among the local Indian tribes, which enabled him to dissuade the Indians from supporting the British in the growing conflict and secure their neutrality.  In 1779, Spain joined the American side in the war against the British and Ruiz del Canto served with the Spanish.  In 1780, he captured a small British sailing craft and took its captain and crew as prisoners to Cuba.  When interrogated by the Spanish, the captain, British Captain. Robert Holmes, revealed information about British troop locations and naval presence in Pensacola. This proved crucial to the planning of the successful Seige of Pensacola by Spanish General Bernardo de Gálvez.  The re-taking of Pensacola by Spanish forces - which included a regiment from Majorca and one of the Hibernian (Irish) Regiments under the command of General Arturo O'Neill - drove the British out of West Florida. At the end of the American Revolution, the area was returned to Spain, which granted Americans access through it to the Mississippi River.  Below you see the reenactors as well as members of the current Spanish military hold the flag of the Louisiana garrison, since Louisiana was Spanish at the time of the activities of Ruiz del Canto.

Our DAR patriot made his way back to St Augustine after the Spanish returned in 1784, settling with his second wife Francisca de la Hita Salazar (also St. Augustine-born) and their children first in a house on Hospital (now Aviles) Street and then on St George Street, in the Avero house, which is now known as St. Photios Shrine and had been the residence of Fr. Pedro Camps after the Minorcan arrived during the British Period.

See how well everything ties together in our complicated past!

The research on Ruiz del Canto was done by the  very gifted and dogged historian for St. Augustine's Maria Jefferson DAR Chapter, Lynne Cason, shown above in front of the honor guard as she tells the story of Ruiz del Canto.  When the DAR decides to dedicate a marker, they do extensive research on the honoree, and in addition, find a DAR member descendant to represent him. In this case, they found Teresa Sardinas, shown in the photo below, who came up from South Florida to be present at this honor.  She is sitting with representatives of the Spanish military, who came from Tampa to be present at this recognition of Spain's aid to the nascent US during the Revolution.

The DAR had members from the local and far-flung chapters in attendance for this important event.  It was a very photogenic and well attended event! TCPA Secretary Louise Kennedy took most of the photos in this post, and others were taken by member Joan Roberts.

Because of the military importance of Juan Francisco Ruiz del Canto's actions, there was a delegation of Spanish military representatives in attendance.  Here you see Lt. Colonel Gonzalez Prada addressing the crowd with some interesting details of Spain's activities during the American Revolution.

The DAR had also invited "representatives" of the Spanish military of the past:  two groups of reenactors. Dr. Warren Feldman and Jason Davis were our First Spanish Period soldiers, while John Cipriani and Jose Gueits Romero represented the Second Spanish Period. 

Fr. Ed Booth, a longtime friend of Tolomato Cemetery, gave the invocation and blessed the marker.  Here he begins the prayers as Teresa Sardinas waits to unveil the marker (under the blue tarp).

The American Revolution took place during the British Period in St Augustine, so of course St Augustine had no participation on behalf of the American side.  In fact, it functioned mainly as a prison for Americans captured at sea or in battle further north.  They were held in the Castillo or under house arrest at various other points around town.  But the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolution required England to vacate territory it had gotten from other colonial powers, and Florida then reverted to Spain for another 40 years - which allowed our Revolutionary Patriot to return to St Augustine, live out the rest of his days here (resuming his work at the Castillo), and be laid to rest in Tolomato Cemetery in 1802, over 200 years ago.

And now Tolomato Cemetery has it's very own "Revolutionary War" corner, with markers for Don Juan McQueen (installed by the DAR), Francisco Xavier Sanchez (installed by the Sons of the American Republic) and Juan Francisco Ruiz del Canto (DAR marker), all of them reminding us of the very interesting and little-known story of Florida during the American Revolution.