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.