St Augustine Cemeteries: Rooted in History

March 22, 2016 1 comment Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Adjacent to the old city gates, towering cedar trees shroud Huguenot Cemetery in a calming shade and the foliage creeping around the gravestones is rich in color. It is open to the public on the third Saturday of every month and on national holidays.



Death is absolute and as ancient as the stone slabs towering over a plot of graveyard green, especially in America’s oldest city.

In fact, it’s hard to forget St. Augustine’s past when cemeteries that root the city’s history can be found at almost every street corner downtown.

There are several guided private tours curious cemetery dwellers can take, some focusing on both the whereabouts of notable gravesites and suspected ghosts.

But visitors also can amble at their own pace down cobblestone roads as the most well-known cemeteries are within walking distance from each other.

Adjacent to the old city gates, towering cedar trees shroud Huguenot Cemetery in a calming shade and the foliage creeping around the gravestones is rich in color. It is open to the public on the third Saturday of every month and on national holidays.

When the yellow fever epidemic struck St. Augustine in 1821, the city recognized its need for a public graveyard. Because non-Catholics could not be buried in the already existing Tolomato Cemetery, according to laws at the time, St. Augustine city council established what residents now know as Huguenot Cemetery.

A notable person buried here is Thomas Buckingham Smith, who is today listed as a Great Floridian. He died on Jan. 5, 1871. Today, an obelisk stands toward the center of Huguenot Cemetery in his honor.

“[Smith] was a humanitarian and a historian,” said Friends of Huguenot Cemetery member Karen Harvey. “He was the first person to go to Europe and start getting Spanish documents written about (St. Augustine’s) Spanish history and he was one of the first people to go and investigate the Everglades.”


St. Augustine built Huguenot Cemetery because non-Catholics needed a place to be buried, especially during the yellow fever epidemic of the early 19th century.

War is a common theme among the city’s cemeteries, especially at the St. Augustine National Cemetery. Located on Marine Street, several rows of white gravestones carrying names of veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War, the second Seminole War and the Civil War.

Three emerald-colored pyramids made of coquina and an 18-foot marble obelisk mark the green sprawl’s south end. They are known as the Florida War Monuments.

The trio immortalizes Major Francis L. Dade and his 110-member army who perished in battle on July 25, 1842, during the Second Seminole War. After the Seminole Wars ended in 1842, Major Dade and his men’s remains were reburied underneath the pyramids.

The St. Augustine National Cemetery served as a Union Army burial ground for soldiers stationed at Fort Marion, which was built as Castillo de San Marcos centuries before the Civil War. The graves of 82 Union army soldiers, 40 known and 40 unknown, litter the ground surrounding the cemetery’s main path.


These pyramids represent American soldiers who died during the Second Seminole War.

“At the Department of Veteran’s Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration, it is our sole purpose to fulfill Abraham Lincoln’s promise, which is ‘to care for those who have borne battle, for their widow and their orphans,’” said Director of the St. Augustine’s National Cemetery Alpheus Richburg. “It is my duty to ensure that it is maintained as a national shrine.”


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