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Tolomato Cemetary

Definition: Tolomato Cemetery in St. Augustine is the oldest extant planned cemetery in the State of Florida, with burials starting during the First Spanish Period (1565-1763).
Tolomato Cemetery in St. Augustine is the oldest extant planned cemetery in the State of Florida, with burials starting during the First Spanish Period (1565-1763).
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Tolomato Cemetery in St. Augustine is the oldest extant planned cemetery in the State of Florida, with burials starting during the First Spanish Period (1565-1763). It was the site of a Franciscan mission built just outside of the old city walls as a home for Guale Indians from the Tolomato mission in Georgia. The mission chapel, circa 1726, was a simple wooden structure with a thatched roof and a remarkable four-story coquina bell-tower on the east facade.

A group of German Catholics came to live at the mission during its last year, and it was sometimes referred to as the German or Dutch church. With the advent of British rule in 1764, the remaining Indian and other mission residents departed with the Spanish population to Cuba. Burials ceased at this time.

In 1777, a large group of Minorcan indentured laborers, fleeing mistreatment on an indigo plantation, took refuge in St. Augustine. Since they were Catholics, they were given permission to use the cemetery and burials resumed.

During the Second Spanish Period (1784-1821), the cemetery was once again used for all Catholic burials. Burials at all St Augustine cemeteries officially ceased in 1884, when the city prohibited burials within the city limits for health reasons, although it is known that a few clandestine burials took place at Tolomato in the following years.

This historic cemetery has more than 1,000 burials and is one of the most significant cultural sites of St. Augustine. In addition to Christian Indian burials, we have documented burials of people from places including Spain, Africa, Italy, Greece, Corsica, Germany, Ireland, Haiti, Cuba and Canada. Hundreds of the identified burials are those of Minorcans.

By 1811, the Spanish had created a formal plan for the cemetery. The Library of Congress holds a copy of a Spanish drawing from this period, making Tolomato the first planned cemetery in Florida.

The landscape has changed. In his 1765 trip through Florida, naturalist William Bartram commented on the ruined state of the bell tower, but it survived until the 1790s, when it was dismantled so that the coquina could be used in the construction of what is now the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine. The current chapel was built in 1853 and there are 18th and 19th century headstones and monuments.

Important individuals buried at Tolomato include; Bishop Augustin Verot, first Catholic Bishop of St. Augustine, and Fr. Miguel O'Reilly, the first pastor of what is now the Cathedral. The Venerable Fr. Felix Varela, intellectual author of Cuban independence and in process of canonization, was initially buried here. Fr. Pedro Camps and Fr. Narciso Font, Catalan-speaking priests who served the Minorcans, were also first buried at Tolomato, and General Biassou, hero of Haitian independence, is buried here. Research on the burials is an ongoing project.

The cemetery is the property of the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine.

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