Cemetery of the Week #161: The Old Huguenot Cemetery

Huguenot gate

These photos are borrowed from the Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery Facebook page.

Old Huguenot Cemetery
aka the Huguenot Cemetery or the Public Burying Ground of St. Augustine
A1A Orange Street
Saint Augustine, Florida 32084
Established officially: 1821
Size: one-half acre
Number of interments: approximately 436
Open: Third Saturday of every month (see below for more details)

During the Spanish colonial era in Florida, this half-acre of land served as a potter’s field to bury criminals, other ex-communicants, and all non-Catholics who died in St. Augustine. The oldest graves have no markers, since the Spanish felt it was best to erase the memory of people who died outside the Church. Although the cemetery is named for the French Protestant movement, it’s unlikely any actual Huguenots are buried here.

When the United States took control of the Florida territory in 1819, the old potter’s field became the city’s only Protestant graveyard, opening officially in September 1821. Shortly thereafter, a yellow fever epidemic gripped the city. The mosquito-borne virus attacks the kidneys and liver, causing jaundice. Before a vaccine was developed, the disease was often fatal.

The cemetery’s owner, Reverend Thomas Alexander, deeded the land to the Presbyterian Church in 1832. The Presbyterians oversaw the cemetery until it closed in 1884. Since its closure, Memorial Presbyterian Church maintains it, aided more recently by the Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery.

Among the approximately 436 people buried here are US Congressmen Gideon Barstow, who retired to Florida and died in 1852, and Charles Downing, who also served as a Colonel in the Seminole War in 1836.

Famous names aren’t what draw most people to this old cemetery. By many accounts, the Huguenot Cemetery is the most haunted place in the ancient city. One ghost story begins with the body of a fourteen-year-old girl abandoned at the nearby city gates during a yellow fever epidemic. Since no one claimed her and she couldn’t be proven to be Catholic, she was buried in the Huguenot Cemetery. It’s said her ghost, clad in a flowing white dress, still wanders the cemetery after midnight. Sometimes she waves at visitors. She’s even been seen atop the cemetery gate.

The most famous ghost in the Huguenot Cemetery has been identified as Judge John Stickney, who died in 1882. When his children had him exhumed years later, the gravediggers opened his coffin to find the judge reasonably well preserved. In the mob of people watching the exhumation hid a thief, who stole the judge’s gold teeth right out of his skull in the commotion. Although Stickney’s body was moved to Washington, DC, the tall dark figure of judge’s ghost continues to prowl the cemetery, searching for his missing dental work. He’s been sighted day and night.

The fragile old cemetery is usually locked, but until earlier this month, the Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery opened it on the third Saturday of each month.

Huguenot hurricane damage

When Hurricane Irma tore up Florida two and a half weeks ago, it swept across St. Augustine and over the old cemetery.  A hurricane-spawned tornado toppled one of the centuries-old magnolias.  Other damaged trees landed on fragile old tombstones.  Damage is estimated to amount to $25,000.

Despite this, the Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery hope to open the cemetery on October 21 for its regular third Saturday visitation day.

If you’d like to help with the costs of tree removal and conservation of the gravestones, please email Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery President Charles Tingley at catingley (at) gmail (dot) com. The Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization.

Useful links:

The Old Huguenot Cemetery homepage

Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery Facebook page

Report on the damage from Hurricane Irma

Weird US report on the Huguenot Cemetery

Ghosts & Gravestones report on the Huguenot Cemetery

Links from Cemetery Travel:

The cemetery is mentioned in Famous and Curious Cemeteries

Key West City Cemetery

About Loren Rhoads

I'm the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, as well as a space opera trilogy. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
This entry was posted in Cemetery of the Week and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Cemetery of the Week #161: The Old Huguenot Cemetery

  1. I never thought about damage to cemeteries as most of the ones around here don’t have large trees. An appropriate name for the cemetery since it was started in the Spanish colonial period yet strange that no actual Huguenots were buried there. What a ghostly place! Glad they will try to restore it.

    Liked by 1 person

What would you like to add?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s