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.
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.
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