St. Michael's Cemetery is an eight-acre green space in the heart of urban, historic Pensacola, Florida. Probably in use by the mid to late 18th century, the land was officially designated a cemetery by the King of Spain in 1807.
Although initially assigned to the Catholic inhabitants of Pensacola, people of all faiths have traditionally been buried here. The cemetery is an open air museum that is a testament to the diverse history of Pensacola. Today, the cemetery is managed by the St. Michael's Cemetery Foundation of Pensacola, Inc., whose mission is to provide overall management, support restoration and conservation efforts that maintain the historic fabric of the site, and promote public awareness and stewardship through education. The nonprofit Foundation works with the University of West Florida and many community groups and individuals to preserve this historic site.
Operating as usual
The public is invited to volunteer in 1821: A Pensacola Sampler project. A web-based interactive mosaic of faces from our modern community honoring the 1821 community. Volunteers submit their selfies through the website and identify the person they want to be.
West Florida Genealogical Society has been asked to assist in a research project which hopes to ennumerate every person living in Pensacola at the time of the transfer. We will be using the 1820 census, the 1822 voter rolls, and other records to produce a list of as many eye witnesses to history as we can.
If you'd like to participate in the 1821: A Pensacola Sampler project go to the link and fill out the online form.
We are pleased to announce that the cemetery will now be back open to the public for regular visiting hours.
Several months ago our cemetery sustained damage from Hurricane Sally. While our board acted swiftly in getting downed tree limbs removed from the property, many markers and tombs received damage that made it unsafe for regular visitation. Our board is in the process of having this damage to the markers and tombs repaired by specialists, but in the meantime we now feel it is safe to visit with the damaged areas clearly marked off.
Please be aware to stay out of areas where we have placed flags and orange fencing around all the damaged sites. It is important for your safety and for protecting these damaged areas that they not be disturbed.
We know how important this cemetery is to the local community and visitors, and we appreciate all the continued patience and support as we balance public safety and preservation of this historic place.
[09/14/20] Due to Tropical Storm Sally, the cemetery will be closed on 9/14 and 9/15. We will plan to be back open to normal hours after that date, but if things change we will post an update. Stay safe!
As with a number of other Florida State Parks, the Historic St. Michael's Cemetery has officially reopened its gates! We have returned to normal hours. Please continue to practice social distancing and follow guidelines as per Florida State Park safety updates: https://www.floridastateparks.org/learn/safety-updates
Although St. Michael's Cemetery Historic State Park remains closed due to COVID-19, there are several historic cemeteries across our region that remain open. Check out this hiking tour provided by the Florida Public Archaeology Network - Northwest Region of a historic cemetery in Mary Esther!
Do you have a favorite local historic cemetery? If so let us know in the comments below!
Is a pirate buried in Northwest Florida? Join us on this video hiking tour of a local cemetery site to find out!
[03/25/20] To keep in line with other Florida State Parks, St. Michael's Cemetery will be closed to the public until further notice due to the COVID-19 outbreak. We will reopen as soon as other state parks do. For more information please visit the Florida State Parks website: https://www.floridastateparks.org
Check out this updated blog post for the 2020 Florida Archaeology Month theme of "African American Cemeteries in Florida." Although the "By These Hands" project in Pensacola occurred five years ago, it is very much still relevant today!
“By These Hands Project: African American Cemeteries in Pensacola”
By Mike Thomin
“I was searching not just for the names of my ancestors but for stories about them, the secrets of the dark past of Negroes in America… But I can remember, too, that searching for my ancestry was always a fraught process, always a mix of joy, frustration, and outrage, as the reconstruction of their history- individually and collectively- must always be for any African American… If you’re black, and have tried to trace your roots, surely you know it well: The problem was slavery; the institution of slavery- more correctly, the people who created it so perversely, designed it to destroy any possibility of maintaining the family ties necessary to tracing one’s ancestry, through the deviously brilliant act of obliterating our family names, our surnames.”
-Henry Louis Gates, Jr., "In Search of Our Roots" (5-6).
It looked like just another empty lot in a residential area as we pulled our Florida Public Archaeology Network vehicle along the side of East Cross Street in downtown Pensacola. Massive oak trees scattered across the landscape sprawled from the earth like twisted fingertips reaching towards the sky. My colleague Nicole Grinnan and I exited the vehicle and walked along the perimeter of the lot in what seemed to be a quiet neighborhood. Margo Stringfield, an archaeologist with the University of West Florida, stood patiently waiting for us.
As Margo greeted us on that clear afternoon day in January of 2015 the stillness in the air was intermittently broken by laughter. The voices of several African American men enjoying life conversing in the front yard of one of the homes nearby carried through the breeze. The rhythm of hammers forcing nails into boards rang out as two men across the street made repairs to a church next door. An elderly man strolled on the sidewalk without giving us much thought, and the greasy teeth of gears turned and clicked as a middle-aged man parted a path through the empty lot patched with grass on his bicycle. Whenever the sounds created by the living grew silent a tan pit-bull chained to a fence at an adjacent brick duplex warned its owners of our presence. The area was teeming with signs of life. But that is not what brought us here that day. We came searching for signs of death.
As we walked along the property, we stepped over broken tree limbs and through vegetation. Weathered concrete slabs and blocks that dotted the lot broke the monotony of rotting leaves, dirt, and grass that softened our footsteps. But these were no ordinary concrete slabs. They were grave markers.
We could just barely decipher names and dates on some of the markers as we ventured deeper into Montgomery-John the Baptist Cemetery. GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN Alexandra Roberts 1868-1930. Ebbie Grier BORN 1881 Died May 11 1941. ELLIA FIELD 1931-1942. Pearlie Johnson Died October 1941.
As we passed each one, Margo pointed out that these grave markers were not bought from some early 20th-century SEARS Roebuck catalogue that sold everything from cribs to tombstones. Instead, these were built by the hands of local artisans within the community.
PACT & BY THESE HANDS
Several weeks previously, Pastor Carlton Abney of John the Baptist Church was awarded a grant from the Florida Humanities Council to help interpret several African American cemeteries in the Pensacola area. Pastor Abney received much guidance and support from the Pensacola Area Cemetery Team (PACT). PACT was created in 2014 through a City of Pensacola initiative and consisted of community stakeholders, historic preservationists, and archaeologists. The City Mayor tasked PACT with surveying neglected historic cemeteries in Pensacola and the volunteers quickly moved into action over the next several months. After a series of meetings and workshops hosted by PACT, local civic leaders in the community like Pastor Abney took the project to the next step by writing and receiving the grant for a project titled By These Hands: The Vernacular Markers of Pensacola’s Historic African American Cemeteries.
The grant application noted that “Pensacola’s historic African American burial grounds are outdoor museums that reflect cultural attitudes and adaptations.” The end result of By These Hands included the installation of permanent interpretive signage at the site and the creation of a walking tour highlighting African American heritage in the community. In September 2015 a three day event was held that included a series of professional talks, tours, and workshops intended to help people to understand and appreciate the significance of these resources. In addition, the University of West Florida Archaeology Institute 3D scanned a few of the markers and provided funding for the restoration and conservation of some of the damaged markers. In the long run, preservation of three African American cemeteries, including the one we came to that day, will hopefully be just the beginning.
Yet, before any of this could happen, questions needed answers. Who were the people buried at these sites? What can we learn about them from their grave markers and historical documents? How and why did local artisans create these markers for their community? This is what brought us there that calm afternoon in January 2015.
MRS. MARIAH MCQUEEN
At the time of this initial phase of the project, Nicole and I were just a pair in a small volunteer army of graduate students from the University of West Florida’s History and Anthropology Departments. Our mission was to tease out of the lives of the names engraved on these markers. I was assigned Mrs. Mariah McQueen. During our initial site visit I knew absolutely nothing about her life other than what we could read from her headstone.
As we approached the final resting place of Mrs. McQueen in Montgomery-John the Baptist Cemetery, it was immediately apparent that her grave marker was installed at least a century ago. Since that time, a large oak tree had grown out of the grave and caused significant displacement of the marker.
At some point the headstone itself broke away from its original placement. Unlike most of the other grave markers at this particular cemetery, Mrs. McQueen’s was constructed of marble in the common Baroque Style of the time. There was very little evidence for a vernacular design or construction. The stone carving was neatly done with consistent typeface, spacing, and capitalization on the marble. A large part of the bottom text was difficult to read at the time due to the headstone settling into the surrounding soil. The first step was to carefully clear away dirt from the headstone to make it more legible. Using water from a spray bottle, trowels, and a brush, the text on the bottom half of the headstone was carefully revealed.
Once the headstone was cleared and cleaned we could see that it read:
MAY 22, 1911
AGED 55 YEARS
T.W. – J.R. - & D.A.
With this information I knew her name, date of death, year of birth, and at least the first initials and last names of her children. Yet, I had more questions than answers. Through examining census records, birth records, marriage records, death records, city directories, and local newspapers in archives and digital databases over the next few days, I discovered some information about her life and identified exactly who she was.
My initial investigation started in digital census databases. This resulted in a few different possibilities for the identity of Mrs. McQueen. However, to my frustration, there were too many inconsistences with the potential candidates to positively identify her. While electronic databases are a wonderful resource, libraries and archives hold a wealth of information and material records that may only be available by physically visiting them. So, I took a break from digital sources and decided to try the old fashioned way of sifting through physical documents in archives. My first stop was the Voices of Pensacola Multicultural Center in downtown Pensacola.
Combing through marriage records in the Voices of Pensacola Multicultural Center revealed that a woman named Maria Williams married a man named Prince McQueen in the city of Pensacola in 1905. However, the city directory from the next year seemed to suggest that by then they were no longer married and lived separately. Also, it appeared that Maria went back to using her maiden name of Williams, so her tombstone likely would not have the surname McQueen if this was the right person. Additionally, I found a Mariah/Maria McQueen of the right age in another census record living in a different part of Florida. Nevertheless, neither of these people seemed to be a match.
A couple of days later the breakthrough finally came. A 1910 census I found through a digital database listed a Mrs. Mariah McQueen living with Mr. Jerry McQueen in Holt, Florida. This particular person did not show up in my initial searches because I was looking for a woman who was 55 years old. However, once I expanded my search to include someone who fell within a ten year age span of 55 I got immediate results.
In the 1910 census Mariah McQueen is listed as being a 45 year old mulatto female and married to Jerry McQueen. According to the census, Jerry McQueen was her second husband and at the time he was 59 years old. Jerry was listed as a cooper for the “Naval Store” and he is also listed as mulatto. At the time the census was taken they lived with their niece Florena Evans.
The 1910 census provided another clue when it noted that all three were originally from North Carolina. Would Mariah McQueen and Jerry McQueen turn up on the 1900 census in North Carolina? Indeed, they did. And not only was Mrs. McQueen listed as being married to Jerry, but at that time they were living with several children including two sons named Theo. W. and John R. McQueen! Their ages at the time indicate they were born before Mrs. McQueen married Mr. McQueen. Although the first two initials of these sons match two of the children listed on the grave marker, their surnames are obviously different. One scenario to explain this discrepancy might be that when the census was taken they were simply recorded to have their step-father’s last name.
First, this let me know that the "T" in "T.W." on the headstone probably stood for Theodore and the "J" in "J. R." stood for John. I now also had ages of her children to compare with other records. Since the initials of these two sons matched the names of two of the three children listed on the marker I was fairly confident that this was not just a coincidence. One of the problems that left me a bit hesitant at first was that these two sons did not share the same surname listed on the marker, and according to the 1910 and 1900 census Mrs. McQueen was ten years younger than what the headstone recorded. Plus, this census did not account for the third child listed on the marker, D. A. Morrison.
After this discovery, I turned the focus of my research on Theodore W. Morrison. After a few short minutes I found census records showing that he lived in Pensacola in 1920 where he ran a hotel with his brother. And his brother’s name was Daniel! This was another huge breakthrough, since now I was positive that these were the same children listed on the headstone of Mrs. Mariah McQueen. It turns out that eventually Mr. Theodore Morrison became a prominent Baptist pastor in the African American community in Pensacola, and because of his status, much information concerning his life is recorded in census records, city directories, and the local African American newspaper in Pensacola titled The Colored Citizen. The Colored Citizen was an African American newspaper published in Pensacola from the early 1900s until the 1950s.
A FAMILY CONNECTION
As I finalized the research for the report I was writing up for the project, I stumbled across a family tree created in a popular genealogy website database. This well-researched family tree included all three children listed on Mrs. McQueen’s headstone. The mother on the family tree was listed as Mariah Morrison, but there were no other details about her life. No birth date, no date of death, and not a single census record. And no word of her being buried in Montgomery-John the Baptist Cemetery in Pensacola, Florida. The only associated record on the family tree was a birth record of Theodore Morrison listing her as his mother. I later discovered that part of the reason for this is because her maiden name was, in fact, Mariah Jones.
I decided to contact the person responsible for creating this particular family tree in hopes that it just might be relative. I thought the information I collected could potentially help fill in some valuable information for their genealogy. A little less than a week later I received a reply. It was from Theodore Morrison who lived in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the great grandson of Mariah McQueen. Theo’s message read:
“What are the chances that you would be assigned my great grandmother's grave? You don't have any idea of how blessed I am to be communicating with you. I would love to see everything you have on Mariah's life and her family. The only information I had on her was from a one line typewritten notation showing the birth of T.W. to Robert Benjamin Morrison and Mariah Morrison as the mother. Your work sheds more light on my family history and may provide me with clues as to what happened to Robert Benjamin Morrison.”
It turns out that the one missing piece of the puzzle all along had been that engraved headstone of Mrs. Mariah McQueen at Montgomery-John the Baptist Cemetery. If I did not have the names of her three sons from her headstone, I doubt I would have been able to positively identify her. And if her headstone had not survived, the link might have been forever lost.
For me, the highlight of the By These Hands event was when I got to meet Mr. Morrison at the cemetery where his great grandmother was buried by her three loving sons over one hundred years ago. As we walked over to Mrs. Mariah McQueen’s recently restored head marker, Theo knelt down to get a closer look. He placed his hand over the smooth marble surface. Starting from the bottom he moved his hand along the engraved names of his grandfather, great uncles, and finally, his great grandmother.
For the first time in two generations, Mrs. Mariah McQueen’s family was reconnected with her final resting place. Because the large oak tree was growing from her burial site, when her head marker was repaired it had to be off set from the site a few feet away. It was at that point that realized something. When the acorn the oak tree sprouted from fell on her burial site nearly a century ago, the soil that allowed it to grow held nutrients that Mrs. McQueen’s body gave back to the earth. Just like a mother and grandmother, Mrs. McQueen nurtured the tree. It is literally a living family tree – one that she helped give life to and her descendants can now touch.
While there are still many details to learn about the life of Mrs. Mariah McQueen, this first step at least helps to better interpret African American heritage in Pensacola and in turn solve a long held family mystery. This public archaeology project was not just about rebuilding and reconnecting communities across cultural and economic lines. It was equally about giving families back their identities and bridging the holes they often have in their own genealogies.
The Transatlantic slave trade and slavery as an institution quite literally tore families apart. This legacy lives on today in a myriad of ways for African American communities, and is more recently evident through news stories that have highlighted the neglect and mistreatment of African American cemeteries across the state. It also lives on today for African Americans who attempt to piece together their own family histories. History often leaves few records behind for communities who were denied status and basic legal rights within the societies they lived. For historians, archaeologists, and genealogists, this often results in research with dead ends. For descendant communities, however, it means something far worse.
Our names are more than our identities; they are the unbreakable link between ancestor and descendant. In many instances, historic cemeteries can provide the only bridge to these links. Without these places, we lose our heritage. Historic African American cemeteries are at risk, and these sacred places deserve the same level of respect and preservation as any other. The case of the By These Hands Project shows that when communities, lawmakers, and professionals work together, we can preserve these important resources for the future.
*This post is an updated and revised version of an article originally published on FPAN's blog in 2015. It is reposted here to coincide with Florida Archaeology Month’s 2020 theme of historic African American cemeteries in Florida.
|Monday||09:00 - 17:00|
|Tuesday||09:00 - 17:00|
|Wednesday||09:00 - 17:00|
|Thursday||09:00 - 17:00|
|Friday||09:00 - 17:00|
|Saturday||09:00 - 17:00|
|Sunday||09:00 - 17:00|
Our Goals is to Unify, Empower and Inform the African American Professional Community.
The Flight Deck Store is the Official Store of the National Naval Aviation Museum
Let’s boost tourism and education in Pensacola with a dinosaur-themed science center that allows you to learn while having fun!
Art collection of Chancy M. Jones
The African American Heritage Society of Pensacola, Florida has served the region for the past twenty-nine years. Our Mission is to preserve, promote and integrate African American history, heritage, culture and diversity in the greater Northwest Florida.
Native American Cultural Center & Museum Perdido Bay, FL (Pensacola) Museum is FREE to enter, however donations are always appreciated. Open to the Public
The Northwest Region includes Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Washington, Bay, Jackson, Calhoun and Gulf counties in Florida.
History of West Florida and the Florida Panhandle and promoting the collections of the University Archives and West Florida History Center, John C. Pace Library, University of West Florida, Pensacola
This unique art studio and gallery is located Downtown Pensacola, Florida. We offer local and national artwork, and feature Relics Custom Furniture.
This page promotes and follows the development of the Naval Aerospace Medicine Exhibit at the National Naval Aviation Museum.