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Bicentennial Spotlight: Find “People Of 1821” In St. Michael’s Cemetery

Photo courtesy of West Florida Historic Trust

They’re Still Here: The People of 1821 is one of the many projects created to commemorate Florida’s Territorial Bicentennial and Escambia County’s 200th Anniversary. It’s an interactive, online tour of Pensacola’s Historic St. Michael’s Cemetery.

“These are all people who were present in Pensacola in 1821,” said Jennifer Melcher, a research associate from the University of West Florida Archaeology Institute. In partnership, with St. Michael’s Cemetery Foundation, she created the interactive tour of the cemetery.

“They may have died considerably later. Some of our residents in 1821 lived to be in the 80s and 100s, and in 1821, they were seven and eight-year-olds,” she said. “Some of these people would go on to serve in the Civil War and so, you’ll see some Confederate markers along the way. So, you’ll see markers from a broad range along the tour, but they were all here in 1821.”

The land in and around today’s St. Michael’s Cemetery was used as a burial ground beginning in the mid to late 1700s, with the earliest above-ground markers associated with Pensacola’s Second Spanish Period (1781-1821) and the following early American Period.

“We were able to identify for sure about 65 markers that date to the early 1800s for these people of 1821, and it sort of grows out from the colonial road,” Melcher said. “The first markers we have are really right there along the colonial road and the cemetery sort of grows and expands through time.”

Melcher refers to the online tour as an online story map, where participants can follow along from their computers at home or in person by using their smart phones. Connect to They’re Still Here: The People of 1821 to begin.

Credit Jennifer Melcher / UWF Archaeology Institute
UWF Archaeology Institute
Jennifer Melcher, a research associate at the UWF Archaeology Institute created the interactive, online tour of St. Michael's Cemetery focused on the people of 1821.

“What you will see starting off is a brief introduction to the cemetery, and some historic maps that illustrate our cemetery and how old it is,” said Melcher, describing the web site. “This includes the first map of the cemetery in the area, dating to the 1770s.”

Additionally, there are images of historic maps from 1827, 1885 and 1896. Scroll down to see a picture of the current south gate on Alcaniz Street that leads you onto the colonial road.

The tour gives participants a chance to look at different markers, and those using their mobile device in the cemetery will see a blue icon on the map to show their location and to help identify markers that are nearby. 

Scrolling down to begin to Visit the People of 1821.

“There’s a map, which is powered by GIS, as well as some smaller images of different markers in the cemetery of those individuals who were in Pensacola in 1821. And, you can click on the photographs of any of those individuals,” Melcher said.

For example, she pointed to the Bonifay family, which represent several markers in St. Michael’s Cemetery. 

“Felix Bonifay is probably one of the ones that might not be as well-known as some of the others, but he is one of Marianna Bonifay’s children. He was here and you can then see a couple of pictures of his marker.”

Selecting from a row of historic markers to the left of the page, Melcher says there will be both a zoomed-out image that shows where the marker is in the broader setting, as well as a closer view for those people taking the online tour from home.

Credit UWF Archaeology Institute
UWF Archaeology Institute
This is the tomb of Francisco Moreno and his second wife, Margarita Lopez Moreno.

The grave markers of more than 60 people who lived in Pensacola at the time of the transfer from Spain to the U.S. are available. Among them is Francisco Moreno, often referred to as one of the founding fathers of Pensacola, and his wife Margarita Lopez Moreno.

“He actually had three wives and they had quite a few children and it seems like many of them survived to adulthood, which probably would have been rare in the period,” explained Melcher. “So, this tomb includes Francisco Moreno and his first wife, Josefa Moreno, who would have already passed and then his second wife, Margarita Lopez Moreno, who’s also buried here.”

Other 1821 residents highlighted include Josephine (de la rua) Wright, Jose Noriega Junior, Genevieve Ham, and the Soto brothers, Antonio and Matias.

“These brothers were born in Spain and then they married sisters who had been born in Mexico. Then, they made their way to Pensacola,” Melcher noted. “The marker is interesting because it’s in Spanish. We see markers in Spanish and French in our cemetery, really reflected the multi-cultural heritage of Pensacola in this early American period.”

As part of the Pensacola Archaeological Society Spring Lecture Series, Melcher will present a talk about the St. Michael’s Cemetery story map of graves. The virtual lecture will be held tomorrow (May 11), from 7-8pm. Register for  the lecture and link to the interactive tour.

For more on the history of St. Michael's Cemetery, read the latest Pensacola News Journal articleby Margo Stringfield, UWF Archaeologist and co-chair of the 200th Anniversary Commission.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.