History Bytes begins with tombstones and graveyards
The first History Bytes lecture of the 2023 season, brought to you by the Boca Grande Historical Society and Bank of America, regarded grave matters of the island – literally. The presentation given by Boca Grande Historial Society Executive Director Crystal Diff and Scott Shively, Charlotte County historian, was all about local cemeteries … including some burial grounds on the island.
The talk began with island historian Betsy Fugate Joiner discussing a trip she took to the Gainesville area to find where her grandparents settled and her grandfather was born. She found a cemetery as well, with many Fugates buried there, high on a hill.
“I know if I looked for the highest place and biggest tree, it was a good place to start,” she said. “I found a whole raft of Fugates. That was exciting; I had never heard of most of them.”
Betsy said she found her grandfather’s (Jerome Fugate) parent’s graves, as well as one grave from Joiner side of family, one of “Grandma” Effie Sapp’s relatives.
“They were buried there in the 1800s,” Betsy said. “Cemeteries tell so much about life.”
Diff agreed. During her time working for the Charlotte County History Advisory Board she spent a lot of time learning how to research and document cemeteries, burial grounds and private interments. She even took crypt training courses and won awards for her work documenting graves.
She even dressed the part for the presentation, wearing a skirt that featured a black and white representation of a graveyard.
“Cemeteries, to me, are a treasure trove of historic information,” she said. “You can go into a cemetery and find out about an entire town’s history.”
Diff has worked with many organizations to stress the importance of cemeteries, and has organized cemetery tours in Charlotte County, complete with costumes and character representations.
Cemeteries discussed at Wednesday’s History Bytes included Lockjoint Cemetery at the north end of the island, where up to 70 people are buried. The first three found were a couple and a stillborn baby, documented in 2001, but through the years other bones have been found at the site that is just over the Charlotte County line. Railroad workers and fishermen in the village of Gasparilla who had no family were more than likely buried there as well.
There are no markers at the site at the property owner’s request. Family members were contacted, as they still lived in Charlotte County, but no mention was made as to the family wanting to remove the bodies from where they were originally buried.
A confirmed private burial on the island was that of Martin Peter Davis. He was a winter resident who enjoyed going out for a swim. One night he did not come back. He was found three days later, and had drowned. That was on December 13, 1916. His wife wanted to keep him where he wanted to be, so he was buried on the south end of the island. There was a stone marker there at one time, but it is no longer there.
It is stories like the one about Martin that need to be preserved, as there are many other family burial spots – on island and off – that need to be recalled. These stories start to be lost over time, Diff said, especially when the children of those buried, who can recall where the bodies lie, passed on as well.
Shively had many stories about the cemeteries he knew in the area. He told the Bytes audience about how the word cemetery means “sleeping chamber” in Greek, and how cemeteries are a large group of people buried on a plot of land, while graveyards are usually next to a church. He said in pioneer times, a cemetery would start when someone owned land and a family member died. They would bury them, usually on high ground in a secluded area with trees. As more relatives passed on, they would be buried there as well. Sometimes, Shively said, the amount of dead relatives would increase to a point it could be called a cemetery. Other times a family would move and the dead who were buried there would disappear into history.
Diff and Shively also talked about the graves on Cayo Costa, but said they weren’t aware how well they had fared after Hurricane Ian. Peter Nelson, Papi Padilla and his relatives and many more were buried there, alongside Cuban fisherman who drowned in storms and washed ashore at a place aptly named Dead Man’s Cove.
Diff said it is important to remember that if anyone finds human remains, they must report them to the sheriff’s office. Once it is determined that the remains are not part of a crime scene, but rather were simply buried there by family, further determinations would be made as to what to do with them. Native American remains have their own set of rules in most states, and those situations must be handled very carefully.
But it is often difficult to differentiate between a tree root and a bone.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 8 at 11 a.m. in the Johann Fust Library Loggia, Julie Jean Robertson will talk about growing up on the island, about her dad, Capt. Jimmy Robertson and much more. Go to bocagrandehistoricalsociety.com for more.