In 1513, Spain claimed much of today’s Southeastearn United States as their own – naming the large area La Florida. Their colony covered an area already home to a wide variety of Indigenous cultures and tribes. To convert the Native Americans to Christianity, control such a large area, and prevent colonization by other countries, Spain established a missionary system throughout La Florida as early as the late 1500s. Many of these missions emerged around existing Indigenous communities – including that of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Tolomato at the Guale town of Tolomato. At that time, the Guale lived in present-day coastal Georgia and Sea Islands.

Spanish Missions of the Floridas in 1675. (UFDC)

The Franciscan mission at Tolomato ended with the Guale Revolt of 1597, which raised the town and its mission to the ground. After the rebellion, Spain’s Guale allies from Tolomato moved to the mission of Santa Catalina de Guale on today’s St. Catherines Island. There they lived until the British forced Spain and its Guale allies out of Georgia in the 1680s. Tolomato and its mission then remerged at Guana – three leagues north of St. Augustine (today a part of Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve).

When British forces attacked in the early 1700s, Tolomato and its mission sought refuge outside of the Rosario Line – now Cordova Street. Antonio de Arredondo recorded that 14 men and 33 women and children lived at Tolomato (#18) on his 1737 map of St. Augustine. Puente’s 1764 map describes the same site (#17) as “Hermita de Piedra de Ntra Sra de Guadalupe del Pueblo de Indios de Tolomato.” That year, Tolomato joined the Spanish in evacuating St. Augustine for Cuba due to Florida’s transfer to Great Britain. Following their departure, Joseph Purcell’s 1777 map of St. Augustine describes the former community and mission (#E) as “Ruins of a Spanish Church.”

  • A section from a historic map of St. Augustine's defense line in the 1700s.
  • A section of a historic map of St. Augustine in the 1700s.
  • A black and white copy of a historic map of St. Augustine from the 1700s.

Eleven years later, Mariono de la Rocque’s 1788 map of St. Augustine notes a “Cementerio” and a “Torre de Tolomato” at the site. When interments began at the cemetery is unclear. Two legal documents from the Second Spanish Period (1784-1821) – written between between landowner Miguel Ysnardy, Spanish Governor Enrique White, and Vicar Miguel O’Reilly – suggest that St. Augustine buried Tolomato’s deceased inhabitants at the site prior to 1763. However, the earliest available church record of burials there date to 1784 and continue without interruption until 1884 – when St. Augustine prohibited all burials within the city. (Though a few illegal burials occurred afterwards.)

To visit and learn more about Tolomato Cemetery, contact Tolomato Cemetery Preservation Association at


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