When the Spanish sailed into the Gulf Coast in 1559, Pensacola Bay was recognized in a Spanish seaman's journal as "the best I have seen in my life." However, it was not until 1698 that Fort San Carlos de Austria became the first permanent settlement in Northwest Florida. The remains of the fort are located on Pensacola Naval Air Station. The colonial city of Pensacola grew to the east of the original fort. Townspeople began to build an infrastructure to support the needs of the settlement. Because of high mortality in those early days, one of those needs included the designation of a burial site. Thus, St. Michael's Cemetery was developed on the distant outskirts of the colonial city of Pensacola.
Today, St. Michael' s Cemetery is an open-air museum at the core of our urban environment. Formally surveyed by the Spanish in 1807, St. Michael's Cemetery may have been used as a burying ground as early as the mid 18th century. Preliminary investigations suggest that along with the 3200 marked burials, a large number of unmarked burials are also present on the site.
This historic archaeological site is the final resting place of both the famous and the common people who have influenced the history of Pensacola and Northwest Florida. The cemetery represents the wide ethnic diversity of early America. Initially, early migration from Europe brought individuals from Spain, France, England, Ireland, Africa, Greece, and numerous other countries coming to the New World. These people brought with them customs and cultures that influenced a burgeoning settlement.
Just as daily life was influenced by diverse cultures, so was the "Sacred Ground" that was St. Michael's Cemetery. Monuments and mausoleums, plain cement slabs, ovan tombs and table memorials are reflective of a society that represented a disparate community. Decorations on monuments show attitudes toward life and death. However, time and the elements take their toll on fragile marble, sandstone, bricks, and stucco. As is often the case with older cemeteries, St. Michael's has survived military battles fought in and around its boundaries, hurricanes, neglect, vandals, and the natural forces of aging.
As this century begins, we have a completed survey and database that will help historians and genealogists in their research. In addition, we will continually assess decaying or damaged monuments and begin repairing them. Heritage families are helping refresh their family plots, repairing delicate ironwork and walkways. We will soon complete a heritage trail that presents the story of various characters within the cemetery.
In addition, each year the Friends of St. Michael's celebrate this historic site with a lawn party called "St. Michael's Cemetery Live: Jazz, Spirits and Angel Food!" ® Students research the lives within this historic site and young actors portray the interesting people whose shared stories reflect the chronicles of Pensacola and Northwest Florida. In short, St. Michael's Cemetery deserves the title "Treasure of America," as Pensacola is truly the place where America began.
St. Michael's Cemetery is proud to be
an Official Project of Save America's Treasures.