Archaeologists discover an underwater graveyard in the Florida Keys

After carefully cleaning part of the gravestone, they were able to see a name and a date: John Greer, died November 1861.

KEY WEST, Fla. — Photos taken last summer show Clarks Summit native Devon Fogarty helping the National Park Service search an area near Fort Jefferson.

It is located in the Florida Keys, in Dry Tortugas National Park.

The crew was trying to find a former quarantine hospital used by the fort in the 1860s.

While surveying an area, Fogarty says he noticed something they didn’t expect to see that day.

“There’s no way it’s a grave. It’s too small. It’s my size. We have records of burials that occurred in many of the sunken Keys, but we didn’t expect to have anything preserved as intact as that grave,” Fogarty said.

The crew had discovered a cemetery.

After carefully cleaning part of the gravestone, they were able to see a name and date, John Greer, who died November 1861.

“Since the date November 5, 1861 falls right at the height of Fort Jefferson’s early construction period and Civil War mobilization period, we assumed he was either a prisoner of war or was a contractor for the Army Corps of Engineers because it didn’t have a title,” Fogarty said.

After visiting the National Archives in Washington DC, Fogarty says he was able to learn that John Greer was employed as a laborer at the fort and died there.

“It was very exciting to see him and to be able to put his name somewhere so that, hopefully, down the road, the citizen science side can actually fill in those narratives, maybe find living descendants for each of these people. Who was buried out there,” Fogarty said.

Although only one grave has been identified, historical records show that dozens of people, mostly US soldiers stationed at Fort Jefferson, may have been buried there.

Fogarty hopes the discovery of the cemetery will bring new interest to Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park due to its historical significance.

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