SW¼ Sec 13, 4S, 1E (rep)
150 yd S of Plum Orchard Rd. (reported)
H.H. Strickland (b.1926) who lives north of St. Marks says that he well recalls seeing unmistakable features of a graveyard in the eastern skirts of the site of the mid-nineteenth-century town of Port Leon. In 1942 he came upon a broken gravestone with legible inscriptions commemorating the 1842 death of a man who was 22 years old and who was a native of Kentucky. He says that he recalls noticing with interest the even-century interval between the inscribed year and the time of his seeing the inscription. Further, Mr. Strickland says that he had seen at a time still earlier a good many gravestones standing inside a wrought iron fence at the same place. However, he says that at the time of his 1942 observation of the one inscribed stone there was nothing of the fence or these other stones to be seen.
Mr. Strickland related his recollections on a visit to the site, as he specified it, in company of Mays L. Gray and David Roddenberry of the Wakulla County Historical Society on November 1, 2001 (on which visit no graveyard features were seen on this ground substantially altered in the last several decades). Mr. Strickland lived from his infancy to age 16, or so, at his ancestor's homestead about 2? miles north of this place (up the Strickland Road).
The site that Mr. Strickland pointed out is in the SW¼ of Section 13, T4S, R1E, a little south of Port Leon Creek. It is on the mild slope of land rising just south of the Plum-Orchard-to-Port-Leon road (and The Florida Trail) and the excavated ditch flanking the road's south edge, this at the south terminus of the Strickland Rd. A spot about 100-120 yards south-southeast of the south terminus of Strickland Rd., and just south of a natural sawgrass wetland basin, is where Mr. Strickland stood to fix approximately the place of his recollection. The GPS fix, made two weeks later, is 30º 7' 52.09" X 84º 11' 30.46".
Mr. Strickland says it now seems as though the gravestone of the Kentucky native that he saw some 59 years ago was one professionally made from granite. It was broken off from its base and lying prone beside a large lighter?d stump at that time. That 1942 observation was just after a major wildfire swept the territory, necessitating firefighting by all agencies with personnel in the area, according to Mr. Strickland.
This local account may relate to the same graveyard that received brief literary mention in Franklin Y. Fitch's (?fictitious author) The Life, Travels and Adventures of an American Wanderer: A Truthful Narrative of Events in the Life of Alonzo P. DeMilt (John W. Lovell Co., New York, 1883). DeMilt at Port Leon is accepted as history. The narrative makes early mention that his parents had both been carried off to "the old graveyard," leaving him an orphan at Port Leon. Slightly later, "he soon reached Port Leon, and the graveyard where rested the remains of his parents and sister".? And finally, "Not a vestige of that old graveyard remained when in after years he fondly sought the last resting places of these loved ones." It is evident in the story that that last pilgrimage to seek the graveyard would have been in the period 1868-1883.
This site in the St. Joe Timberlands holdings and the Flintrock Wildlife Management Area has been converted, by mechanical working, to pine tree farming since Mr. Strickland saw the graveyard features. The scene must be appreciably different in most respects than at the time of his 1942 visit, and conventional points of reference between then and now somewhat lacking. However, the Strickland Road's crossing of Port Leon Creek and its intersection with the Plum Orchard Road in the immediate vicinity of the place in point are good references remaining. Rather massive bedrows were plowed into the terrain. The current stand of pines is a little more than 20 years old. Another wildfire here around the time of this planting occasioned some more heavy-equipment traffic right about here, according to Mr. Steve Kelly of St. Joe. There is no preserved plot here now to suggest a graveyard. Although the site is quite open at eye level, a ground cover is very thick to knee depth; small features on the surface of the ground would be hidden. These complications notwithstanding, Mr. Strickland is in no doubt about the location.
Bill Ward (b.1926) of St. Marks says that he, too, was pretty well acquainted with the Port Leon vicinity from hunting and camping trips there in his younger days. And independently of H.H. Strickland he says that he distinctly remembers the crosses that stood on the rise just south of where the Strickland Rd. dips into Port Leon Creek and meets the Port Leon Road. This he considered the Port Leon Cemetery. Mr. Ward's recollection as to the location thus corroborates Mr. Strickland?s simply. However, if the crosses that he saw (evidently no earlier than the 1930's) were of wood and were originals from the day of Port Leon, they had endured remarkably long.
Historian Pete Gerrell (b.1932) of Woodville says that he acquired some familiarity with the Port Leon vicinity in his family's cattle operation thereabout many years back. He says that he has long thought that the place where a CCC camp was located (in the 1930's or 1940's?) was also the site of the Port Leon Cemetery. And he says by telephone that it was approximately the same place that H.H. Strickland points out. He says, however, that the place he speaks of can be identified by some pea gravel visible in a fireline that runs with a north-south run of fence separating the National Wildlife Refuge and the St. Joe lands. But that boundary apparently would be several hundred yards west of the south terminus of Strickland Rd. and the site Mr. Strickland indicates. Mr. Gerrell cites no visible evidence of graves. He also says he has never found any written references to a cemetery at Port Leon.
Ivary Adams (b.1913) of Tallahassee, who lived many years at St. Marks, recalls what seems to be a different site as a supposed graveyard of Port Leon. He describes the site as lying near the 19th Century railbed, which would seem to place it in the Refuge in Sec. 14 ? well west of both the boundary fence and the site Mr. Strickland pointed out. It is possible that more detail could be gained from Mr. Adams on his recollection.
There is no site file for a graveyard near Port Leon in the State of Florida Division of Historical Resources. There is, of course, a site file for the town of Port Leon, but it does not mention an associated graveyard (though speculating that a number of dead from the Narvaez expedition of 1528 may be interred thereabout).
Historical references to a graveyard here, outside "American Wanderer", may be very few. In Claude Kenneson's large collection titled Port Leon, Florida (in the state library), reference to the cemetery is inconspicuous if there is any. That a good many persons were buried at or near Port Leon in the town's short existence (ending in 1843) is evident, however. Port Leon's experience with a deadly yellow fever epidemic is related in Barbara E. Miller's 1976 thesis (FSU, history) "Tallahassee and the 1841 Yellow Fever Epidemic" and in Kenneson's collection.
With the present, limited body of information, the site identified by Mr. Strickland is a plausible one. It is only 1/3 mile, or so, from the center of the town of Port Leon, it is inland from the town site, and it is on the slope of what may be some of the highest ground so near the town site. And the 1842 inscription reported by Mr. Strickland is consistent with a Port Leon death.
Date of site report narrative - January 2003
Some information is taken from The Life, Travels and Adventures of an American Wanderer: A Truthful Narrative of Events in the Life of Alonzo P. DeMilt (John W. Lovell Co., New York, 1883)
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