Advertisement
  1. News

Seminole Tribe searches for remains of ancestors on Egmont Key

The Egmont Key Lighthouse Cemetery has crosses marking Seminole graves from the time members of the tribe were held captive there in U.S. internment camps. Other Seminoles are thought to have been buried at Egmont in unmarked graves.
Published Mar. 30, 2017

Scattered throughout Egmont Key in plain sight are remains of its bustling past as the location of Fort Dade, built to protect the Tampa Bay area from invasion during the Spanish-American War in the late 1800s.

But hidden somewhere underground on the scenic island at the mouth of Tampa Bay lies evidence of its darker days as home to a U.S. military internment camp for about 300 Seminole Indians in the mid 1800s.

Seminoles who died there were buried without markers. No one knows how many there are.

So last week, the Seminole Tribe of Florida stepped up its efforts to find these ancestors.

Using ground-penetrating radar, the tribe's archaeology team searched the northern part of the island near the iconic lighthouse and found areas they called "dense spots."

Over the next few weeks, the archaeologists will process the data they gathered to determine whether these could be burial areas.

"We'll be looking for two things: Does it have the proper dimensions of a grave and is it at the right depth?" said Domonique deBeaubien, who works with the tribe protecting Seminole remains.

Skeletons will not be moved. Rather, markers will be placed and the Seminoles will work with state officials to ensure the areas are not disturbed.

Egmont Key was a holding area for Seminoles who were being sent to reservations after they were forced from their villages in Florida.

Not all survived the wait. Some died of disease on Egmont Key. At least one is known to have committed suicide.

The island was later used during the Civil War by Confederacy blockade runners. Later, it hosted Fort Dade with its military batteries, ammunition storage, suburban-style homes, general store and even a bowling alley. Shells of some structures still remain.

Because of this past, "you never know what can be found there," said Richard Sanchez, president of the Egmont Key Alliance, a nonprofit that preserves and protects the island's natural and historical resources.

Sanchez pointed to a lightning fire that burned more than 80 acres of the island last July and, in the process, cleared vegetation that had long hidden the remnants of former military buildings — three concrete walls of a radio-weather station and foundations for a hospital and morgue.

"I wouldn't say we didn't know they were there," said Sanchez, who joined the Seminole Tribe in the search last week. "They're documented. But they were forgotten."

Also last week, the Seminole Tribe performed a metal-detection survey of the middle of the island.

"We found some interesting artifacts from the time period the Seminoles would have been there," tribal archaeologist Maureen Mahoney said. These include square construction rivets and a bullet believed to be from the Civil War era.

Without government permission to remove these artifacts, they placed them back in the ground and mapped where they are, explained Seminole archaeology field technician David Scheidecker.

The Seminoles chose the lighthouse as a starting point in their search for burials because it is the location of a small cemetery with 19 graves for an eclectic group — lighthouse tenders, U.S. armed forces members and five Seminoles. Only one of the Seminole markers has a name — Chief Tommy.

It's possible, the archaeology team said, that the cemetery extended past where its boundaries are now set. The team plans to expand its search later.

The American soldiers did not respect the Seminoles enough to bury them in one place. Instead, bodies were scattered across the island and with no markings.

Some bodies may already have been washed away along with nearly 300 acres of the land the island has lost through erosion in the past century.

"We will continue to survey the island for Seminole presence and clues about what happened there," said Paul Backhouse, historic preservation officer for the Seminoles. "For the tribe, this is a huge part of their history."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is hoping to secure a $21.8 million federal grant to help pay for a bus rapid transit line connecting downtown St. Petersburg and the beaches. St. Petersburg City  Council approved an interlocal agreement Thursday supporting the project. ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times
    Pinellas transit officials hope the project will get a federal grant in 2020. However, St. Pete Beach and South Pasadena still oppose it.
  2. Marissa Mowry, 28, sits in a Hillsborough County courtroom court before her sentencing hearing Thursday. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sexually assaulting a boy when he was 11-years-old. She was his former nanny, and became pregnant with his child. Photo courtesy of WTVT-Fox 13
    Marissa Mowry was 22 when she first assaulted an 11-year-old boy. Now he’s a teenager raising a son, and she was classified as a sexual predator.
  3. The tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico that’s projected to strengthen as it approaches Florida could put a crimp ― or much worse ― in Tampa Bay’s weekend plans. National Hurricane Center
    The National Weather Service warns that the Gulf of Mexico disturbance could strengthen and bring wind, rain and possibly tornadoes to the bay area.
  4. Pat Frank, at a 2016 candidate debate with then-challenger Kevin Beckner. She won. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
    From school board to state lawmaker to clerk of courts, she just keeps on going, Sue Carlton writes.
  5. Researchers from the University of Central Florida and International innovation company, Imec have developed a camera that uses specific wavelength of light to easily find pythons in habitat where they are typically well camouflaged. 
 Imec
    University of Central Florida researchers worked with Imec to develop the cameras.
  6. Pasco County Sheriff's deputies lead three teenagers from a Wesley Chapel Publix store after responding to reports that the boys had been showing off handguns there in a Snapchat video. PASCO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE  |  Pasco County Sheriff's Office
    The three Pinellas boys were apprehended while they were still walking the aisles of the Wesley Chapel store.
  7. The 59-year-old pastor was arrested Oct. 2 after a young woman told investigators he began abusing her in 2014 when she was 14 and he was senior minister at the First Congregational Church of Winter Park. Orange County Sheriff's Office via AP
    Rev. Bryan Fulwider was released Wednesday night after posting a $700,000 bond.
  8. Sam's Club fulfillment center manager Nick Barbieri explains to a shopper how the new Scan & Go shop works at 5135 S Dale Mabry Highway. SARA DINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The shuttered store has been reinvented and debuted to the community.
  9. Yogi Goswami
    The Molekule Air Mini is a scaled-down version of its original purifier.
  10. In this image taken from video provided by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, border patrol agents escort a woman to a patrol car on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, at Aventura Hospital in Aventura, Fla. The woman had been detained by border patrol agents when she fell ill. The agent took her to the hospital emergency room for treatment. The presence of immigration authorities is becoming increasingly common at health care facilities around the country, and hospitals are struggling with where to draw the line to protect patients’ rights amid rising immigration enforcement in the Trump administration. (Florida Immigrant Coalition via AP) AP
    Hospitals are struggling with where to draw the line to protect patients’ rights amid rising immigration enforcement in the Trump administration.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement