Underwater Cemetery and Hospital Discovered in Florida Keys

Archeologists have discovered a 19th-century quarantine hospital site and cemetery on an underwater island near the Dry Tortugas National Park.

In August 2022, researchers discovered an archeological site on an underwater island near the Dry Tortugas National Park. After surveying the area, the team, which included members of the National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center, the Southeast Archeological Center, and a University of Miami graduate student, identified a 19th-century quarantine hospital site and cemetery.

According to historical records, the hospital was used to treat soldiers and civilians at Fort Jefferson who were diagnosed with yellow fever between 1890 and 1900. The site’s location had remained a mystery until now.

The archeological site was found near Garden Key, and researchers believe that dozens of individuals are buried there. So far, one person has been identified: John Greer, a laborer at Fort Jefferson who died on November 5, 1861. The cause of his death remains unclear, but his gravesite was marked with a large slab of greywacke, the same material used to build the first floor of Fort Jefferson.

The discovery sheds new light on the history of the area. Fort Jefferson was a military prison during the American Civil War, and the surrounding islands became a naval outpost, a lighthouse station, naval hospital, quarantine facility and a site for military training, according to the park’s website.

Efforts to learn more about Greer and the other individuals buried on the submerged island are ongoing. The discovery is a reminder that the history of the United States is still being uncovered, even in places as familiar as the Florida Keys.