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Two crypts on Fort George Island in Jacksonville, Florida, once contained bodies dating back possibly to the 1700s, but years of vandalism and mixed reports of who was in the tombs had led to speculation about the age and history surrounding them. It is most commonly accepted that the crypts belong to family members of John Houstoun McIntosh, who once owned the island, because of grave markers placed on the crypts in 1880 by alleged ancestors of the family. However, similarities of the crypts to those of General James Edward Oglethorpe’s soldiers, who built Fort Saint George, led others to believe his men were inside. Varying timelines, facts about the construction of the road that supposedly led to the crypts’ discovery, and limited, early accounts of who they belonged to has left the tombs shrouded in mystery. Due to this, they are now closed to public access and not visible on maps.

A 1998 photo of the crypts on Fort George Island.

A 1998 photo of the crypts on Fort George Island.

A photo of the crypts on Fort George Island.

A photo of the crypts on Fort George Island.

Two crypts on Fort George Island in Jacksonville, Florida are the alleged tombs of relatives belonging to the Georgia planter John Houstoun McIntosh, who owned the island from 1804-1817, but few existing records and varying accounts of who they actually belonged to have led to much speculation over whether or not the McIntosh family was actually in the tombs or if they were even used at all. Over the years, Fort George Island passed through many owners, adding to the mystery of the origin of the crypts. Initially, French Huguenots escaping religious persecution claimed the land in 1562. After Spanish destroyed the fort, the Spanish mission San Juan del Puerto was established to convert Native Americans to Christianity. In 1736, British General James Edward Oglethorpe built Fort Saint George on the island, giving it the name that remains in present day. After several other owners operated plantations on the site, John McQueen (Don Juan McQueen) built a plantation house during his ownership from 1791-1804. From 1804-1814, John Houston McIntosh operated a Sea Island cotton plantation on Fort George Island, during which time he became the leader of the “Patriot’s Rebellion.” Several years afterward, the land was sold to Zephaniah Kingsley, who constructed other features such as a barn and slave cabins, before the land was sold to John Lewis, then Charles Thomson, who built a tabby house on the southern portion of the island from 1854-1855. Finally, John Rollins owned the island from 1869-1895, using it for tourism purposes rather than agricultural plantations, and constructing the Fort George Hotel as other structures such as churches and clubs were being built to accommodate visitors.

It is speculated that when Rollins was constructing the hotel and new roads were being built in 1875, the crypts were discovered, but eventually were once again overgrown after a fire burned the hotel and tourism depleted. McIntosh’s sister-in-law and daughter were the supposed bodies in the tombs, who allegedly died in 1808, but the few existing records of the landmarks contradict those theories. There are three early accounts, two epitaphs on the crypts, and the memoir of Rollins’s daughter, Gertrude Rollins Wilson, that are used as a basis for learning about the tombs. The first early account was published by New England poet W.G. Crosby in 1873, who made the first ties of the crypts to the McIntosh family. He wrote that the crypts belonged to a McIntosh and his wife, but also that a report circulated years earlier that gems and jewels were buried with the bodies, which made the crypts a target for vandals and grave robbers.

The next published report was in 1877, two years after Rollins supposedly discovered the crypts. It was written by Julia Dodge in the Scribner’s Monthly article “An Island of the Sea.” She described the tombs as having no dates or labels, but pointed out records that indicate they had been there at least 80 years, which would have placed the tombs in the time John McQueen owned the island, before McIntosh. The third report was written in 1878 by Samuel G.W. Benjamin in Harper’s Monthly article “The Sea Islands.” While he acknowledged the reports claiming the tombs were those of McIntosh and his wife, he also mentioned that some thought they were the tombs of hypothetical Spanish officers belonging to a garrison that occupied a fort that might have once stood on the island centuries ago.

The most important account, however, is that of Gertrude Rollins Wilson, who was 79 years old at the time of her writing in 1952. In her memoir, she states that in the early days of the hotel’s existence, a man named McIntosh arrived on the island with his daughter. She said the man claimed to be an ancestor of John Houstoun McIntosh, and that they arrived carrying two tablets with the names of two women they claimed had died on the island. Her father, John Rollins, had a different theory. Because the crypts were exactly like the ones on Frederica Island belonging to Oglethorpe’s men, he believed the crypts were actually older than anyone knew, and that the people inside them were Oglethorpe’s soldiers. Nevertheless, he allowed the man and his daughter to place the epitaphs on the tombs (around 1880), and that act, along with the wire fence that had been built to allow easier access to the site, was what made the area a target for vandals. Gertrude explains that the road was built specifically to accommodate the McIntosh “ancestors” by allowing them to reach the tomb, and that afterward, Gertrude and her brother had to periodically reseal the vandalized crypts, and which times they examined the bones and thought they were too large to belong to women, who the ancestors claimed were in them.

There are also several other problems with her account of what occurred. Not only had the writer Crosby mentioned that the vandalism had occurred before the graves were marked, but the road was also built years before the encounter with the McIntosh ancestors whom it was supposedly built for, according to published records. There are also issues with the tablets themselves, which read “Mary, Daughter of John Houstoun & Eliza Bayard McIntosh Died 1808” and “Mrs Ann Bayard Houstoun, Daughter of Nicholas Bayard of New York Sister of Mrs Eliza Bayard McIntosh Died 1808.” Not only were the names of McIntosh’s children unknown, but his sister’s name was Mary, not Ann. Both of these things call into question not only the accuracy of who was in the crypts, but also whether or not the people who placed the tablets were actually ancestors of McIntosh. However, the information on the stones is not entirely improbable, because there is evidence that Mary Houstoun died before 1812 and the McIntosh child died before adulthood, which makes the mystery of the crypts even more questionable.

Another issue with the many theories surrounding the crypts is that McIntosh and his wife were buried at there Marianna plantation, and their graves are presently located at Oak Grove Cemetery in St. Mary’s, Georgia, despite the writers Crosby and Benjamin both claiming those are the people who the tombs belong to. Additionally, because the McIntosh “descendants” came to place the tablets on the tombs several years after the first publication associating the crypts with the McIntosh family, there is speculation that there was likely oral tradition by Fort George Island inhabitants identifying the crypts as such. Finally, the tabby, a mixture of sand, lime, and shells, used to construct the crypts, was used by Oglethorpe, McQueen, McIntosh, and Kingsley, as it was a popular building material in the area at the time. Because of the years of vandalism and mysterious history of the crypts, they are now closed to public access and are not marked on any maps.

  2. Talbot Islands State Parks, Trails of Florida's Indian Heritage. Accessed October 7th 2020.
  3. Nelson, David. Two 19th-century crypts on Fort George Island - Jacksonville, Florida ., Florida Memory. 1998. Accessed October 7th 2020.
  4. Rollins Family, National Park Service. April 14th 2015. Accessed October 7th 2020.
  5. Gilmore, Tim. Fort George Island Crypts, Jax Psycho Geo. December 8th 2016. Accessed October 7th 2020.
  6. A Walk Through the History of Fort George Island, National Park Service. February 1st 2018. Accessed October 7th 2020.
Image Sources(Click to expand)

By David Nelson, 1998,

State Archives of Florida,