In a remote island park off the Florida coast, researchers have made a startling discovery: the remains of a sunken quarantine hospital and cemetery dating from the late 19th century.
A team that included staff from Dry Tortugas National Park, the National Park Service (NPS), the Southeast Archaeological Center, and a graduate student from the University of Miami found the ruins as part of a 2022 survey, according to the NPS.
“This intriguing find highlights the potential for untold stories in Dry Tortugas National Park, both above and below the water,” Josh Marano, maritime archaeologist with South Florida National Parks, said in an NPS news release. . “While much of Fort Jefferson’s history centers on the fort itself and some of its infamous prisoners, we are actively working to tell the stories of enslaved people, women, children and civilian workers.”
Researchers believe the sunken site was once home to a quarantine hospital used to treat yellow fever patients, mostly soldiers serving in nearby Fort Jefferson.
Historical records indicate that “dozens” of soldiers may have been buried in the cemetery.
Among those buried in the old Fort Jefferson Post Cemetery was John Greer, whom documents identify as a worker at the fort. He died on November 5, 1861.
The striking hexagonal Fort Jefferson, known as the Guardian of the Gulf, was built between 1846 and 1875, and was used during the Civil War as a port for Union shipping as well as a prison for deserters.
As people filled the military installation, communicable diseases spread rapidly, killing “dozens” of people in the 1860s and 1870s, according to the NPS. Quarantine hospitals like the one discovered by researchers probably saved hundreds of lives.
The facility’s disappearance is also a reminder of the impacts of climate change in the Florida Keys, according to the researchers.
“While the facilities identified in this study were originally built on land, dynamic conditions caused many of the islands to move over time,” the NPS added in its statement announcing the discovery. “Climate change and big storms have even caused some islands to settle and erode under the waves.”