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Archeologists Make Major Historical Discovery Near Florida Keys

The remarkable findings shed new light on the American Civil War.

KEY WEST, FLORIDA — Archeologists have discovered the remains of a Civil War-era hospital and cemetery located underwater on a submerged island within Dry Tortugas National Park.

After uncovering the grave of John Greer – a civilian laborer who died on Nov. 5, 1861 – researchers traced historical records and identified the site as the Fort Jefferson Post Cemetery. They determined Greer worked at Fort Jefferson and believe the site also includes a small quarantine hospital that was used to treat yellow fever patients at the fort between 1890 and 1900.

Greer’s grave is the only one that archeologists have uncovered to this point, but they suspect dozens of civilians and U.S. soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Jefferson were also buried there.

John Greer’s gravestone (photo courtesy of National Park Service)

“This intriguing find highlights the potential for untold stories in Dry Tortugas National Park, both above and below the water,” archeologist Josh Marano stated in a press release. “Although much of the history of Fort Jefferson focuses on the fortification itself and some of its infamous prisoners, we are actively working to tell the stories of the enslaved people, women, children and civilian laborers.”

Researchers noted that Greer’s gravestone was made of greywacke, a sandstone that was also used to build Fort Jefferson.

The fort served as a military prison during the American Civil War and parts of the surrounding area were used as a naval hospital, quarantine facility and military training. Major outbreaks of mosquito-borne yellow fever killed dozens of soldiers on Garden Key and surrounding islands during the 1860s and 1870s.

An unsigned watercolor painting depicts a hospital and cemetery on an island in the Dry Tortugas (photo courtesy of National Park Service).

Researchers said they will continue to study Greer and others who were interred at the fort.