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HomeUncategorizedCouncil says no to Archaeological Research on Cemetery Property

Council says no to Archaeological Research on Cemetery Property

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The Gulf Archaeological Research Institute acquired a grant in Sept. 2018 to “document the history, ethnohistory, and archaeology of Chucochatti and its role in the Second Seminole War.”

The town of Chucochatti was one of the first towns settled by Creek people in Florida.

“Chocochatti is a very important historical-cultural resource for Hernando County, the State of Florida as a Florida Historic Landmark, and to the Seminole Tribe of Florida especially, since it is where their ethnogenesis from Creek to Seminole took place,” explained Jon Yeager, Hernando Historic Preservation Society member and former chairman of their Archeological Committee.

In April 2019, Brooksville city council approved GARI access to the City of Brooksville property on Emerson Road for the purposes of archaeological survey investigating the possible whereabouts of Chucochatti.

“Our investigations of that property, along with further archival research and ongoing surveys of an adjacent FDOT property to the east (see permit attached), have led us to expand our initial study area. One area of particular interest to us is the area north of the Brooksville Cemetery, off Jasmine Drive (see map attached),” wrote Jill Principe GARI Research Associate in an email correspondence to city manager Mark Kutney.

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Principe requested access to the Jasmine Drive property.  She wrote, “We would like permission to access this property in order to conduct systematic metal detection, soil core sampling and shovel test surveys.  Any ground disturbing activities will be strategic and discrete, and all shovel test units that are excavated will be immediately back filled after complete documentation.”

She continues, “If evidence of Seminole context is identified, larger test units may be necessary. These units, in terms of size and depth, will vary based upon the findings. All units will be immediately back filled after documentation. Any large units that are required to be left open for extended analysis and documentation, will be-cordoned off and clearly marked until they are back filled. Should any material culture be recovered, it will be documented, numbered, and brought to our lab for processing and analysis before being permanently curated in the appropriate State/Federal/Tribal curation facility, in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Archaeology and Historic Preservation. At the conclusion of the project, a cumulative technical report including archaeological field survey findings for all included properties, complete GIS documentation, and a National Register of Historic Places Nomination form, will be prepared. This report will be submitted to the National Park Service and the Florida SHPO by November 30, 2020.”

The city council discussed this topic during the “Items by City Manager” portion of the Nov. 19 city council meeting.   Council member Pat Brayton asked Bill Geiger, Community Development Director to clarify a statement.

“You thought some of this property that was outlined was being used for green burial areas,” Brayton said, addressing Geiger.

Geiger stated, “Yes.”

In green burials, the body is neither cremated nor prepared with chemicals such as embalming fluids. It is typically placed in a biodegradable coffin or shroud and interred without a concrete burial vault. The idea is that the body returns to nature.

“It’s a specific area and it’s designated,” said Geiger.  “I think our cemetery sexton would be able to identify exactly where that area is.  Certainly we would not want it to be a part of what would be disturbed by the archaeological activity.”

“Just to supplement what Bill is saying,” said city manager Mark Kutney, “the city clerk and I met with the sexton and he indicated that it is a swampy area- his words a lot of critters out there…”

“As far as where the green burials are, if my memory serves me correctly, it’s in the southeastern portion of that parcel,” said Geiger.

“That is my only concern,” said Brayton.

According to the city, officially the cemetery began operating in 1887 with the purchase of five acres which contained pre-existing burial sites.  It was originally referred to as Chucochatee Cemetery.  The earliest known burial on the site was Charlotte Wynn Pyles Crum who was killed by Seminoles on Sept. 12, 1842- shortly after the official end of the Second Seminole War.

Hernando Sun historical reporter Rocco Maglio writes on the subject, “Charlotte was murdered near the Chocachatti settlement. Her party consisted of Charlotte, her daughter Rebecca Harn, granddaughter Mary Catherine Harn and their escort John Francis McDonnell. They were attacked by a group of Seminole Indians as they rode in a buckboard between present day Brooksville and Dade City on September 12, 1842. The Seminole Indians had apparently not been informed about the ending of the Second Seminole War on August 14, 1842.
Charlotte’s daughter Rebecca was on a horse and grabbed her child, Mary Catherine and managed to escape. John Francis appears to have been wounded, but also managed to escape. Charlotte was killed. Charlotte was laid to rest on Richard Crum’s land, which later became the Brooksville Cemetery. She is the first known burial at the cemetery.”
The historical marker at her gravesite states that Charlotte and Richard R. Crum settled at “Chuccochattie, less than one mile south.”
City attorney Becky Vose stated during the Nov. 18 discussion, “I have some legal concerns as far as burial rights individuals may have on those lands, so perhaps in approving this request you would exclude any areas where the sexton identifies that there is possibly some type of burial right, whether it’s dated or might be in this green area.  That they proceed very slowly and cautiously to make sure no burial rights are disturbed.”

Kutney recommended several conditions of approval: GARI must meet with the cemetery sexton, and other staff prior to the project, do not disturb known graves, affect sanctity of the cemetery.  They also requested that the research institute notifies the city in writing prior to breaking any ground.

Battista made the motion to approve under the conditions mentioned and Vice Mayor Bernardini seconded.

Brayton brought up another concern relating to any cultural material that may be identified during the investigation.  He referenced the sentence from Principe’s letter, “Should any material culture be recovered, it will be documented, numbered, and brought to our lab for processing and analysis before being permanently curated in the appropriate State/Federal/Tribal curation facility, in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Archaeology and Historic Preservation.”

“If they happen to come up with material that is not of Seminole origin, not what they’re looking for- I just want to make sure that they will be able to place that material back where it came from.”

There was discussion that they could add that as one of the requirements.

Kemerer said, “It’s an almost 200 year old grave yard and it was designated as a graveyard when it was acquired. I’m going to vote against the motion.  Unless there is a really compelling reason to have them go in there, I just don’t see enough upside to counterbalance what I see as a big downside…”

Vice Mayor Bernardini stated, the benefit is if they do find remains then they’ll be able to mark them so we know they are there.

“I just don’t think you mess around with a graveyard- especially one of that age,” said Kemerer.

Council member Betty Erhard voiced that she was also uncomfortable with granting GARI access to the cemetery property.

Council members Brayton, Erhard and Mayor Kemerer voted against the motion to grant access, while Vice Mayor Bernardini and Council member Battista voted in favor.


Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil is a reporter for the Hernando Sun as well as a business technology developer, specializing in website development, content management systems, and data analysis.
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