Pensacola — University of West Florida students spent two months researching primary source documents in local archives to create a more complete picture of a person interred in St. Michael’s, a historic cemetery in downtown Pensacola.
Members of Dr. Jamin Wells’ “Local History” Summer course, which includes graduate and undergraduate students, recently presented research results at a symposium at the Voices of Pensacola Museum.
“We covered a lot of ground,” Wells said. “We showed that history is powerful and useful by making community connections between Pensacola history and broader topics such as changing notions of marriage or women’s education.”
Papers that the 11 students wrote for the UWF history class will be available to the public as part of St. Michael’s research archive. Students will also give graveside presentations at the cemetery’s “Spirit of the Sea Public Day,” from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 30.
The cemetery is located at 6 N. Alcaniz St.
St. Michael’s comprises eight acres in downtown Pensacola and has been in use since the mid to late 18th century.
“A cemetery like St. Michael’s provides a vital link to the history and heritage of a community,” said Margo Stringfield, an archaeologist at the University of West Florida Archaeology Institute.
Stringfield, who has worked on the conservation and preservation of cemeteries for the institute since 2000, helped some members of Wells’ class with their research.
“Projects like these help prepare students for their professional lives,” Stringfield said. “It’s important to tell these stories as they add greatly to our understanding of the community as a whole. And they link people and events to a broader world stage.”
Wells’ class started the project about eight weeks ago.
“We kicked off with what we called a boot camp,” Wells said. “It was designed to teach students about available local resources.”
Besides the initial two-hour guided tour of St. Michael’s cemetery, the students visited the genealogical library at Pensacola State College, the Voices of Pensacola Museum, and the UWF University Archives and West Florida History Center.
Students ultimately used State of Florida digital resources, newspaper articles, private family papers such as diaries and personal letters, census reports, marriage licenses, death certificates, land transfer records and various other business records to unearth information about the people they were researching.
“This was not a class where you read a book and turned in a paper,” said senior Dominick Limle, who is a history major. “We were sweating at the cemetery and getting help from and talking to experts that handle archives and doing a ton of digging into primary documents.”
Limle’s researched Louis Maestre, who was born in Valencia, Spain, around 1778. Limle used property records, wills, and the census to determine that Maestre moved to Pensacola between 1810 and 1816. Maestre purchased land and opened a market in downtown. He then became involved in the local business and political communities.
Limle presented first at the Voices of Pensacola symposium and said he is looking forward to participating in the cemetery’s public day in September. His presentation is titled “Louis Maestre: Spaniard, American, Entrepreneur.”
“We learned a lot, and it was very entertaining as well as educational,” Limle said.
Here is a complete list of titles of presentations from Wells’ history class.
“The Life of Samuel R. Overton” by Erin McCarthy.
“Mary Jane Axtell: Pioneer of Women’s Education” by Jordan Wells.
“The Robinsons: A History Carved in Stone” by Elayne Hinsch.
“Stephen and Angela: A Love That Saved Our City” by Zachary Laczko.
“A Lone Grave: The Life and Times of Dario Giuseppe Piaggio” by Cathy Dewey.
“Mrs. Emma Hulse Taylor” by Ginger Meyers.
“The Tale of an Immigrant: Gaitano Giardina” by Caleb Pascoe.
“Stanger than Fiction: The Life of Abraham and Fannie Daniels” by Dylan White.
“Captain John Stokes: An Irish Immigrant and the American Dream” by James New.
“Sturgeon John” by Cassie Brown.