Scattered around the grounds of the Mission of Nombre de Dios are several simple headstones marking the graves of members of various units of the United States Colored Troops. Each stone is the same size and design as this one for Simon Williams. None of the stones show birth or death dates – only name and unit. From Florida History Online:
During the Civil War thousands of enslaved Floridians escaped from their owners and found refuge in the Union-occupied towns of Fernandina, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and Key West, where they were considered “contraband of war” and were not returned to their former owners. They found work on the abandoned plantations in the area controlled by Union forces, built fortifications, worked as teamsters for the Federal troops. As soon as Union policy permitted, more than 1000 self-liberated men from northeast Florida farms and plantations who settled into the swelling refugee camps outside the coastal towns, began joining three Union regiments organized at Hilton Head, South Carolina. Known originally as the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd South Carolina Loyal Volunteers, these regiments were officially mustered into the Union Army as the 33rd, 34th, and 21st regiments of United States Colored Infantry. For the remainder of the war these once-enslaved black men fought to free their families and other Africans Americans from bondage, and to bring a permanent end to slavery in the United States of America. By the end of the Civil War, 186,017 African American men from all over the divided nation had enlisted as “Colored Troops” in the Union army.
According to the cemetery records in the files of the St. Augustine Historical Society, the following veterans of the United States Colored Troops are buried at the Mission:
- Pablo Gray, Co. A, 21st U.S.C.T.
- Miles Hancock, Co. I, 34th U.S.C.T.
- Richard Natiel, Co. A, 21st U.S.C.T.
- Simon Williams, Co. A, 21st U.S.C.T.
- Paul Wilson, Co. D, 33rd U.S.C.T.
- Morris Winley, Co. D. 33rd U.S.C.T.