Archeologists discover underwater cemetery, hospital near Florida Keys

Researchers have discovered a 19th-century quarantine hospital site and cemetery on an underwater island near the Dry Tortugas National Park. 

The archeological site was found near Garden Key in August 2022 and since then, members of the National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center, the Southeast Archeological Center, and a University of Miami graduate student have been surveying the area which led to the identification of the site. 

"This intriguing find highlights the potential for untold stories in Dry Tortugas National Park, both above and below the water," said Josh Marano, a maritime archeologist for the south Florida national parks and a project director for the survey. 


Image showing archeologists over a grave discovered near Dry Tortugas National Park. (Dry Tortugas National Park via Storyful)

Citing historical records, researchers said the hospital was used to treat soldiers and civilians at Fort Jefferson who were diagnosed with yellow fever between 1890 and 1900. 

So far, one person has been identified from the burial site, according to a National Park Service news release. 

Researchers have identified John Greer, a laborer at the fort. Greer died on Nov. 5, 1861, but the cause of his death is still unclear. 


The headstone of John Greer, discovered in a submerged cemetery near Dry Tortugas National Park.  (Dry Tortugas National Park via Storyful)

Greer’s gravesite was marked with a large slab of greywacke, which was the same material used to build the first floor of Fort Jefferson. 

Researchers believe there are dozens more buried at the archeological site. 

"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," Marano said. 


Archeologists surveying the cemetery near Dry Tortugas National Park.  (Dry Tortugas National Park via Storyful)

Efforts to learn more about Greer and other individuals interred on the now submerged island are continuing. 

Fort Jefferson was a military prison during the American Civil War, and the surrounding islands became a naval outpost, a lighthouse station, naval hospital, quarantine facility and a site for military training, according to the park’s website. 

This story was reported from Los Angeles. Storyful contributed to this report.