Savannah Cemeteries

I mentioned yesterday that John and I took a little stroll through the tiny cemetery on Tybee and read every single headstone. He was enthralled and I myself have been captivated by cemeteries since I was about his age. I knew it was time to introduce him to the two most beguiling and hauntingly beautiful spots in Savannah – Bonaventure Cemetery and the Colonial Park Cemetery. It was so wonderful to have Mother and Daddy-O along for the ride, as they both shared their own childhood stories of growing up on these grounds of the two cemeteries.


Our first stop was Bonaventure, and this was the old stomping grounds of Daddy-O. He dazzled us with stories of the old plantation home that once stood here. It was long gone before he played here as a child, but he was able to show us the site of the old fountain, where the home likely stood, where the pool house once was, and about the fascinating pool that was filled with river water back in the day! This is the story that Daddy-O shared with John…

In 1800, a fire broke out in the Bonaventure plantation home of Josiah Tatnall Jr and his wife, Harriet. It occurred during a dinner party hosted by the couple, and Josiah simply and calmly announced to his dinner guests that it would be necessary for their party to be taken outside. Tables and chairs were moved onto the lawn well away from the home, the burning of which provided light for the party. Toasts were made to the family and to the home itself, champagne glasses shattered against the nearby oaks as the home burned to the ground. Today, it is said that those passing by Bonaventure at night can can still hear the faint sounds of laughter and the shattering glasses. The sounds from that final, and perhaps eternal, dinner party.


The walls of the old river-filled swimming pool.


Located on the bluff of the Wilmington River, Bonaventure is glorious and striking and the final resting place of many influential Savannahians.

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It is also the final resting place of Daddy-O’s side of our family. We were able to show John the graves of his great-great and great grandparents.

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Established in 1750 in the historic district, the Colonial Park Cemetery is the remarkable final resting place of Savannah’s oldest citizens.

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My favorite headstones are those dating back two to almost three hundred years. I love reading the inscriptions and am often saddened at just how young so many of them died.


The Colonial Park Cemetery was a playground for Mother as a child, much how Daddy-O grew up in and around Bonaventure. She told John how she walked through here on her way home from Cathedral Day School each afternoon.

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There are also quite a few prominent Savannahians in Colonial Park, including Archibald Bulloch (first President of Georgia), James Habersham (acting royal Governor of the Province), Lachlan McIntosh (Major General, Continental Army).

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John was most fascinated by Button Gwinnett, Georiga signer of the Declaration of Independence, who is one of many buried here after dying of wounds from a duel. In fact, one of Savannah’s old dueling grounds is located just outside of the cemetery gates where a playground has stood for years.


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Many of the young children buried here were victims of Savannah’s Great Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1820. We happened across one of the graves of the two local physicians that lost their lives caring for the sick.


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One of the most heart wrenching parts of the cemetery is the wall that holds fallen tombstones.

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While the cemetery was closed for burials in 1853 and there are no Confederate soldiers buried here, the war still left it’s mark in an unusual way. Federal troops took over the cemetery grounds during their occupation of Savannah and many of the graves were looted and desecrated. They slept in the vaults and changed the dates on many of the headstones. I have loved scouting these out since I was quite little. Here is one where they added a one to make it looked like Onesime lived 138 years…


…this one where a one was added to make the age 101 years…


… and this one made to look like they lived to 112. Most of these are located on the Abercorn street side if you are looking.


Our last stop of the day was to show John the final resting place of Mother’s parents.

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I realize it may seem like a strange family outing with a third grader, but I relished the opportunity to introduce John to these extraordinary places and to show him where his Savannah family is buried. For as long as I can remember I have been drawn to cemeteries. I touch the headstones and find my mind wondering at not only the people buried below them, but at the throngs of loved ones that come back to remember – or don’t. And I think my little one might share the same fascination.

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16 thoughts on “Savannah Cemeteries

  1. We, too, love scouting cemeteries. Our favorite is in our town of Madison – the boys love looking at and learning about the confederate graves.

    1. Christi, I too adore the Madison cemetery. I think the part that is of most interest to me is the collection of Union and Confederate unknown soldier graves. It's so sad to think that their families never knew of their loved one's final resting place.

  2. I saw this post on Nana Diana's sidebar, the word 'cemeteries' caught my eye, and I knew that i had to come over and visit. I also love cemeteries … in fact, I manage the rose collection at a historic cemetery (Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va.) When my girls were young, we went to cemeteries, too. I tell folks that tombstones are great for math lessons. :) It's wonderful that you are giving your next generation such a great lesson in history by introducing them to the generations of the past!

  3. We love Bonaventure Cemetery too Amanda. We have some family buried there. We attended a funeral there last June for Marvin's uncle and it was so hot that the funeral directors were handing out bottled water to all of us! ( That was a first for me.) I love to visit the Jewish portion of the cemetery and see all the rocks by the graves that indicate visitors have been there. I think that is a neat custom. I think all true Southerners feel quite at home in cemeteries. The people who are buried there are real to us because of all the stories we have heard about these long gone family members.

  4. OOOh. I love this post. I too used to love to do this when people would come to Charleston to visit with me in college. I loved reading the old tombstones. In particular, the St. Philip's cemetery on Church Street was always interesting. Visitors always were amazed when I showed them the two tombstones of former St. Philip's members who were ex-communicated. Their tombstones face away from the church toward the wall. I also loved the fact that on the campus of Charleston there is a tombstone that states Elizabeth Jackson (Andrew Jackson's mother) is buried near here. I adored the history of Charleston and I know you have the same connection to Savannah. Isn't it awesome to have that experience and feeling? I think I should plan a weekend trip to Charleston to show my 7th grader. He would love it as much as John loved your tour.


  5. What a wonderful outing! My husband's family is buried in a private family cemetery that dates pre-Civil War. We have always enjoyed visiting it and reading the different tombstones. I think it's an important step in establishing roots with our two kiddies as well as a sense of respect for what those before us went through and accomplished. Wish I could have tagged along with you in Savannah!!
    Julia from SC

  6. We along with both of our girls have loved visiting the older cemeteries. So much rich history to explore. My Granny's name was Dorothy. Have always loved it.

  7. Hello, my name is Rebecca, and I am a cemetery stalker. I'm always glad to find what my friend Shannon calls a "cemetery kindred." :) Both Bonaventure and Colonial are two of my favorite places. My great grandmother, great aunt and uncle are buried at Hillcrest Abbey. Another of my favorites is Christ Church on St Simons Island.

    On another subject, Amanda, my boy is opening a new restaurant in Savannah, on the newly renovated site of the former Bonna Bella restaurant on Country Club Creek. The new place is called The Wyld. Check it out on FB, and would love to see you and your family there some time. Opening is planned for April… :) Y'all come!

  8. What a fabulous day this was and so interesting. It's great that you and your parents can now share this passion and family history with John! What a blessing.

    Jane ~ San Diego (I am sorry I got sidetracked with bracelets but am mailing soon.) :-)

  9. This was such a fab post! I, too, love cemeteries! Savannah is one of my favorite places, along with St. Augustine, where there is a similar "epidemic" one. There is also a tiny little ancient cemetery on Jekyll Island with an interesting tale.

  10. I am sure you have been to the cemeteries down here in New Orleans when you visit your friend… if not, they are definitely meant to be admired. My husband's family has a plot in the treasured St. Louis #1 cemetery, and it is a site to see. The cemetery at our church is also really neat because we have two antebellum home/plantations in my town and our church parish was started when they were building the plantations- so the original plantation owners are buried in tombs at our cemetery! Also, fun fact– many scenes from Interview with the Vampire were filmed in our town… they used our cemetery, one of our plantations, etc. :) You should come visit next time you are in New Orleans!!!

  11. Bonaventure is such a lovely cemetery. When we lived in Charleston, I'd end most of my walks wandering through one of the city's many cemeteries. This may sound silly, but I loved looking at all the headstone carvings and fonts used on them, they were so intricate. It was sad seeing how young some of the people were when they died. I always wondered if any family members still existed or was it the end of that family, did anyone ever come back to read that person's headstone? Maybe that's odd, but that's what ran through my mind. Happy St. Patrick's Day and have a wonderful week!

  12. I think that is so neat! I used to love to visit the old cemetery in Yazoo City, MS where my mom is from. As I young child I would say I wanted to be buried there. :) And when my grandfather died, I remember going back with my aunt and her two very young daughters and they did tracings of the tombstones with a crayon and piece of paper. So I don't think this outing is strange at all! I love the history!

  13. We LOVE coming here and everytime we are in Savannah we go, sometimes we only ride through and other times we spend hours and hours. Its a beautiful place! When I tell family and friends that we go they seemed surprised but when you experience this beautiful place then you understand!

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