Bonaventure Cemetery

Savannah Georgia

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from Savannah Morning News, October 1997
by James Mack Adams

"Confined within its boundaries and enclosed within its vaults, crypts and plots are a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, politicians, plantation proprietors, publishers, soldiers and a songwriter. It has become a destination of choice for readers of a best-selling book about our city and some of its more colorful citizens.

"It," of course, is Bonaventure Cemetery, the subject of this final installment in a series on Savannah's historic burial grounds. The history of Bonaventure is the story of two early and prominent Savannah families, the Mullrynes and the Tattnalls.

In 1771, John Mullryne and his son-in-law, Josiah Tattnall, owned approximately 9,920 acres of Georgia land, stretching from Ebenezer southward to Sunbury. Included in these property holdings were 600 acres just three miles from Savannah on St. Augustine Creek. The site became the family home and was given the name Bonaventure, which means "Good Fortune." A small family cemetery was eventually established on the property.

John Mullryne also has a Tybee connection in that he was commissioned to rebuild the Tybee Lighthouse. He finished the project in 1733. A committee examined the completed structure and reported, "the public has had most punctual justice done by John Mullryne." The committee requested payment to Mullryne of the one thousand pounds owed him for the work.

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John Mullryne's and Josiah Tattnall's "Good Fortune" took a turn for the worse with the approach and onset of the American Revolutionary War. Both men openly declared their loyalties to England and to George III. This resulted in an order for their arrest and banishment forever from Georgia. Mullryne and Tatnall, along with other "traitors," were given 60 days to leave the colony, or they would be arrested and "transported to Britain." Apparently, the Mullrynes and Tattnalls did not leave Georgia until Savannah was liberated from the British in 1782.

When Royal Gov. James Wright escaped his patriot captors in January 1776, he went first to Bonaventure. From there he fled to Cockspur Island and eventually sailed for England.

Bonaventure plantation was used as a hospital for French troops during Count Charles d'Estaing's bloody and unsuccessful attempt to seize Savannah from the British in the "Siege of Savannah" on Oct. 9, 1779. It is suspected that many of these French troops may be buried at Bonaventure. It was from this location that the defeated French army and their allies departed.

A public observance of the anniversary of the Siege of Savannah is planned on Oct.12 [1997] at 2 p.m. on the Bonaventure grounds.

Bonaventure is somewhat involved in the conflicting theories about what happened to Count Casimir Pulaski's body after he died from wounds suffered in the unsuccessful siege at the Springhill Redoubt. One story is the Polish nobleman was taken aboard a French ship, where he died and was buried at sea. Another school of thought is that he was buried at Greenwich Plantation, which was a neighboring plantation to Bonaventure, and is still there. Yet a third belief is that Pulaski's remains were disinterred from Greenwich in 1854 and reburied under the Pulaski Monument in Monterey Square. This seems to be the more accepted explanation. Only time and DNA analysis will tell.

Josiah Tattnall, Jr. purchased the Bonaventure property from its then owner, John Habersham, in 1788, thereby returning the property to the family.

On March 10, 1846, the last son to own Bonaventure Plantation, Commodore Josiah Tattnall III, sold 600 acres to PeterWiltberger, a prominent Savannah businessman. Seventy acres of the Bonaventure tract were set aside as a public burialground. The Tattnall family burial plot was outside this area, but Wiltberger promised to maintain it. When Peter Wiltbergerdied he was buried at Bonaventure.

Peter's son, Maj. William H. Wiltberger, started a business venture called the Evergreen Cemetery Company in 1868.According to bylaws adopted by the stockholders, cemetery lots were sold for 12.5 cents per square foot. Evergreen Cemetery was purchased by the City of Savannah in 1907 and became Bonaventure Cemetery. Throughout this century, Bonaventure Cemetery, like Savannah's other historic burial grounds, has been a draw for visitors.Persons strolling through its grounds will encounter the final resting places of well-known poet Conrad Aiken; Noble Jones,who arrived with Oglethorpe in 1733 and became owner of Wormsloe Plantation; and, of course, one of the most popularlyricists of the 20th century, Johnny Mercer.

In 1994, John Berendt, a writer and visitor to Savannah, became captivated with the city and its people and wrote a little book he titled "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." One of the settings for the story told in the phenomenal best-seller is Bonaventure Cemetery. On the cover is a Jack Leigh photograph of a Bonaventure Scene.

The floodgates were opened and now the historic cemetery has more visitors than it can comfortably handle. According to Terry Shaw Chairman of the Friends of Bonaventure, there is a danger that vibrations caused by increased vehicular traffic along the narrow roads could eventually begin to damage the monuments and statuary. The Friends of Bonaventure group was formed in 1991 and is dedicated to research and preservation of Bonaventure Cemetery.

John Berendt has become aware of the impact his book has had on old cemetery and selected it as one of three local non-profit organizations to receive his royalties from the sale of souvenir cookie tins with "Midnight's" cover photograph and Berendt's autograph. The cookies and tins are distributed by the Byrd Cookie Co.

Modern cemeteries have little in common with the historic burial grounds of the previous century, other than they are places for burial. It is not unusual today for one who is looking for the final resting place of Uncle Charlie to be directed to a marble slab or plain bronze plaque with only a name, date of birth and date of death. There is nothing there that expresses Uncle Charlie's character.

People of the 19th and early 20th centuries had a closer relationship with their cemeteries. Cemeteries were incorporated into the city's park system. Family plots were visited often and meticulously cared for by the family. They were often the sites for Sunday afternoon picnics. And yes, even an occasional afternoon cocktail."

                        For information on Bonaventure Cemetery, call (912) 651-6843 or (912) 651-6844.


bd14868_.gif (419 bytes) Find a Grave in Bonaventure Cemetery

bd14868_.gif (419 bytes) The Lady Chablis

bd14868_.gif (419 bytes) Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil - The Movie



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