Wherever you live I think an appreciation of and a sense of place is
important. By luck I found this little
church in my little burg. This church is one of the 5 oldest wooden church structures still in use in Florida.
There is some irony with this chapel/church, an early church in
Florida. Margaret Fleming financed the
building of this church. She died
shortly before its completion in 1878 and the first service in it was her
funeral, just before the construction was completed.
Her Father-in-Law, George Fleming (1760 - 1821) immigrated from Ireland and
settled in the late 1700’s on what is now referred to as Fleming Island, just
south of Orange Park and Jacksonville, FL. (And across the St. Johns River from
the Bartram Trail). He and his wife
(Sophia Fatio) tended orange groves and other crops on their plantation. George
Fleming named his island plantation Hibernia, the Latin word for Ireland, in
honor of his island home country. The
1,000-acre island property was gained by a land grant from the Spanish.
The land had previously been cleared and planted, but had been
abandoned. The property was on the west
bank of the St. Johns River and was therefore in what was called “Indian
Florida”. Land to the east of the river
was called “Spanish Florida”.
George Fleming’s grave is the oldest grave recorded in the church cemetery.
Fleming left the plantation to his son Lewis. Lewis married Augustina
Cortes, descendent of Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes. Augustina died during
childbirth in 1832 leaving Lewis alone to raise their two children.
Lewis married Margaret Seton in 1837.
She was a devout Episcopalian. They built a plantation home in 1845 that
became known as the "Great House" (previous homes had been burned by
After Lewis' death in 1862, Margaret was the overseer of the plantation.
During the civil war, Union Officer Guy Henry forced Margaret and the children
to vacate the "Great House". After the war, Margaret returned to the
Great House and continued to oversee the plantation. To supplement revenues for
the suffering plantation, Margaret opened her home as a bed and breakfast to
the tourists that traveled the St. Johns River.
Margaret would educate and teach scripture to her slaves and plantation
workers in the sitting room of the Great House. As her congregation grew,
Margaret needed more space, thus began construction of the chapel in 1875.
Margaret passed away in 1878 just before the chapel was complete. The first
ceremony held in the yet unfinished chapel was Margaret's funeral service. In
1880, the church was moved to its current location, only a few feet from where
Lewis and Margaret are buried.
A compilation of the headstones made in 1967 is available here: http://ftp.rootsweb.com/pub/usgenweb/fl/clay/cemetery/stmargar.txt