Remains Of 19th-Century Quarantine Hospital Discovered Underwater Off Florida Coast

Archeologists have discovered the remains of a 19th-century quarantine hospital and cemetery at a submerged island at Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida, the National Park Service (NPS) announced in a press release last week.

In 2016, maritime archeologist Joshua Marano spotted a unique L-shaped pattern while flying over the Gulf of Mexico near the national park, according to The Washington Post. After some initial research, Marano learned there was a cemetery for soldiers and a quarantine hospital on the submerged island. Six years after locating the pattern, Marano and a team of archeologists and students conducted a survey of the site.

“The very first thing we came across was a single post,” Marano said. “Basically like a pipe sticking out of the sand. Nothing around it. Nothing else nearby,” he continued, adding that they found additional pipes with spacing that matched the hospital’s build records. “This is a pretty good bet that this is that building.”

From 1860 to 1870, a yellow fever outbreak occurred at Fort Jefferson, which killed dozens as the population of the fort increased, according to the NPS. In response, multiple small quarantine hospitals were built on nearby islands to isolate the infected from the rest of the fort’s population, which “likely saved hundreds from a similar fate,” NPS says.

Check out this cool find! National Park archeologists found the remains of a hospital and cemetery underwater at Dry Tortugas National Park.

NPS Photos C. Sproul

Images courtesy of National Park Service

— Dry Tortugas National Park (@DryTortugasNPS) May 1, 2023

While Fort Jefferson was abandoned by the Army in 1874, the discovered hospital was used while the U.S. Marine Hospital Service occupied the fort between 1890 and 1900, treating and isolating patients with yellow fever, the federal agency notes.

In addition to the quarantine hospital, the cemetery proved to be a fascinating find. The team was able to locate and identify a gravestone while surveying the site. The NPS says that of the dozens of people who were laid to rest at the cemetery, known as the Fort Jefferson Post Cemetery, many were military personnel and prisoners, in addition to some civilians. John Greer, who was a worker at the fort, died on November 5, 1861, and was buried at the cemetery. His gravestone was the only one identified by researchers.

“It was surreal,” Marano said of the find. “It’s the equivalent of finding a bell on a shipwreck with the name on it. It’s just something that you absolutely never hear of in underwater archaeology.”


Archeologists made the discovery in August of last year and have been examining records to identify who John Greer was. According to The Washington Post, Greer worked on the scaffolding of the fort. This, along with a lack of a hospital record prior to his death, could mean that he died a sudden death, Devon Fogarty, an archeology student under Morano who first spotted the gravestone, speculated. No descendants of Greer have been identified or come forward yet, the Post reports.

The fort was used as a military prison during the Civil War and held Samuel Mudd, a doctor who helped John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Lincoln. Mudd was convicted of conspiracy for his role and sentenced to life at Fort Jefferson.

According to Marano, the site of the hospital and cemetery is now federally protected as an archeological site.

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