By Brett Nolan
It’s hard to imagine what life was like back in old Mandarin, but if there is anything that connects us to those who were here before us, it would be our own mortality. Like taxes, death is inevitable and something we all have to face. There is no better link to our past than walking through the gates of Mandarin Cemetery. The aging oaks, towering with their festoons of moss dancing in the wind, watch as they did over a century ago when the land was first consecrated — it was 1836.
Inscribed on stone, an “afflicted and ever sorrowing” mother laid to rest her son, George S. Mott, establishing the oldest marked grave on these hallowed grounds. Folklore tells the story of an execution by Indians because Mott, a New Yorker, was in the practice of bigamy, married to a chieftain’s daughter here and with another wife up North. Written letters, however, feature a much different tale.
According to the letters of Corrina Brown and his obituary, Mott never married. He owned a plantation on the banks of Julington Creek where he traded with neighboring Indians. During the height of the Seminole Wars, Mott conducted his commerce in bad faith and mistreatment, including with the crack of a whip. Mott made the mistake of returning to his southern plantation after a visit to New York and by sunset the next day, Mott’s life came to an abrupt end. Indians shot him dead while he was working with a slave planting a citrus tree. After scalping him, pillaging and burning his house and returning to the woods, their last business transaction was completed. Neighbors then moved his body to the location of the present Mandarin Cemetery for burial.
Residents residing six feet underneath come from all over, including places like England, Germany, and Canada. Occupations ranged from rural farmers to a noted composer and pianist who played at Carnegie Hall, doctors, artists, reverends, and more. One individual even went to school with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s children, but when she fell in love with the “wrong” man, her family disowned her and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Orchard immigrated to Mandarin for refuge.
Over time, funeral traditions changed from walking processions led by mule-and-wagon pulling the deceased to a row of cars following an elongated black Cadillac with the iconic landau bars.
The Mandarin Cemetery is still an active cemetery. The Mandarin Museum & Historical Society provides a self-guided walking tour of the scenic and historic cemetery. You can pick up a copy at the cemetery entrance or in the Mandarin Museum. The tour highlights 10 prominent residents who are buried in the old section of the cemetery, including George Mott.
[Information for this article was taken from “Mandarin on the St. Johns” by Mary B. Graff, “Echoes from a Distant Frontier” by James M. Denham and Keith. L. Huneycutt, and ”Some Graves of Historical Interest in the Mandarin Cemetery” ed. by Bill Morrow.]
Brett Nolan is a volunteer with the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society. Visit www.mandarinmusem.net for more information about Mandarin’s history and museum schedules.
Photo courtesy Mandarin Museum & Historical Society
George Mott’s headstone