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'Where are the graves?' | Woman concerned road construction could disturb graves of enslaved people

A historic preservationist and believes that there could have been dozens of families living on these plantations over the years.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla — Leslee Keys started researching plantations 20 years ago.

Specifically, ones that belonged to John Hanson in the 1800s and James Peavett in the 1700s.

"According to documents, that would have been the largest and most prosperous sugar plantation in the area," says Keys said about wooded land just west of the West King Street and Holmes Boulevard intersection in St. Augustine. 

She's a historic preservationist and believes that there could have been dozens of families living on these plantations over the years.

"Where are the graves?" she asks.

Because there were plantations on this site, she believes there are probably graves of enslaved people here that should be protected or moved before road construction starts.

The enslaved people are listed on census records from the mid 1800s.

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A new large road -- the State Road 312 Extension -- is planned to go right through where the plantations are believed to have existed.

First Coast News obtained reports about archaeological studies done on parts of the land the road would impact.

But the reports don’t say the same thing.

In 2005, archaeologists hired by the state to study the Peavett plantation site noted in the report that the land would be “eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places." Even in 1990, the site  was found to be of “considerable historic significance.”   That archaeology team suggested the site be “excavated prior to roadway construction” in order to learn more about what artifacts lie below.

Ten years later in 2015, the Florida Department of Transportation paid for another archaeological team to study the site, and that team found something completely different. 

That most recent report said hardly any artifacts were found, and the area had been disturbed. That led the Florida DOT to determine construction of the road will have “no effect” on any historic areas in its path.

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However, Keys finds that hard to believe.

"I just find that amazing," she told First Coast News. 

Other archeologists in the area are scratching their heads about the different studies' results. 

The Department of Transportation sent First Coast News a statement earlier this week:   

"As normal practice, the Department evaluated the project limits and found no findings of a cemetery."

Keys wants a more thorough inspection of the sites.  

"I think the African American graves should be respected and treated as they would be legally," she noted. 

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