New Orleans, LA

The Origin of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1

Curtis Macken

NEW ORLEANS, LA - Established in 1789, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is named as the oldest cemetery in the City of New Orleans. Due to the great fires and the epidemic in 1788, the government ordered to close the St. Peter Street Cemetery and build a new one far from the resident. A 300-square-foot ground bordering marshy swampland was chosen by The Church as the site for the new cemetery.

In the beginning, the cemetery was constructed as a temporary burial site. The Spanish Royal Decree approved the cemetery to be permanent by August 14, 1789. During the 18th century, funerals are done in-ground burials, following the custom from St. Peter Street Cemetery.

A city rule was released in 1803, mandating all forms of funerals to take place above ground to deal with the constant threat of flooding. They then created the above-ground tombs that most of the New Orleanians are familiar with today.

The cemetery was expanded due to its heavy use throughout the early years. This was also due to the rise of the number in New Orleans' population after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the Haitian Revolution of 1791 to 1804. Northern states Americans brought Protestantism and Haiti refugees arrived with a combination of Catholic, Caribbean, and West-African-based religious beliefs. To provide a burial ground for the Protestants, African-Americans, and people of color, the cemetery was enlarged.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 was registered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 in the areas of architecture and art. In 2008, it was listed as part of the African American Heritage Trail by the State of Louisiana.

New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries is currently working on the Abandoned Tomb Initiative https://nolacatholiccemeteries.org/abandoned-tombs by restoring tombs following The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation Projects. The initiative is funded by tourism revenue, individual, and corporate donors.

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