Living

Biloxi Cemetery's oldest grave

COURTESY LOCAL HISTORY COLLECTION, BILOXI PUBLIC LIBRARYTime and the elements have practically obliterated the inscription on Michel Batet's tomb.
COURTESY LOCAL HISTORY COLLECTION, BILOXI PUBLIC LIBRARYTime and the elements have practically obliterated the inscription on Michel Batet's tomb.

In keeping with Halloween, Flashback visits the oldest existing grave in the Biloxi Cemetery. The English translation of the French inscribed tombstone reads: (first line) "Here Lies Michel Batet (second line) native of Marseilles (third line) died the 19th of May 1811 (fourth line) at the age of 34 years."

Who was this young man? Was he a resident of Biloxi or a visitor, and why did he die at such an early age? Having died in the month of May, could he have succumbed to yellow fever? The season for that cruel disease was from the first warm spell of summer to the first killing frost.

Diligent research over the years has, thus far, failed to answer these questions. Michel's grave marker is a typical colonial style tombstone, but it is not likely that the ornate stone was made in the sparsely populated Biloxi of 1811. It is more likely that it was made in New Orleans and placed on the grave later.

Consider this. Michel Batet died four months after the Mississippi Coast became part of America (Jan. 4, 1811) and a year before it was attached to the Mississippi Territory (May 14, 1812). Historians believe that the oldest part of the cemetery was the burial place for French settlers of the 1700s and others thereafter.

An interesting fact about the old section of the cemetery is that people could bury their loved ones anywhere they chose. It was not until 1895 that steps were taken to layout a systematic plan for interments.

Murella H. Powell, a local historian, writes the weekly Flashback column. Do you have a local photograph to submit to Flashback? It can be of any subject or event in the Coast's distant or recent past. Please send a description with your name, address and daytime phone number to Flashback, the Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535; or call 896-2424; or email living@sunherald.com.

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