John Mullryne establishes Bonaventure plantation
The history of Bonaventure begins with the saga of two early and prominent colonial families, the Mullrynes and the Tattnalls. In 1771 John Mullryne, and his son-in-law, Josiah Tattnall, owned approximately 9,920 acres of Georgia land, including 600 acres just three miles from Savannah on St. Augustine Creek. This site became the family plantation, named Bonaventure, Italian for “good fortune.”
Mullryne, who also built the third Tybee Lighthouse in 1773, established a small family plot on the grounds, which eventually formed the nucleus of the present-day Bonaventure Cemetery. The first identified adult to be buried here was Harriet Fenwick Tattnall, interred in 1802.
Georgia confiscates loyalists’ property
The Mullryne and Tattnall fortunes took a turn for the worse with the American Revolutionary War. Both men openly declared their loyalties to England and George III, and were subsequently banished from Georgia. In 1782 the state nationalized all loyalist holdings in Georgia and sold them at public auction to patriots like John Habersham, who purchased Bonaventure.
During the Siege of Savannah, Bonaventure served as the landing site, camping place and hospital for French and Haitian troops. The estate at neighboring Greenwich plantation was used as a hospital for French and Haitian officers during Count Charles d'Estaing's bloody attempt to seize Savannah from the British in October 1779. Upon their defeat, the French army and its allies departed from Bonaventure—and probably buried unidentified troops here.
In 1788 Josiah Tattnall, Jr., purchased Bonaventure from Habersham and returned the plantation to the Tattnall family. He continued to use the burial ground established by his grandfather, John Mullryne, and was interred there next to his wife in 1803. Six of their nine children are also buried with them.
Upon Josiah Tattnall Jr.’s death at age 38, the plantation was supervised by Ebenezer Jackson, husband of Charlotte Fenwick, sister of his late wife Harriet. Charlotte’s daughter, Harriet, would later marry Josiah Tattnall III. Meantime in 1817 Edward Fenwick Tattnall, eldest son of Josiah Tattnall III, returned to the plantation.
Last Tattnall descendant sells
In 1846, Josiah Tattnall III sold the 600-acre plantation to Peter Wiltberger, a prominent Savannah hotelier who agreed to maintain the Tattnall family plot, even though it was not included in the $5,000 sale. In 1847 Wiltberger incorporated 70 acres in the northeast corner as the Evergreen Cemetery of Bonaventure, a public burial ground. Wiltberger and his wife, Susan Green Wiltberger, were among the first Evergreen burials, interred in 1853 and 1849, respectively.
William H. Wiltberger, Peter’s only surviving son, subsequently inherited the property and incorporated the Evergreen Cemetery Company in 1869. This entity was responsible for hiring a superintendent, erecting the main gate and reducing the price of lots from 12.5 cents to 6.5 cents per square foot.
Evergreen Cemetery was purchased by the City of Savannah in 1907 and became Bonaventure Cemetery. In 1982, it was placed under the supervision of the city’s Department of Cemeteries. In 2001, thanks in part to the efforts of BHS volunteers, the Cemetery was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Today the cemetery is still active, containing nearly 100 acres.