Descendents of Miami pioneers honor family with permanent cemetery marker

 

aburch@MiamiHerald.com

Suzanne Tripp stood in the Miami City Cemetery studying the freshly placed granite monument memorializing four generations of Peacocks, a pioneering family that helped shape the early chapters of Miami.

The stone, dedicated at a small ceremony on Tuesday, is etched with the names John Thomas Peacock (1843-1907) and his wife, Martha J. Snipes Peacock (1852-1911) – along with 15 descendents and spouses – representing the lifeline of one of Miami’s early families. Only two of those names are still living.

This is Tripp’s story, Miami’s story – the names now permanently part of a historic cemetery where many of the city’s settlers are buried.

“This journey started for me when I wanted to bury my parent’s ashes. I came here and the family members didn’t even have headstones,” says Tripp, 71, of Delray Beach, who purchased the stone marker. “They were ordinary but influential people who had been here a very long time. I just wanted a beautiful place for them.”

Tripp worked with the City Cemetery Restoration Committee, a small group of preservation-minded residents who have labored more than a decade to revitalize the cemetery, fallen under the weight of time and neglect and the ills of city living. Along with TREEmendous Miami, they rescued the cemetery, 1800 NE Second Ave., spending thousands of hours planting, pruning and maintaining trees to make it a peaceful and pleasant place to visit the those buried.

“The place needed TLC. It didn’t have a fence or lights. This is where most of the pioneer families are,” says committee co-founder and chair Penny Lambeth. “The first ‘everything’ is here. The first judge. The first mayor. The first black judge. The first black attorney. You really can’t talk about Miami without talking about this cemetery.”

For much of the late spring morning, Tripp recounted her family’s history with friends, family and committee members near the new marker, adorned with vibrant of Hibiscus and Bougainvillea blooms.

Tripp’s great-grandfather, John Thomas Peacock, an adventurer known as “Jolly Jack” for his jovial personality, landed in Key West in1863 as a spry 20-year-old from Spalding, England. That same year, he moved to what is now Miami-Dade County, marrying Martha nine years later. He had a long and varied career, serving at one point as the county’s sheriff and tax assessor. Peacock settled in a spot and called it Jack’s Bight. Soon after, that name changed to Coconut Grove.

Beguiled by what was then an untamed frontier of South Florida, Peacock invited his brother to cross the pond. Charles Peacock and his wife, Isabella, later opened the Bay View House in 1882 (later called the Peacock Inn), the first hotel between Key West and Palm Beach County.

“The Peacocks were one of the families who paved the way for later families. They opened up the doors,” said historian and professor Paul George offered, shortly after the ceremony. “They came to a no-man’s land and they stayed because they believed in it.”

The Peacocks had 11 children, born roughly 18 months apart, all of which lived into adulthood. Eight of the children are now buried in the cemetery. Before Tripp had the new memorial made, the family area was designated with a stately cast-iron monument that once held an urn surrounded by stained glass. The urn, glass and memories are long gone. Dedicated a century ago, the monument sits next to two unmarked, now cracked plots, those of John and Martha.

“We had no idea who even placed this here,” Tripp says.

Last year, Tripp invested in the stone monument. She combed through her family history, recounted the oral stories passed generation to generation and made the list of the 17 Peacock descendents and spouses.

“This is just beautiful,” says William R. Groves, Jr., 92, gesturing to the marker where his name is etched near the bottom. He and his son, William R. Groves III, 63, are the last living relatives on the marker. “This will help us hold onto the Peacock family memories.”

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