Because it is tucked behind the storm levee just west of the Dock 1 cargo-transfer arms on the land leased by Freeport LNG from Port Freeport, most people visiting Quintana Island would not be aware of a local historic cemetery. Two individuals, Ginger Tumlinson and Mary Beth Patton—both with family relations to those interred there—worked for decades to preserve, document and eventually obtain a Texas Historical Marker for the Quintana Cemetery site.
The cemetery, established in 1846, began as a family burial plot for the Seaburn and Bowers families. Henry Peter Seaburn was a German immigrant who arrived on Quintana Island in 1840. He eventually developed a thriving shipbuilding business on the island, constructing the Alamo (1844), the Tom Jack (1855), the Falcon (1860; it became a Confederate ship sunk off Quintana during the Civil War), the New Year (1870), the Verbena (1873), the Oriole (1875), the Texas (1877) and the Quintana (1878). "Captain" Seaburn had a two-story home on the island on what is now Holly Street. It was restored and moved to Quintana Beach County Park in 1989 and acts as a special-events center.
Over the years, the Quintana Cemetery bore the brunt of many tropical storms and hurricanes. Several headstones that had been known in earlier days—the Seaburn's infant daughter who died at birth; Catherine Seaburn; Albert Seaburn and the infant daughter of William and Hallie Seaburn—were all lost to storms. But a large number of the headstones survived. "They persevered," remarked Ginger Tumlinson. "Between salt cedars and salt grass, the headstones were kept from view— for one thing, from vandals. And from the storms, they also protected the cemetery."
Ginger, who became involved in the Brazoria County Historical Commission in 1978, also watched other threats coming during the start of her historical research in the early 1980s. The Brazos River Navigation District began construction of a storm levee in the area of the cemetery, and wasn't aware of its existence until bulldozers damaged some of the headstones, including that of Louisa Powlis Brown. Then, in 1999, a fence that protected the site was torn down to make it easier for large mowers to work in the area. The mowers ran over and damaged headstones, and German sailor Carl Kress's marker was temporarily lost under soil and brush.
Eventually, after concerns were voiced by Ginger and other historians, the Navigation District installed new fencing and built a staircase to access the cemetery from the top of the levee. On January 12th, 2002, a group of family descendants, dignitaries and historians met outside the Seaburn house at the Quintana Beach County Park to dedicate the new Texas Historical Marker for the cemetery. "Our family has had some concerns over saving the cemetery," said Ginger. "I'm sure our ancestors are resting more in peace knowing someone is taking care of the cemetery now."
Today, Freeport LNG, who has managed the property since it began construction of the LNG regasification terminal in 2005, is actively protecting the site. In addition to maintaining the grounds, company employees have replaced the fencing, painted the retaining wall of the storm levee and built a new set of safer, steel stairs from the top of the levee to the cemetery after water had damaged the Navigation District's original wooden stairs. Descendants, county officials and historians are allowed access to the cemetery for research and to commemorate historical events after they request a visit in the Freeport LNG administration building off Lamar Street.
Brazoria County Parks Program Manager and local historian James Glover adds his personal take on events in this story.
"We've got to remember our past. Not only are we doomed to repeat it, but we won't understand why we do the things that we do now. Cemeteries are a good way to help with that. If you pay attention, the cemetery at Quintana tells us its own story about immigrants and immigrant families. You find out about why people did things and where they went to. It ties our history together.
My oldest memories about the Quintana Cemetery are when I was a kid—I was about four or five—and my Dad and his sister and a couple of my uncles would go there to pick grapes.
They would carry the kids in because there were wolf traps in the area that were cyanide bombs. Because cyanide doesn't rise, it would not be a problem for an adult if he tripped them. But us kids, well, they would carry us in on their shoulders and they would set us on the tombstones while they picked mustang grapes. That was before the spoil mounds and the storm levee was put in, and as you drove onto the island, driving down the road near the cemetery, you could see to the beach all the way."