An article titled “The Headstone Project” was published in this column on October 7, 2011. Donations were requested for the purchase of a headstone for Elizabeth (Lizzie) Weeks Barnes Sawyer. Granny Sawyer, as she was known before her death, was buried in an unmarked grave at the Marco Island Cemetery. She died in 1939, in the middle of the depression and her family had a simple burial at the cemetery, later adding a tabby mortar slab, where her name had once been scratched in the surface. For over half a century there was no visible clue on the slab; it was a local mystery who was buried there.
Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Raulerson, born around 1858, would have been about age 4 when she moved with her mother, Sarah Weeks, step-father John J. Weeks, Jr. and her older sister, Martha, to the mouth of what is now known as the Barron River, where the river enters Chokoloskee Bay near current Everglades City. The river was then called Potato Creek. The location of their homestead is now within the city limits of Everglades City, currently the headquarters of Outward Bound. It is difficult to imagine how remote this area was in 1862 – the nearest neighbors were either in Key West or near Sanibel Island. The Weeks were clearly a struggling family with young children – Martha age 6, and Lizzie, 4. They made a living by fishing and farming; the market for their produce being Key West, shipped there by passing vessels from Charlotte Harbor.
Unknown to them at the time, the Weeks family would make history as the first permanent settlers of the future Collier County. Sarah Weeks would die at their home in 1865 giving birth to her 4th child, the second daughter she would have with John. At her death, John was left with the four girls, two from Sarah’s first marriage and two from his marriage to Sarah. John appropriately named the new baby after his wife, Sarah, born the day of his wife’s death. Before long the census records in 1870 would show that Martha, the oldest child, moved away leaving Lizzie and her step-father raising her two younger step sisters. In a strange twist of fate, John married Lizzie in a Catholic ceremony in Key West on March 18, 1878. During their twenty two year marriage, they lived in various places including Cape Sable, Chokoloskee Island, northern Rookery Bay, Marco Island and were living at the Blue Hill Plantation on the eastern side of Horr’s Island (now called “Key Marco”) when John died in June of 1900. John and Lizzie had seven children together. Three years after John’s death, Lizzie married Andrew Barnes and they lived at Grocery Place (see the prior article on this remote settlement at coastalbreezenews. com) – one daughter was born from that marriage. After Andrew’s death, Lizzie married in 1908 for the third and last time to Richard (“Dick”) Sawyer and helped raise his young son, Preston Sawyer, age 9. Preston Sawyer’s life is told in the local history book “The Caxambas Kid.” Lizzie lived in Marco Island (now known as Old Marco) until her death at age 80 in 1939. She was described by her granddaughter as being a “quiet, gentle woman” who didn’t have to raise her voice to get across what she meant, also known as a woman who kept an immaculately clean house.
Of the four original Weeks family members who moved here 150 years ago, John is buried in an unmarked and, to date, unfound grave on Horr’s Island. His wife, Sarah, as mentioned above, is also buried in an unmarked and unfound grave near what is now known as Outward Bound at the mouth of the Barron River. Daughter Martha Raulerson Lanier died in 1939, and is buried in Morriston, Fl. and Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Weeks Barnes Sawyer’s grave at the Marco Cemetery is now identified and honored by her family.
On March 5, 2012, I assisted Lizzie Weeks’ great, great grandson, Melvin Brown to unload and place her headstone on top of the slab that her sons had originally installed so many years before. The new headstone is a fitting tribute to a pioneer woman who moved here 150 years ago and to whom literally hundreds of people alive today count as their direct ancestor.
Everyone who donated to this cause is appreciated, but especially Faye A. Brown who raised funds by the sale of her book “Weeks Family Connections” and also to Chris Durfey for her contributions and assistance on this project.