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Former Slave's Family Sees Him Honored At Last

Posted on 06/13/2003 6:47:56 AM PDT by stainlessbanner

TARPON SPRINGS - After church on Sunday, baked chicken, yellow rice and cabbage wait on the stove, and a glass-encased carrot cake sits on the table in Mary Crockett's kitchen.

The screen door creaks as it opens for family, friends and occasionally Ms. Kitty, her adopted gray cat.

This Sunday is no different from many days at Crockett's house, built on property her great-grandfather secured a century ago.

``Each one of my kids walks through my door every day,'' says the 66-year-old woman, whose close-knit family has a special place in local history.

It's a place not widely documented in largely Greek Tarpon Springs. But because of her great-grandfather, Crockett can sit in a wooden chair and create an unusual picture of a black family growing from the Civil War through the civil rights era and beyond.

Today, great-grandfather Richard Quarls is honored with a gravestone at a cemetery recognized this month by the National Park Service.

Born Into Slavery

But his family history began when he was born into slavery on a South Carolina plantation and joined his master's sons in the fight for the Confederacy.

``They freed him after he fought,'' Crockett says.

And figuring his peers might not appreciate his war service, ``he changed his name from Richard Quarls to Chris Columbus - mainly because he couldn't read or write, and the only person he knew was Christopher Columbus.''

Columbus arrived in Florida in 1866, where he married his second wife, Mary Cornelius. Big Mary, as she was called, worked in several prominent family homes and nurtured relationships across the community.

Eventually, she began to be invited to visit even when she wasn't working. And she kept Columbus' memory alive after he died in 1925 - when a Tarpon Springs newspaper called him ``probably the best-known colored man in this section of the state.''

``The community took on the role of being friendly to [her] in part because of him,'' says Crockett, who was raised by the aging Big Mary even though she was a great-granddaughter from the war veteran's previous marriage.

``It was really interesting for me to grow up in that time because I interacted not only with the blacks but with the white community,'' Crockett says. ``My great-grandmother and I felt camaraderie when we went to town.

``If my great-grandmother and Dr. Bayner would talk at Bayner's drugstore, they would send me up to the counter and ask the soda jerk to fix me whatever I wanted. I was just a little tot, but I could sit and eat at the counter when we weren't allowed to. ... I didn't grow up with the prejudice even when I rode the bus with my great-grandmother. The bus driver would say, `Mary, you can sit up in the front.' ''

A generation later, it was hard for Crockett to see her four children experience bigotry when they became the first to integrate Tarpon Springs Elementary School.

``Some of the kids looked at us as if we didn't belong there,'' recalls daughter Kathleen Crockett. ``In middle school it was really bad. They used to stand on the sidewalks in huddles to keep us from going. We would have to go around the sidewalks, and if you went through them, they would push you.

``They would use the n- word, and they told us we didn't belong there.''

But their mother knew they most certainly belonged in Tarpon Springs. Around Crockett, strangers don't stay strangers very long.

``Once you make a friend with them, you've got them,'' she says. ``We still have that bond, and it's good to be here in Tarpon.''

That explains why more than 200 friends, from the neighborhood bus driver to former Mayor Anita Protos, showed their support in a February ceremony that honored Chris Columbus with a new, government-issued headstone at the old Rose Cemetery.

Known also as Rose Hill Cemetery, it spans five acres as the final resting place for hundreds of black residents. It began at a time when blacks and whites, even if they were fellow soldiers, weren't buried together. And over the years, its upkeep suffered dramatically compared to the white graveyard next door.

``My grandfather is buried in the white cemetery across the street,'' says Tony Leisner, who became involved with the nonprofit Rose Cemetery Association after meeting Alfred Quarterman, president of the all- volunteer organization that owns and tries to maintain the black burial ground.

Leisner initiated a ground- penetrating radar project to place circular markers over rediscovered graves. But what took the effort further was the work of local genealogy buff Deborah Gammon.

Gammon found Columbus' records while doing research on her own great-grandfather in the local library. She learned that in 1916, Columbus was in poor health and needed proof he served in the war to draw a government pension.

``Three white men stood and swore Richard Quarls was a Confederate soldier,'' Gammon says. ``That was remarkable for that time.''

Once she discovered his pension papers, she knew he also was entitled to a tombstone from the government.

``I have crawled through bushes in graveyards with a machete and found graves underneath,'' she says.

``Inscriptions would read: `Gone but not forgotten.' All I could think was, `Yes, you are forgotten.' ''

Hope For The Future

Crockett is delighted by the recognition of her ancestor.

``I knew he was [buried] there, so it wasn't really a discovery for me,'' she says. ``But people thought enough of him to honor him. That's what gets me.''

She also is pleased that the historic designation from the National Park Service means the cemetery may get some financial aid.

In the past, families would pack a lunch and head out on a Saturday morning to clean up the graveyard, but today, fewer relatives survive to help local Scout troops and others that volunteer.

``There are so many people that died off that don't have anyone left,'' Crockett says. ``They need help, donations or anything that anybody can do to get funding for that cemetery because it is a national treasure.

``I'm glad that this is out so that more people can know about some of the black history,'' she says.
``I have never lived anywhere for any length of time except Tarpon Springs. I know a lot of people in all races, and I have a good life here.''

TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: confederate; florida; slave; soldier

Nathaniel Boatwright and Mary Crockett, great-grandchildren of Richard Quarls, have a family legacy in Tarpon Springs.

1 posted on 06/13/2003 6:47:56 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
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To: stainlessbanner
Bump for ping list after I get home from work...
2 posted on 06/13/2003 6:48:39 AM PDT by mhking
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Hurrah for Chris Columbus!
3 posted on 06/13/2003 6:49:56 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
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To: stainlessbanner
. She learned that in 1916, Columbus was in poor health and needed proof he served in the war to draw a government pension. ``Three white men stood and swore Richard Quarls was a Confederate soldier,''

We gave "pensions" to "all" of the confederate soldiers who fought against the united states in the War-Between-the-States?

4 posted on 06/13/2003 7:04:10 AM PDT by waterstraat
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To: waterstraat
As a Confederate soldier, he would not have been eligible for a Federal pension but might have qualified for a pension from the State in whose unit he served during the war.

Even during reconstruction, many in the Federal & Republican state governments were much more forgiving of former Confederates than some people who are around today. It was uncommon to hear or read of Union veterans describing their Confederate foes as "traitors" and there developed quite a bit of camraderie amongst the vets of both sides (the first Confederate monument at Gettysburg was put up with assistance of some Union veterans and one of the New Jersey monuments at the battlefield of Salem Church Va. even has an inscription dedicated to the Confederate soldiers who opposed the regiment). Some former Confederate officers and politicians served in state and Federal governments in the late 1800s, in some cases, even within the Republican party.

It is acknowledged that a certain amount of animosity remained among some of the former foes but there also was a great air of mutual admiration and respect for each other that unfortunately is sometimes missing in todays debates of the conflict.

I guess you had to be there.
5 posted on 06/13/2003 8:09:57 AM PDT by XRdsRev
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