One Gravestone in Tampa

The Oaklawn Cemetery in downtown Tampa FL is the oldest cemetery in the city, dating back to 1850. It contains the graves of the victims of seven wars and five yellow fever epidemics. But there is one old gravestone in particular that I always look at every time I walk past the cemetery:


The gravestone of William and Nancy Ashley, buried here together. William was a white City Clerk who moved to Tampa from Virginia in 1837. Nancy was legally his slave, but in reality was his wife. (He could not free her since free African-Americans in the South were often taken by “slave patrols” and sold into slavery again: the only way he could protect her was by legally keeping her as his slave.) After Emancipation, they still could not legally marry because of Florida’s miscegenation laws, and when Nancy died a year after William in 1873, she could not legally obtain a grave plot next to him in the segregated cemetery. So the executor opened William’s grave and had Nancy placed inside with him, and put up this stone “to commemorate their fidelity to each other”.

Part of the inscription reads:

Stranger, consider and be wiser. In the grave all human distinction of race or caste mingle together in one common dust.

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