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    For former slave, soldier, a chance to rest in peace

    Richard Quarls, who had lain in an unmarked Rose Cemetery grave, is finally honored.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 23, 2003

    TARPON SPRINGS -- Rose Cemetery, a 5-acre graveyard on Jasmine Avenue, is the burial ground for hundreds of black residents who worked in local sawmills, orange groves and livery stables. It is also the final resting place for a nearly lost, but not forgotten, Confederate son.

    Richard Quarls, who died in Tarpon Springs in 1925, was perhaps the area's most well-known black resident in his time. Recently, his unmarked grave was discovered by a ground-penetrating radar team searching for forgotten or lost graves.

    On Saturday, a Confederate memorial service, organized by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was held in tribute to the former slave and infantryman.

    About 150 people showed up for the ceremony. It was an unusual mix of four generations of Quarls' descendants, community members, Civil War re-enactors in gray uniforms and Confederate daughters in modern white dresses.

    "He was a proud man and would have been honored to see this," said Mary Crockett, Quarls' great-granddaughter who lives on the same property he bought in Tarpon Springs. "He had a lot of friends that were Greek, white and black."

    At one point, Dixie, the song that some say has come to symbolize slavery and the South, was sung.

    While not everyone sang along, Alfred Quarterman, who is black and president of the nonprofit, all-volunteer Rose Cemetery Association, which owns and maintains the black graveyard, said he had no problem with the song.

    "I sang along. It's a thing of the past," he said. "Now we are trying to form a coalition with all people. We are all God's children."

    The Rose Cemetery Association is trying to raise funds to rehabilitate and care for the cemetery, as well as put markers on more recently rediscovered graves. Its members hope that the presence of Quarls' grave could help the group win state or federal historic preservation grants.

    While the attendees were congenial, the weather was blustery. At times, it seemed as though the colorful assortment of Confederate flags and blue canopies sheltering the speakers would be gone with the wind.

    "Thank God it's just wind and not rain," said Ted Dahlem, one of the organizers from the Stonewall Jackson Camp No. 1381, Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that locates and recognizes unmarked Confederate graves.

    During the ceremony, Michael Brown, a great-great-great-grandson of Quarls and an enlisted man in the U.S. Air Force, unveiled a new grave marker with the dates 1833 to 1925.

    Crockett disputes the records that say Quarls died at 92.

    "My grandmother and others told me he died at 102," she said.

    Deborah Coggins Gammon, a genealogist who helped to assemble facts about Quarls' life, said poor recordkeeping in those days makes it hard to know for certain.

    "He declared 1833 as his birthday when applying for pension, but may have not really known when his birthday was," she said.

    The former slave was born on a plantation in Edgefield County, S.C., where he was given his master's name. When the Civil War began, he enlisted along with his master's son in the 7th Regiment of South Carolina's K Company. He is thought to have been a rifleman who may have fought at Gettysburg.

    After the war, Quarls changed his name to Christopher Columbus, thinking some might not appreciate his service with the Confederate Army.

    "He couldn't read or write, and so Columbus was one of the few names he knew," Crockett said.

    Like Columbus, Quarls' life was a long, interesting voyage.

    In 1866, he moved to Florida, where he married for the second time and had a third child. He was a chicken farmer and owned a horse and carriage service. He traveled to Washington to apply for military pension and met President Woodrow Wilson.

    Now, 78 years after his death, he is being honored -- and remembered.

    "This is something that should be done more often," said Marion Lambert, chief of staff of the Florida division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. "It is a bonding element that needs to be taught over and over to ourselves and our children."

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