A monument to love and devotion that transcends class, race and death itself.
Within Oaklawn Cemetery, Tampa’s oldest public burial ground (established in 1850 “for whites & slaves alike”) visitors can find a plethora of fascinating monuments and tombstones, including those of Tampa’s first mayor, veterans of seven different wars, a Florida governor, cigar magnate Vicente Martinez-Ybor, pirates, pioneer priests, yellow fever victims and more, but the grave of one “Master and Servant” stands out above the rest.
William Ashley was a prominent white City Clerk and civic leader who moved to Tampa from Virginia in 1837 with his black servant Nancy. While they maintained the appearance of this relationship to the public, their shared tombstone made clear to the world that behind closed doors they preferred to live outside the law as husband and wife. The inscription on their tombstone reads:
“Here lies Wm. and Nancy Ashley Master and Servant Faithful to each other in that relation In life in death they are not separated Stranger consider and be wiser In the grave all human distinction of race or cast mingle together in one common dust.”
Some claim that their spirits still roam the graveyard, earthbound by their fidelity to each other. Most visitors, however, find their final message of love and tolerance haunting enough without any supernatural intervention.