Tribute to Haile unveils long-lost military marker
Published: Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 6:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 6:59 p.m.
Old Southern cemeteries — full of oaks and Spanish moss and, often, decaying graves — lend themselves to mystery.
But Saturday, within a crumbling limerock wall with the remains of more than a dozen members of the Haile family plus one of its slaves, the mystery was a happy one.
A gathering at the grave of Thomas Haile, an Alachua County pioneer and cotton farmer, celebrated the discovery and rededication of a military marker from his service in the Civil War that no one knew existed.
"I had never heard of it. I didn't know until the person returned it that it existed," said Beverly Haile Parrish, the great granddaughter of Thomas Haile. "It was a very happy family surprise."
The dedication at the Kanapaha Cemetery, at the end of a tree-shaded road in southwest Gainesville, was conducted by the Madison Starke Perry No. 1424 chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The cemetery is maintained by Kanapaha Presbyterian Church.
Haile's raised tomb was covered with a Confederate flag, topped by a sword, gun and other items typical of the Civil War era. The marker, which now lies at the foot of the grave, was covered with period jacket and cap until they were lifted by Karen Kirkman, president and historian of Historic Haile Homestead Inc., to reveal the cleaned and corrected marker.
Kirkman, who knows as much Haile history as anyone, said she first learned of the military marker in February.
"Some people just showed up at the Haile homestead with it on Feb. 24. It was an older couple who wouldn't give their names. They said somebody else gave it to them. It was found in Rattlesnake Creek on the other side of Gainesville," Kirkman said. "The date of death was wrong — he died 20 minutes before midnight on Dec. 31, 1896. It had 1897."
Thomas Haile came from a prosperous South Carolina family. He and his wife, Serena, moved to southwestern Alachua County to raise cotton. Today's Haile Plantation subdivision is named after the family, and the Haile homestead, which is open to the public for various events, is off Archer Road adjacent to the development.
A number of slaves worked at the Haile homestead. One, Bennett Kelley, was so close to the family that Serena Haile insisted he be buried in the family area of the cemetery despite the graveyard being only for whites. When he died in 1933, the family honored her wishes and buried him there.
Kirkman said the military marker was likely made years after Haile's death but added it does not show up in any ancestral or Civil War databases or records.
"We don't know who ordered it. That's a mystery," Kirkman said.
Archie Matthews, commander of the Sons chapter, sang a few verses of the song "Dixie" and paid tribute to Haile's serving in the Civil War.
"I hope this old soldier was able to put it behind him and find peace within himself," Matthews said. "Rest in peace, old soldier. It is so sad that those of us who would have liked to have known you were just born too late. I trust you had a good life full of peace, joy, love and happiness."