County voters to decide Confederate monument’s location

Confederate memorial - Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis
The Confederate memorial erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy includes the slogan “Lest We Forget.” - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON – Next year, Anna Maria Island’s registered voters will help determine the new location for the Confederate memorial erected in front of the Manatee County courthouse in 1924 and removed and placed in storage in 2017.

Rye family legacy lives on at Rye Preserve

PARRISH – The Rye Preserve in Parrish has been mentioned as a possible location for the Confederate memorial.

When discussing the relocation of the Confederate memorial last week, Manatee County Commissioner Priscilla Trace and Deputy County Administrator John Osborne both mentioned that former Confederate soldier and Civil War veteran Erasmus Rye is buried at Rye Preserve, in what is now known as the Rye Cemetery.

Erasmus Rye
Erasmus Rye fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. – Submitted

The small family cemetery is open to the public and located along the Settlement Trail at the east end of the preserve. A white picket fence surrounds the burial grounds and a gate provides access to the gravestones and markers.

Erasmus Rye’s grave is marked by a tombstone at his head and a footstone at his feet. He is buried next to his wife, Mary Lucebia Rye. The Rye’s children are also buried there.

Erasmus Rye was born on April 23, 1834. According to a historical timeline provided by Manatee County Historical Resources Director Cathy Slusser, Rye moved to the newly-formed Manatee County in 1855 and fought in the Billy Bowlegs War.

Rye met his future wife, Mary Lucebia Williams, when she accidentally threw dishwater on him while he stood at the back door.

In 1861, Rye acquired 39.8 acres on Gilley Creek (Oak Knoll) from the Florida Internal Improvement Fund. On Nov. 24 of that year, Rye and Williams got married. He was 27 and she was 17.

On March 10, 1862, Rye and his father-in-law, James Green Williams, joined the Confederate Army as members of the 7th Regiment of the Florida Infantry.

Mary stayed behind alone on the Gilley Creek homestead until she became frightened one day when a stranger came to the door asking for food. She then moved in with her mother and abandoned the Gilly Creek homestead.

On June 27, 1862, James Green Williams returned home from the war after being severely wounded in the chest. Four months later, Erasmus and Mary’s first child, Molly, was born.

On Nov. 25, 1863, Rye was captured by Union Forces and taken prisoner at Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga. He was sent to a Union military prison in Louisville and his name also appears on the roll of prisoners of war at the Rock Island Barracks in Illinois.

The Civil War ended when General Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865. On May 3, Rye was released for transfer from New Orleans. Having no money for transportation, he walked back to Manatee County.

Manatee County Confederate memorial Rye Preserve
The Rye Preserve features a picnic shelter, a playground and a nature center. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

In 1865, James Green Williams’ 18-year-old daughter, Martha, died and was the first to be buried in what later became Rye Cemetery. Later that year, Williams became ill, transferred his land grant to Rye and moved to Frog Creek.

The Rye’s second daughter, Josephine, lived for only 10 days in December of 1868. Born in 1869, their son Joseph died in 1875.

In 1879, Rye hired Levi Thomas to build a new home because the family had outgrown Williams’ log cabin. That same year, Rye, Henry Craig and W.J. Gidding marked out the road from Oak Hill (Parrish) to Palmetto and the first Rye Bridge was constructed.

In 1884, the Rye Post Office was established.

Rye family legacy lives on at Rye Preserve
Erasmus Rye was laid to rest in what is now known as the Rye Cemetery. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Erasmus Rye died on July 31, 1889.

The Rye Post Office closed in 1929 and Mary Lucebia Rye died on Sept. 15, 1930.

The Rye Homestead caught fire and burned on Nov. 11, 1988.

Acting on a motion that County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh made at the Tuesday, May 7 meeting, the commission unanimously agreed to appoint a nine-member committee to recommend at least three proposed locations for the Confederate memorial, to be placed on the 2020 ballot.

At the suggestion of Commissioner Reggie Bellamy – the commission’s only African American – the committee will include at least four black members.

Deputy County Administrator John Osborne will serve as the committee moderator and commission liaison.

Commissioner Priscilla Trace initiated last week’s discussion.

“I promised a lot of folks I would make sure this memorial was not forgotten,” she said.

Trace said the county learned in February that the state would not allow the memorial to be placed at the previously discussed, state-owned Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in Ellenton. Her goal is to now find a location owned and controlled by the county.

At Trace’s request, Osborne presented several potential locations that included Bunker Hill Community Park, a county-owned utility property next to the Gamble Mansion, Emerson Point Preserve, Fort Hamer Park, Myakka Community Park, Riverview Pointe, Robinson Preserve and Rye Preserve.

Osborne said many of those properties pose challenges due to ownership, location, grant funding, deed restrictions and other concerns.

Trace said she prefers the Rye Preserve in Parrish.

“We could put it right on Rye Wilderness road. We could have proper signage which tells why they went to battle and what the conditions in Manatee County were. It’s probably 300 yards down to the cemetery. Mr. (Erasmus) Rye, a Confederate veteran, is buried there,” Trace said.

Monument history

The Confederate memorial was removed as a result of the 4-3 commission vote taken in August 2017.

Citing public safety concerns, commissioners Trace, Betsy Benac, Charles Smith and Carol Whitmore voted to remove and relocate the memorial. Commissioners Vanessa Baugh, Robin DiSabatino and Steve Jonsson opposed the removal.

County voters to decide Confederate monument’s location
The Confederate memorial was the scene of a large but peaceful protest in 2017. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

That decision was reached after a large but peaceful protest occurred near the memorial in downtown Bradenton. The contractor hired to remove the granite monument dropped it and fractured it into three pieces. Officials say it will be repaired at its new location.

The memorial was erected in 1924 by the Judah P. Benjamin Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The monument inscriptions reference Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson.

One side says, “In memory of our Confederate soldiers.” Another says, “1861-1865, Lest We Forget.”

Engraved in capital letters with the word ‘chivalrous’ misspelled, one side of the monument says, “Calm and noble in peace. Courageous and chilvalrous in war. True to the best traditions of the south. The Confederate soldier lives enshrined in the hearts of his grateful countrymen.”

Public input

During the public comment period, Carol Driscoll said the memorial’s location should be decided by county voters and not the seven commissioners.

Joe Kennedy recommended placing it in the privately-owned Fogartyville Cemetery in Bradenton. He said there are more than 100 Confederate veterans buried in Manatee County and the memorial should be in or near one of those cemeteries.

Regarding the Rye Preserve’s remote location, Kennedy said, “That would be like taking the Iwo Jima Memorial and sticking it in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.”

David Dean lives near the preserve. He said he could support that location if it includes factual signs providing historical context.

“Being a veteran myself, I have no problem with the one side of the monument that is dedicated to the soldiers who fought. The other three are objectionable to me. Jefferson Davis and Judah Benjamin were not brave soldiers. They both ran away when it looked like their cause was lost. And to call it a noble cause in the first place I also object to. That statue was put up during the heyday of Jim Crow and the KKK,” Dean said.

Deborah Clark attended the 2017 protest.

“I want it put back where it was. Slavery was the worst evil that ever happened in this country. The racism that’s been borne of that is wrong, but it is part of history. The liberal left wants to erase history,” she said.

Commission discussion

Commissioners Betsy Benac and Carol Whitmore liked the Fogartyville Cemetery location but noted it would require approval by the cemetery’s board.

Jonsson said the previous location outside the Manatee County Historic Courthouse should be one of those included on the ballot.

County voters to decide Confederate monument’s location
The Confederate memorial used to stand in the courtyard square near the Manatee County Historic Courthouse. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Baugh proposed the committee, saying the memorial debate is probably the most difficult issue the commission has faced during her time as a commissioner.

“I didn’t vote to move the monument. I think it should go back where it was. But I also think the people deserve the right to make this decision, not this board,” Baugh said. “It is a war memorial. It is our history and we can’t change it.”

Commissioner Misty Servia was not in office when the memorial was removed. She said the most important thing to her is that it includes an educational component that tells both sides of the story.

“We need to have a plaque that explains why this memorial is so important to Confederate history and we need a plaque that explains why this memorial is viewed by many people as a symbol of hate,” Servia said.

Bellamy was not in office when the memorial was removed.

“The challenge for us is to take both sides in consideration,” he said. “I do want to make sure you all understand the interpretation on what has taken place and the impact that has had on the African American community. It’s been devasting. This particular issue does not lie amongst the seven of us.”

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