Conclusion of my 2 day Ancestral Pilgrimage

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A photo of Warrington Meeting House — i’m standing at the far back of the cemetery. The Meeting House was built in 1769.

I came back to NY today and on the way I stopped in Wellington, PA. There is a Quaker meeting house there off Rte. 74 (Warrington Meeting House) and my sixth great grandfather Rev. Alexander Underwood was one of its key, founding members. He helped raise money to purchase the land and was a very well known minister within the Quaker community.

Alexander was born in 1688 in Maryland and died in 1767 (on Oct. 31) in Wellington, Pa. He is buried in the cemetery of the Warrington Meeting house (part of which, along with the original meeting house, you can see in my photo above). I wasn’t able to find his stone, which was frustrating. I thought that I had found that of my fifth great grandmother – his daughter Ann Ailes Fraizor, nee Underwood (I’m descended from her via her husband S. Ailes) but it was the wife of another Underwood (tangentially related). It was a sad fact that many stones were worn almost to illegibility and many of the oldest stones were quite simply unreadable.

That was actually one of many frustrating parts of this visit. Now it may simply have been that St. Luke’s cemetery was such an intense experience and that I was simply still bowled over from that, but I got absolutely nothing – no contact at all—from the Warrington graves.

Now this is my biological mother’s paternal line (her father’s paternal line specifically) and that entire line is a bit vexed. There have been many challenges and blockages as I try to uncover ancestor information. I’ve made some strides (identifying Rev. Underwood for instance as my sixth great grandfather) but it’s still frustrating and very slow going when compared to my mother’s maternal line.

I spent a significant amount of time today walking through the cemetery searching pretty much all the stones (the cemetery was not that large). I spoke with members of the congregation as they were setting up for a morning Meeting. They weren’t sure which of the Underwoods were buried there or where and the person who knew wouldn’t be in today, but I received permission to wander to my heart’s content through the cemetery. Even better, I got the chance to walk into and see the meeting house that my sixth great grandfather helped found. That was pretty damned cool. (I’m sure they would have allowed me to remain for the service but I’m not Quaker and I refuse to be one of those people who ogles other religious practitioners like they’re specimens under a microscope. I’ve experienced that too much as a polytheist when visitors attend our services to do it to someone else. I moved my car so that I wouldn’t bother anyone when my friend MAG and I left and got down to the business of making offerings). Not being able to find the graves, I found an old tree in the cemetery, one that I liked, prayed, poured out offerings and eventually left.

I tried to suss out why there was so much silence tonight once I got home, but div was inconclusive. Part of it may have been that I always have a cadre of military dead with me and Quakers are pacifists (though there were several in the cemetery who served in the War of 1812 or the Civil War); part of it may have been that there was a Meeting in progress, in fact I got a strong sense that was significant; and I’m sure there were other reasons too. It was, however, frustrating. I had a feeling last night though that this particular leg of my visit wasn’t going to be particularly productive. I considered just going straight home but I didn’t want to be disrespectful. It’s just not time for that line to open up to me yet and that’s ok.

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Stepping on Ancestral Soil

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While I was hunting for specific tombstones, MAG took this photo of the church. There is another field of stones to the left, which you cannot see in this picture, and a few — just a handful–behind the church too.

(photo by Mary Ann Glass)

Today I started a very mini-pilgrimage. Mostly I’m down in MD to visit family, but on the way, I very deliberately sought out a cemetery where I know a number of my relatives are buried. (I intend to visit another from a different part of my lineage on the way home. Both are in the same county in PA). It was…overwhelming. I walked into the cemetery and realized immediately that I am related, quite directly too, to at least 95% of the people there. I’ve never been in a cemetery where I had more than one or two relatives, certainly not one that has six plus generations of my maternal line! It was dizzying and I quickly became disoriented. I don’t think I can quite describe the sensation of walking amongst that many of my dead, or of sinking down before my third great grandparents’ stones and communing with them. It was powerful to say the least.

Since I have difficulty driving long distances because of my back and neck injuries, my friend MAG drove me down and is accompanying me on the ancestor pieces of this journey. She is a good travel buddy and very good at playing handler for me if need be—and today I needed it. We left NY at five am and made it into York County, PA by ten thirty but it took us almost another hour to find the cemetery. We knew it was off rte 425 but even so, it was not the easiest thing to find. When we did, it hit me like a punch in the solar plexus, literally knocking the wind right out of me. I saw it as we crested a hill and I knew “that one ‘s mine.”

My primary purpose was to visit the grave of my first cousin twice removed (I think I go that right! An error in my genealogy had me thinking he was my second great uncle for awhile.) Wesley Heffner who died on June 5 from wounds sustained in WWI.

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Possibly the only existing photo of him. (from “York County in the World War” by Hill, et al.

Wesley was part of Co. B 26th Infantry which was part of the first American forces to arrive in France as part of Pershing’s Expeditionary Force. They were immediately deployed to the front. According to the wiki entry on this regiment, they earned more campaign streamers than any other regiment but at a terrible cost, losing nearly half their forces. (1) They did, however, help turn the tide of the war. “…Soldiers of that regiment were quintessential doughboys: part of the first American division to arrive in France, the 26th Infantry was first to enter combat, first to sustain a casualty, first to take the offensive, and first to enter Germany after the Armistice.” (2) Wesley didn’t make it to the Armistice. He died before the battle of Soissons. I’m still trying to track down where his company would have been in May-June 1918 but I haven’t had much luck. Near as I can tell, probably Cantigny, maybe Amiens, but I’m not sure. I’ve a bit of research ahead of me.

Anyway, I went to visit his grave and I knew I had a couple more ancestors buried there but I had no idea, just…no idea exactly how many. Usually when I go into a graveyard, after having made some preliminary offerings, I can find who I’m looking for almost immediately. That was not the case here. There were just too many and I was completely overwhelmed. I finally asked Private Heffner ‘I’m here to honor you, I need some help finding you!” and heard clear as day “look to your right.” And there he was. Later, he helped me find his grandparents (I finally thought to ask him again after I nearly passed out from the heat after a very long time tramping through in the graveyard. I tried to douse and it all but exploded in my hands because there were just so many of my ancestors there. Again, when I asked, he immediately pointed them out).

I have a certain protocol that I follow when I come into a cemetery to do this type of work. First I cover my head and I greet the cemetery spirit itself. I make offerings to the cemetery and then general offerings to those buried there, explaining my purpose. I ask the help of the cemetery itself and my own ancestors in locating them. Usually it’s not a problem but this was so intense. I don’t have words to explain. If there is anywhere in the United States that is my ancestral land, it’s Chanceford Township. To this day, Heffners, Schoffs, Runkles et al people the place. This cemetery was filled with my people, my ancestors, generation after generation after generation and they recognized me, and so did the land itself. It’s the only time in the US that I’ve had that experience (it has happened occasionally at certain places in Europe). There was a depth of connection there that I’d never experienced before. Usually when I go into a cemetery in MD or PA I might have one or two ancestors there, maybe half a dozen but not dozens, not multiple generations (as in seven, eight, nine and more generations), not that many directly linked, my direct antecedants. It was so incredibly dizzying.

So after staggering around the cemetery pouring out offerings for about a half hour, I finally realized I needed to focus. I made a general offering to all of my ancestors there and explained first I wanted to find Wesley, and then having asked his help I did that. I spent a good half hour making offerings. The photo of the young man above is very likely the only extant picture of him. Soldiers were (and I believe still are) photographed when they enlist, just in case they die in service, which he did.

I made offerings at his stone, having divined last night about their appropriateness. (For those new to reading my blog, reverencing the dead is a major tenet of my religion. We are expected to tend our ancestors’ graves, visit them, make offerings, know our genealogy, maintain a household ancestor shrine, etc. We use divination to ensure that our offerings and actions are correct and welcome).

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I also poured out offerings of fresh water, both to Wesley and to as many of the dead as I could. Then of course, I poured out to everyone as a group.

Then I double checked my list (I had a list of ancestors that I knew were buried in that cemetery. It was…to say the least…incomplete! While I was hunting for Wesley, a woman came and made a grave rubbing of one of the stones for a client (she was a genealogist), and spoke with my friend MAG. She gave MAG a website where another genealogist had taken photographs of every stone in that cemetery. It was very helpful. MAG passed it onto me and I was able to see what a stone looked like, which narrowed down the process of finding it (no small thing given that my head was just spinning the whole time I was there. Writing this now, hours and hours later, I feel as though I was hit by a mack truck and I’m not sure if it’s from the long drive or the time with my dead!)(3)

I cried when I found the graves of my third great grandparents Jesse Runkle and Elizabeth Runkle (nee Oberlander). Their stones are side by side and as with Wesley I was able to sit for a long time in front of them talking, praying, and making offerings. I’ve never quite experienced anything like sitting there on that ground with them and I wish I could have stayed for a much longer time. There simply wasn’t enough time and I hope to soon return, perhaps in a few months, and spend a significant amount of time in a mini utiseta.(4)

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Jesse and Elizabeth Runkle, my third great grandparents. 

Here is Jesse’s stone by itself:

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Here is a photo (poor quality for which I apologize!) of him and Elizabeth as adult seniors (copied from the Runkle Genealogy book by J .Grove. She was kind enough to send me a photocopy of the images as we are both descended from Jesse. I do not know who originally took these portraits as both of my third great grandparents died well before I was born!):

jesse-runkleelizabeth-oberlander

 

And here is her stone by itself:

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After a stumbling, staggering struggle (and nearly passing out from the heat, which I ignored far too long in a dogged desire to find their stone), I managed to find with Wesley’s help, the stones of my second great grandparents William Henry Heffner and Catherine Heffner (nee Runkle).

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Sadly, the writing is not all that legible. It’s William H.(henry) Heffner, Died Oct. 13, 1905, aged 69 years, 5 months, 11 days and Catharine Heffner, Died Feb. 10, 1920, aged 73, 3 (I think) days.

Wesley is their grandson. His parents, Amos and Della Heffner were there too.

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I actually have conflicting information about the death date of Della and one cannot always trust tombstones. I need to double check that date.

It was odd, I kept wondering why everyone wasn’t grouped together ‘why aren’t you buried next to relatives?” except they are. The entire cemetery is related. I’m still boggled by it. I realize why people fight to the death to protect their ancestral burial grounds. I always understood it mentally but now I get it on a gut level. I understand to the marrow of my being. These are my people and this land that holds their bones is sacred.

It is late now and I am exhausted and will be spending the next two days with (living) relatives. I have more to tell and more photos but for now I’ll conclude with this image. Those rolling fields and many more like them once sustained my ancestors. It’s a good place to live and a very good place to rest and when the land speaks carrying the bones of one’s dead, it’s very hard not to listen.

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(all photos unless otherwise noted are mine).

 

Notes

 

  1. See this entry. 
  2. See page five
  3. I’m lucky too. I kept finding Civil War soldiers amongst my direct antecedents and MAG helpfully pointed out that I must have had soldiers who fought at Gettysburg – it isn’t that far from here and all of my folks were in PA regiments. It was, for awhile 50/50 as to whether we’d be making a side trip to the battlefield. It’s still a possibility.
  4. Later, after the cemetery visit, I met a cousin (twice over, though we haven’t calculated the exact relationship, how many times removed, etc.) who has helped me in the past with my genealogy. Ms. J. as I’ll call her here told me that Elizabeth was a remarkable woman. She had sixteen children and all of them survived to adulthood, something almost unheard of in her time. These women were tough. It wasn’t uncommon to have ten, thirteen, sixteen, seventeen, and more children at home and sans painkiller or modern medicine. They had grit.

Otranto Ossuary

My friend Grey just got back from a trip to Italy wherein he had the opportunity to visit Otranto Ossuary. I am envious! ^_^ This is one of the ossuaries I’d like to visit myself some day. He was kind enough to take several photos for me, which I’m sharing here. The bones are behind glass, so he said it was difficult to get a decent shot but here are the photos he sent me. (All photos by Grey Zane).

Otranto ossuary

I like this one the best, because it gives you a sense of the impact of the bones themselves, flanking the high altar.

Otranto ossuar ii

Here is a close up of the skulls.

Otranto ossuary iii

And here another.

Paul Koudounaris, in his wonderful book The Empire of Death, notes that this was the first Italian ossuary to house the remains of the battle dead. In 1480, Otranto was sacked by the Turks and priests were tortured and, along with locals, massacred.(1) In 1500, remains, upwards of 900 skulls and other bits were disinterred and moved to the ossuary, where they remain to this day. In the eighteenth century, they were canonized en masse.

These are powerful places, places that remind us the dead are always near; places that remind us of the rightness of veneration.

 

Note:

  1. See Koudounaris, Paul, The Empire of Death, London, UK: Thames and Hudson, 2011, p. 157.

My Ancestors Rock!

I’m a little stunned as I write this. I spent the day visiting relatives and ended up, as per a promise I made to my ancestors in November, hunting down the cemetery where my great-great-grandfather is buried. After that, things got beautifully weird.

To start with, I had no idea exactly where this cemetery was. I knew it was in Peach Bottom, PA but that’s it. I couldn’t find an address for it, not even on google. I figured it seems to be on or near Rte. 222 so let’s just drive that and if we have to, we can ask someone at a gas station or something. We’d no sooner crossed the PA border than we came upon an old, small cemetery. I had no idea if this was the right one and it seemed rather too close to the MD/PA border to be so but I had a feeling so I told my friend who was driving to stop and I got out.

rock spring

 

Almost immediately I found my great great grandfather’s stone.

stephen hanna tomb.jpg

 

His name is Stephen J. Hanna and he is the father of Perry Barnes Hanna who is the father of Roland Isaac Hanna who is my grandfather (on my mother’s side). When I visited MD on Thanksgiving, I had found his wife’s grave (Elizabeth Johnson) at West Nottingham cemetery and I’d wondered at the time where he was. It seems he died first and was buried in Rock Spring Cemetery in PA, with a lot of Hannas. A LOT of them. She died twenty years later and from what I can tell, was buried near her children who were part of the local parish.

In addition, and purely by chance, dumb luck, and my ancestors being sneaky, I also found the graves of my great-great-great grandparents, James Andrew Hanna (1800-1874) and Esther Ailes Hanna (1798-1887).

Esther Ailes, my third great grandma on maternal father's side

Esther Ailes Hanna

james andrew hanna

James Hanna

I poured out water to them and to all the Hannas buried there and thanked them for being my ancestors, for guiding me to the grave, and I showed respect by bowing to the ground.

james hanna esther ailes gravejames and esther tombstone

I didn’t think anything more about it. We had my aunt in the car and she was hungry and so were my travel buddies so we went to lunch. When I got home I started researching a bit, curious as to whether or not I could find a few more graves in the area and I didn’t, but I did get a major gift from my dead. I managed to trace a couple of the lines back to the 1600s , lines I’d been trying to research for months and months with no luck.

I’m not actually able to input a genealogy chart here (I wish I could, it would be far easier) so let me break it down.

I’ll start with Perry Barnes Hanna (21 April 1876-17 April 1949), my great grandfather. He is buried at West Nottingham Cemetery in Colora, MD along with his mother Elizabeth Johnson (1836-1909). His father Stephen J. Hanna (1832-1897) is buried in Rock Springs Baptist Cemetery in Peach Bottom, PA.

Stephen J. Hanna’s parents, James Andrew Hanna, Esq. (1800-1874) and Esther Ailes (1798-1887) are also buried in Rock Springs Cemetery though there is some question as to whether or not they were Baptist or Quaker.

I was able today to trace James Andrew’s parents: John Hanna (1773-1857) and Martha Jenkins (1781-1857). They married in 1799. I don’t know where exactly they’re buried yet. (I didn’t see their graves in Rock Springs but I may go back tomorrow to check again). John Hanna’s father was James Hanna (1725–10 December 1798) and Elizabeth Glenn (1731-1808ish) They married on 15 July 1748. I guess John was born late in life to his father. Interesting fact about James Hanna: he served as a private in Captain John Graham’s company, 1st battalion militia in the Revolutionary War and was born in Ulster county, Ireland. That’s as far back as I’ve gone on that side of the Hanna line. (Ironically, I may be eligible through him for the DAR!) Let’s continue with Esther Ailes’ line. This is information I’ve been dying to find out and today it just fell into my lap.

First, let’s look at her paternal line. Her father was Stephen Ailes (1771-1816) and her mother Sarah Byland (1773-1830). Let’s follow her father’s line.

Stephen Ailes’ parents were Stephen Michael Ailes (5 March 1750–21 Sept. 1828) and Elizabeth Swayne (1751- January 26, 1820). Stephen Michael’s parents were Stephen Ailes (1717-1754) and Ann Underwood (1718-1767). I’m a little saddened by those dates. Apparently Stephen Michael was only four when his father died and a teenager when his mother died. That’s as far as I can go with his paternal line. Stephen Ailes’ (1771-1816) mother was Elizabeth Swayne. Let’s trace her line:

Her father was Edward Swayne (20 November 1702- 24 April 1776). He was born in Binfield, Berkshire, UK. Given his date of death, I’m wondering if he fought in the Revolutionary war and on what side (more research will be necessary). He died in Pa. Her mother was Sarah Fincher (1703- 1 November 1804). It looks like she was born in London Grove, Pa. They married April 25, 1727 in New Garden, Chester County, PA. HER parents were John Fincher (1679-1747) and Martha Taylor (3 January 1680-1713). Edward Swayne’s parents were Francis Swayne (19 February 1665 – 30 November 1721). He was born in Binfield, Berkshire, UK. He married Elizabeth Melton (1667-1727), also born in the UK. They both died in East Marlborough, Chester County, PA so I think they were the first in this line to immigrate to the US (though it was the colonies, not the US then).

Elizabeth Swayne’s mother Sarah Fincher was born to John Fincher (born 28 January 1678 in Wolverly, Wyre Forest district Worcestershire in the UK, died 24 November 1747 in PA) and Martha Taylor. They married 1699. John’s parents were Francis Fincher (nicknamed “the Immigrant”, or “the Quaker”—so at least we know he was Quaker!) ( 2 October 1626- 1 June 1684) and Mary Achelly (1636 – 1699). They married on 3 April 1678. (He was first married to Elizabeth Mary Sibthorpe, but she died in 1676 ). Right now, that’s as far as I can take the Swayne line. John Fincher may have arrived, as per Quaker meeting notes, in the colonies on 14 March 1683. His father Francis died by drowning in Philadelphia and was a glover.

Finally, let’s return to Sarah Byland, Esther’s mother. She is the daughter of John Byland and Susannah Ailes. That’s all I have so far, but it’s so very much more than I had this morning! It’s like I poured out a couple of bottles of water on their graves to refresh and honor my dead and BAM! They opened up the line a little bit more for me.

So I am thrilled though I have a ton more research to do to verify all of this fully. This is not the first time I’ve visited graves, made offerings and had information fall out of the blue in my lap though. Honoring the ancestors….it works. 🙂

More Family Graves

Before I returned home from my MD visit, I did go back to the cemetery where my maternal grandmother and her parents (as well as a brother) are buried. I’d taken photos when I first visited, but after I made offerings. One of the offerings was pouring good, fresh water over the stones (to refresh the dead). It almost totally obscured the inscriptions, something I didn’t realize until I got home and looked through my photos. I wanted a good picture for my files, for my memory, as a touchstone of connection so I went back the next day and took these. 

linnie hanna gravestone

This is my grandmother’s gravestone. 

heffner and shoff gravestone

And this is the stone of her parents and one of her brothers. May they ever be remembered. 

Visiting Family Graves

So I spent my Thanksgiving visiting the graves of my ancestors. I came down to Maryland to see my brother and his family for the holiday and the morning before we all got together, I went around to local cemeteries making offerings for my dead. I’ve been trying to untangle a rather snarled family tree, and my recent focus has been my mother’s paternal line. I made real breakthroughs on this visit.

Firstly, I visited my aunt who told me quite a bit about my grandfather. Many of those stories are personal so I won’t recount them here, but it answered a lot of questions. Then there were the cemetery visits.

I started the morning yesterday by first going to Harmony Chapel Cemetery in Cecil County, MD where I made offerings to my maternal grandmother Linnie Hanna, her parents Lucinda Heffner and Hugh Shoff, and her brother Howard Shoff. (My photos did not turn out well of their stones, so I will be visiting them again later today and will add photos then. Once I poured good, clean water over their stones in offering to their spirits, it obscured the inscriptions. I also laid out flowers and prayed).

Then, I went to Brookview Cemetery in Rising Sun, MD (and boy was it fun finding this cemetery! It’s quite well hidden, which of course makes it peaceful and serene. It’s abutted by a large field and set well off the road, shielded by a long, wooded lane). My grandfather Roland Isaac Hanna is buried here. Last year, I realized that he didn’t have a headstone (he was not the best father, and he carried many, many scars from his own childhood.) so I paid to have a simple one with his name and dates of birth and death erected. I got to the cemetery and realized I had no idea where it was located save tehat it was in the north east section. So, I asked him to guide me to the stone and…walked right to it.

Roland Hanna

After visiting for a time with Roland (and also making offerings to various random veterans in the cemetery – I’m easily distracted in cemeteries) I and my friend A. (who was kind enough to accompany me and help haul offerings and drive) went on to Colora, MD, to West Nottingham Cemetery. I’d always been fascinated by this cemetery as a child but had never, ever visited. I don’t think my parents realized that my mother’s father’s father, his mother, and two of his brothers were buried there.

Again, I had no idea where they were and the cemetery is large. I talked to them, and poured out an offering to the other spirits of the place, and the cemetery itself asking for help and again, walked right to my great grandfather’s stone (the look on A.’s face was priceless when I did so). Again, offerings were made. As I talked to him, speaking about my desire to untangle this family line and deal with the pain and hurt that had festered there for so long, a pale spider kept running along the top of the stone. In some cultures, spiders are psychopomps, and carry messages too and from the dead. I took it as a good omen.

Perry B Hanna

Then I had to set myself the task of finding his mother. Again, I only knew that she was there so I again asked for help. I kept getting distracted by interesting stones and people but eventually I heard very clearly ‘go over to the building’. I thought perhaps someone was there who could help so I did. Just as I was about to walk out of the cemetery proper and to the main building, something made me look down and to my left and there was my great great grandmother’s grave. (Her husband is buried in PA, in a family plot. He died earlier than she and it seems her children wanted her buried near where they lived so today I’m going on the quest for his grave).

elizabeth johnson

Right next to her are the graves of two of her sons: John T. and Basil Randolph Hanna.

John T Hanna

BAsil Hanna

I made the requisite offerings, thanking them profusely. Later that night I was doing some research and managed to extend that line back several more generations.

Me

Maryann Dabravalskas (nee Hanna) (1947-2012) (and John Paul Dabravalskas 1917- 2005)

Following Maryann’s line:

Linnie Hanna (nee Shoff) (1909 – 1987) and Roland I. Hanna (1903-1991)

Following Roland’s line:

Edna Baldwin (1880-1944) and Perry Barnes Hanna (1876-1949)

Following Perry:

Elizabeth Johnson (1836-1909) and Stephen John Hanna (1832-1897)

Following Stephen:

His mother is Esther Ailes (1798-1887) and father James Andrew Hanna (1800-1874).

Esther’s parents are Stephen Ailes (1771-1816) and Sarah Byland (1773-1830).

Stephen’s parents are Stephen Michael Ailes and Elizabeth Swayne

Back to James Andrew Hanna, his mother is Martha Jenkins (1781-1857) and his father is John Hanna (1773-1857) and…that’s as far as I can take this line.

(if anyone reading this has any information on any of these ancestors or family lines, please please contact me here!)

So all told, it was a very productive visit. I need to come down again, both to research in Baltimore (Edna Baldwin lived and worked there and she is a cipher, a complete mystery in my line) and to go to York, PA where generations of my mother’s maternal line settled. I have many more graves to visit!

Happy holidays, all.

Honoring a Local Hero: Sybil Ludington, Revolutionary War Heroine

I had a free day today, a rare thing, so my fiancé and I decided to take a drive. I had wanted to find and visit the grave of Sybil Ludington (April 5, 1761 – February 26, 1839) ever since a friend told me a couple of weeks ago that she was buried in Patterson, NY (a town only about twenty five minutes from my home). So this afternoon, after running all of our errands we set out to find the cemetery. It was a beautiful autumn day, perfect day for a drive, and I was excited from the very beginning by the sudden, startling glimpses of orange, saffron, and gold that I finally started to see, breaking out from amongst the green.

We made good time to Route 311, and I stopped at the first Presbyterian Church that I found. My friend had told me she was buried in the cemetery right across from it. That cemetery had a heavy chain over the opening in the wrought iron fence, but I ducked right under, took offerings of fresh water and apples and started walking the graves, paying my respects. It was lovely, well maintained, and very peaceful. It was not however, the correct cemetery. After looking at all the gravestones that could possibly be from the nineteenth century, I left my offerings, pouring out the water (taking the container with me), and got back into the car. Sybil was nowhere to be found.

My partner suggested that we keep driving. It was a nice day and maybe there was another church and cemetery farther along. He is a wise man. After another maybe ten minutes, we drove past an Episcopal Church actually in Patterson and low and behold, there was a marker commemorating the Revolutionary War heroes: Henry Ludington and his daughter Sybil.

Ludington marker on street

My friend had been correct: there was a Presbyterian church right across the street too. I saw two workmen doing repairs on the church and asked one of them, who turned out to be very sweet and very helpful, if he knew where Sybil Ludington’s grave was. He said he’d only been there three weeks and wasn’t sure. Then as I thanked him, he thought for a moment and pointed off to our left, saying that an awful lot of people come to photograph there so it’s probably that way. He was right and within seconds I was standing in front of Sybil’s grave.

sybil luddington grave1

(note the different spelling Sybil vs. Sibbell. The spelling of names really wasn’t standardized in the US until the early 20th century with the advent of social security and the need for consistent record keeping. One source  notes that she preferred to spell her name Sebal!)

Firstly, it’s meticulously kept, which was a joy to see. In fact, this cemetery is a lovely, serene place, obviously used to visitors. Secondly, both Sybil’s grave and her father’s were marked with several flags, and her father had special markers, one affixed to his stone, and one in the ground next to it, naming him as a Revolutionary War soldier. I like that. It’s right and proper. I was happy to see them remembered in such a manner.

father grave

Sybil is there with her family. To her left is a woman whose stone was a bit too difficult for me to read, but I did note that the last name was Ludington. Then there is her father’s grave, and to his left, her mother’s.

mother grave

It was lovely. I knelt and poured out the water that I had brought as offering and thanked her for her service, for her courage, and told her that she was an inspiration for many of us today. I said that I would write about her, and tell more people about her act of valor during the war and it seemed to me that she was pleased. (Yes, I talk to the dead and sometimes they answer). I didn’t stay too long after that, but took a few photographs, thanked the workmen, and went back to the car to start on the way home. We actually followed the path that she rode for at least a half hour, maybe longer before veering off.

For those who don’t know who Sybil Ludington is, and are reading this going “What’s the big deal? What did she do?” let me give a little background.

Sybil and her father lived about 25 miles from the town of Danbury Connecticut in 1777 when the Revolutionary War had been raging for about a year. Her dad was a colonel in the local militia and had also fought in the French and Indian War of 1756. On the night of April 26, 1777, her father received word that the British forces had landed in Connecticut and were attacking. Because she knew the area, and where the majority of militia were located, Sybil mounted her horse Star and set off around 9pm to rouse them to muster. She rode over forty miles (longer than Paul Revere and in worse weather!), alone and in the dark. She was sixteen years old and she rode through dawn of the next day, eluding both British patrols in the area and British loyalists. One source (This site says that after she warned the militia in Carmel, one of the militiamen offered to ride with her but she turned him down, instead telling him to go to the town of Brewster to warn people there. This, dear readers, is valor.

Colonel Ludington and his troops did not arrive in time to save Danbury but they did fight the British troops out of the area. After the battle of Danbury, George Washington himself came to the Ludington home to thank Sybil for her service and courage.

I think it’s important to remember our local heroes, even if we are not related to them by blood. It’s part of building a strong, vibrant community rooted in the wisdom and experience of the past, reaching toward a healthy future. We need strong roots to blossom. I talk about this a little bit in my opening piece in Walking the Worlds (issue 2). This is regional cultus and it’s crucial toward building a strong tradition.

So find out who your local heroes are. Learn about them, learn their stories and why they are considered so relevant, so important. It’s shared community building and that’s a good thing.

Here are a few more links about Sybil Ludington:

  1. there’s a rather nice write up at her entry at findagrave.com.
  2. The national women’s history museum provides this bio.
  3. And here is the American national bio.

ludington episcopal church

(all photos are mine, taking September 28, 2015. Please do not use without permission)