General James Clinton & I

I have said it before that my genealogical journey has always been quite serendipitous in nature.  Good things and wonderful people have just seemed to cross my path time and again.  With it, though, comes a great amount of weird coincidences that I could never have expected or anticipated.  Here is one of those “strange incidences” that happened as of late…

I am a member of the DAR and my patriot is John Wickham.  I’ve written about him before but just to recap for new readers, John was in the French & Indian War and was recruited as a drill sergeant during the American Revolution to teach others how to fight/shoot.  John was from Rhode Island originally, moved to New York when he was 8 (and where he served during the Revolution), and then moved to Ohio after the war, where he applied for a pension right before he died at 101 years old.

I grew up in Ohio, nearly two hours from where John is buried in Noble County but I never knew about John until I moved to New York and my family tree exploded.  Here’s part of where it gets kinda neat – I didn’t just move to New York.  I moved right smack into the thick of where my grandfather served.  My husband is stationed at the United States Military Academy at West Point which is 7 minutes and one left hand turn from Fort Montgomery where my grandfather served before it was taken by the British.  I was able to go to Fort Montgomery and walk the very ground that John did and stand on the same cliff overlooking the Hudson River that he did.  It was surreal, to be sure!

In John’s pension file, he names those captains and generals he served under.  He served under Arnold at Bemis Heights, which is super cool since I have a Woodhull family connection and if you watch the show TURN, you’ll know I’m so excited by that!  Then, I somehow magically forgot who John served under.  It was one of those details that just slipped my mind.  (Probably because I read General Arnold and THAT’S what sticks out.)  I got into the DAR some two years ago and then all those little details just faded into the back of my mind…. until today.

And here’s where it gets kinda funky monkey… a few months ago, my friend Colleen and I cleaned the headstones and monuments of the Clinton plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in New Windsor, NY for the town.  We needed practice for our headstone cleaning business and they needed a nice, clean showpiece for the cemetery since they’d just taken it over in recent months and this would prime the monuments for its grand re-opening this next spring.

You may be wondering by now why this is so awesomely weird for me?  It’s because of whose plot we cleaned – General James Clinton and his family. My grandfather John served under General Clinton at Fort Montgomery before it was taken by the British and it was actually General Clinton that gave him his discharge papers. (Before you history buffs point out there were, in fact, TWO Clinton generals on the American side at Forts Montgomery and Clinton -and there were- John specifically said James Clinton, not George, in his pension papers.)  My grandfather served him and now I have served him in my own way, too.  How round robin is that?  The coincidence is just astounding to me and made those two days polishing and scrubbing those stones even more special and meaningful.

Anyways, I thought perhaps you all might enjoy seeing the pictures of the stones being cleaned.  They were in wretched shape and covered with lichen.  They are flat table-top stones and they are weathering terribly to where some of them are just practically illegible, James’ probably being the worst and then Mary Little Gray, one of his wives.   The stone of James’ sister, Catherine Clinton McClaughry , was so thick with lichen, we didn’t know there was a poem underneath the edges of the stone until it had been cleaned completely off.  It was amazing to see the before and after on these stones and I feel completely honored to have been a part of extending James Clinton’s legacy by caring for his monument properly.  I like to think my grandfather John would have been proud.


Long Sought After Info Found on Emma Drake Herman

Ever have that one relative whose story that you just can’t get out of your mind?  I have several of those relatives like that but one that stands out for me is my 4th great aunt, Emma Drake Leist Herman.  February of last year, I wrote about what I knew of her story which included the suicide of her last husband, Henry Herman, who drank carbolic acid they morning after they had a fight.  As incredible as that tidbit was, Emma’s story continued to be fascinating as her death certificate revealed she died at 8 pm on 2 June 1916 at age 39 from shock with a contributory cause as lightning.  What was she doing outside in a storm at 8 pm?  Color me fascinated!

West Point’s Old Cadet Chapel Then and Now

A view of the Old Cadet Chapel in 1877 at Custer’s funeral (left) and a recent picture I took of what the chapel now looks like.

While it’s not necessarily genealogically related per say (but kinda because I will send this to my cousin Joel as his mom is a Custer), I wanted to show you probably one of the best parts of my day job as a Memorial Support Coordinator at USMA West Point.   Being at USMA, you’re surrounded by all the old buildings, monuments, Revolutionary War redoubts and even Fort Putnam.  History is all around West Point.  It’s hard not to walk the grounds and think about who else has walked here – Edgar Allan Poe, Ed White from the Apollo missions, General Norman Schwarzkopf, and many, many more.

Being a history major, I’m always scouring for tid bits about West Point and I found the coolest engraving of General Custer’s funeral  that was held in 1877 in the Old Cadet Chapel.  The chapel has a very cool history in itself; it was built in 1836 and used to be on the Plain over by the cadet barracks but when they needed to build a new, bigger chapel, they were going to dismantle this one.  However, the cadets practically revolted and demanded that because of it’s history, it needed to be kept.  So they rebuilt it in the cemetery, where it now stands, brick by brick, and it was reopened in 1910 when the new Cadet Chapel was opened.  We use the Old Cadet Chapel now for memorials and ceremonies like the DAR’s Molly Corbin Day.

The Serendipity Continues at Woodhull Cemetery

I have written before about the Woodhull Cemetery that my DAR chapter is wanting to preserve and restore.  I’d been having quite a few roadblocks on the town level to getting official approval to make changes to the cemetery.  One would think since it’s abandoned, that this should be a no-brainer.  The town doesn’t really want to shell out funds to maintain it, so you think they’d be jumping at the chance to get rid of it.  Part of that process is getting the deed and land records to prove that nobody currently “officially” owns the land.

My trip to the county clerk’s office to find the deed didn’t go so well.  In fact, I was told my task would take months of research or I could pay a title search company nearly $600 to find it for me, to which I wanted to keel over on the spot.  Determined, I came home and sat down at the computer to look through the old grantor/grantee records.  And don’t you know…

Cemetery Workshop

On August 12th, my husband, my co-worker Colleen, and I attended a hands-on cemetery workshop where we learned how to properly treat and clean headstones.  The workshop was sponsored by the Orange County Historian and was led by professional headstone cleaner & cemetery expert, Marianne Greenfield, a twenty-year member of the Association for Gravestone Studies and historian for the town of Delhi, NY.  We joined Linda Standish, town historian at the Washingtonville, NY, cemetery that is cared for by Washingtonville Presbyterian Church.  With their limited funding for perpetual care of the cemetery, it desperately needed some loving care and attention so the workshop was a great way to bring awareness to the cemetery’s needs while teaching at the same time.