Footprints from the past

Preserving a Revolutionary War burial site and honoring the memory of a friend

A PRODUCTIVE PURSUIT — With the tombstone of Revolutionary War veteran Benjamin Hall are, from left, Flora L. VerStraten-Merrin, president of the Wintersville-based Jefferson County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society; Ed Rollandini of the Piedmont area; and Mark Dubil of St. Clairsville. The two hunters and friends connected with VerStraten-Merrin in an effort earlier this year to locate and preserve a Revolutionary War burial site in a remote area of private property in Rush Run, Wells Township, Jefferson County. -- Contributed

WINTERSVILLE — As New Year’s Eve traditionally brings a mental assessing of what’s been accomplished in a year about to end, Flora L. VerStraten-Merrin savors a sense of satisfaction for what’s been done and what’s to come.

“When we discover a graveyard — smaller, family cemeteries were referred to as graveyards, not cemeteries — it is huge,” noted the president of the Jefferson County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, which has an office presence at 100 Fernwood Road.

“This is the biggest project for 2017 for our chapter,” VerStraten-Merrin said of the locating of the graves of Reuben Hall and Benjamin Hall, Revolutionary War veterans and brothers, in a remote area of private property in Rush Run, Wells Township, Jefferson County.

“When we can get outside and get our hands dirty and locate deeds, farms, structures, tombstones — footprints from the past — it’s not only a good day, but a good year,” assured VerStraten-Merrin.

“We have spent two work days in the cemetery and plan to finish the project in the early spring. We have to work with the weather, so as soon as the spring thaw hits, we will be probing for any other sunken tombstones and then the work of restoration will truly begin,” she said of the project involving repairs and resetting tombstones, installing a fence and posting a sign that not only identifies the family graveyard but will include a brief description of the farm/family.

It all constitutes a story that VerStraten-Merrin says needs to be told on several levels, including how the Hall family came to Jefferson County with Benjamin settling in Rush Run in Warren Township and Reuben coming later to Smithfield.

The longtime history enthusiast shares the story that began last spring when she was contacted by Ed Rollandini of the Piedmont area. He had read an article she wrote about Reuben Hall on the chapter’s website.

VerStraten-Merrin explained, however, that she and the late George Livingston, who enjoyed the history of the Revolutionary War and was active in the Sons of the American Revolution groups, had been searching for the Hall family graveyard for the better part of 15 years if not longer.

“When George gave me a list of patriots believed to have been buried in Jefferson County, Reuben Hall was on that original list,” she said. “George challenged me to assist the Sons of the American Revolution in locating any of those graves and/or locations,” she said, adding that county deeds and maps confirm that “this was indeed the location of the Hall family farm, and the Works Progress Administration maps confirm that this is the location of the Hall brothers’ burial, along with other family members.”

Rollandini expressed interest “in some very old tombstones that were discovered about 17 years ago at the Lansing Sportsman’s Club,” VerStraten-Merrin said, noting the club sits on 776 acres of land, some of which was originally owned by Benjamin Hall, who was Reuben Hall’s younger brother. “He purchased a parcel of land in the Rush Run area as early as Oct. 1, 1811, at the Steubenville Land Office — 162.20 acres. He moved here with his wife and family from Baltimore. He also is found in the deed records purchasing another parcel of land from Francis Purdue on Nov. 20, 1819, and it consisted of 29 more acres. The deed shows his land as part of the northeast quarter of Section No. 8, Township No. 5, of Range No. 2 on the waters of Rush Run,” she said.

“It is interesting to read about the description and surveys of land and how they would follow streams, marking an X on a walnut tree and stone and a stump,” VerStraten-Merrin noted. “The measurements of using perches, rods or poles to survey land was a commonly used surveyor’s tool or unit of length equal to 5 ¢ yards or 16 ¢ feet of a statute mile or one-forth of a surveyor’s chain or 5.0292 meters. The rod was a very useful measurement as a unit of length because whole number multiples of it can form one acre of square measure,” she said

VerStraten-Merrin explained that Rollandini, in the spring, took her and her husband, Buddy Merrin, to the St. Clairsville home of Mark Dubil, which neighbors the sportsman’s club.

“From there, Mark, Ed, my husband and I piled in his side-by-side, and it was quite a trip back into a wooded area with thick brush,” she said. “It was quite an animal, getting us up, down and back into the deep wooded area, where Mark knew exactly where the tombstones were. I was impressed to say the least. I am not sure that the tombstones are where the actual burials were originally, due to heavy logging several years ago, but my friend and fellow genealogist Tammy Hosenfeld and I are continuing our research to try to find those answers,” she said.

VerStraten-Merrin said Rollandini and Dubil, who are hunting buddies, wanted to help restore and preserve the area and the tombstones.

“I am hoping that Tammy and I can discover, from old maps, deeds and the WPA maps/notes where the approximate burials were located and also the homestead. The county map shows Benjamin Hall’s land, and it appears to match the WPA map and the description that was given in the 1930s, 1 mile west of Junction Route 7, 2 miles north of county Highway 17. This map clearly shows that the brothers, and possible other family members, were buried at the Benjamin Hall family farm graveyard,” she said.

“Ed and Mark said they would clear all the brush and weeds before we come back to probe and search the area where the tombstones are located,” she continued in reference to the spring meeting. “If we can locate bases for the tombstones then we will know that is where the actual burials were located. This is a big job. Once we’ve completed the probing — using tools that push down into the ground to locate by feel where the tombstones may have sunken or broken and have been covered up with dirt, trees roots, rocks, etc. — then we will attempt to repair and put the tombstone puzzle pieces back together and again, if possible, reset the salvageable stones. Those that can’t be repaired, we will take high-resolution digital pictures of them. The digital pictures may allow us to see markings, engravings and words that can’t be picked up by the naked eye, in many cases but not all. We now have a GPS reading on the location of the tombstones, and Mark and Ed will go to work clearing the area of brush and trees and then have a fence be paid for and installed by them, and it will surround the little family graveyard. They also will have a sign put up, which will include a name of those buried there and a brief history of some sort,” VerStraten-Merrin explained.

“There are a couple of reasons why this story needs to be told,” she continued, citing one reason as honoring the memory of George Livingston, her friend. “Every time we were given a hint or a nibble, someone would tell us the land had been heavily logged, or mined, or was on private property and the owners didn’t want anyone coming on the land. We really felt we had come to a bypass. Now I feel as if George is cheering from heaven. He would be so pleased knowing that we located the tombstones and are currently working on the best method to preserve and honor a Revolutionary Patriot, a War of 1812 veteran and also his brother, a War of 1812 veteran and their families as well,” VerStraten-Merrin said.

“Anyone who knew George knew that he was about being all inclusive and that he would be very pleased that we are moving forward in preserving this burial site. When this project is completed, and I am standing in the little family graveyard honoring those fallen soldiers and their families, no doubt I will have tears in my eyes and a heart full of love and memories for all the graveside services I stood at and participated with George Livingston in his full Revolutionary uniform and all of his fellow comrades from the Sons of the American Revolution present and standing at attention to show honor and respect. That’s just how George and his fellow SAR members rolled. I will silently hear the bugle playing taps and bag pipes playing a tribute song to the fallen soldiers such as ‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘Danny Boy.’ This will be a time to recite the history of the family and honor these men and their families and keep them alive in our memories and give them a place in local history,” she added.

“The sportsman’s club members will maintain the cemetery and even well into the future, the fence and sign will help protect it and provide the reverence that such a location deserves when others happen upon it,” VerStraten-Merrin said.

The site initially was visited in the spring and again in September.

VerStraten-Merrin said she and her husband; Tammy Hosenfeld and her husband, Terry; and Rollandini and Dubil worked at the site in the fall and were able to locate four buried tombstones.

“In the meantime, we are searching records that reference burials, maps that reference the family farm, wills, estate files and inventories,” she said, adding, “We have a vision of what the farm and area looked like back in the early 1800s.”

As for a flavor of who the Hall brothers were, Benjamin served as a private under Capt. Adam Binckley’s company, according to the roster of Ohio soldiers in the War of 1812. He and his wife, Sarah, and several of their young children settled in Rush Run.

“When they arrived, they had an immense job ahead of them. They had to clear thick forest and brush to build a log cabin for a home. They also had to clear land to farm. Reading their list of inventory of what he owned when he died gave me a real sense of the job they had ahead of them when they first arrived to settle and tame this land. In order to plant wheat, hay, corn, oats and to have cattle to graze, they had to work hard,” VerStraten-Merrin said.

“Many early history books give us a mental picture of this area full of dense and tall trees and thick brush and vines. I can picture in my mind and picture how it must have looked to the young couple arriving here. As we rode to the top of the hillside in a four-wheeler, I pictured the once owned and farmed land that the Hall family owned. I was in awe just how beautiful it still is up there, overlooking the mighty Ohio River and Virginia, what is now West Virginia. I can only imagine what the land looked like back at the turn of the 19th century. From our view now, we can see the Cardinal Plant, the cut-up hillside of Ohio and West Virginia river banks for the highways and rocks slides,” she noted.

“Benjamin is listed in the Warren Township tax records in 1826, 1834, 1836 as farming. He also is in the federal census so we know that he was actively farming and paying his taxes. The tombstone we found in the woods is Benjamin’s stone, and it reads as follows: In Memory of Benjamin Hall, who departed this life, July 27th A.D. 1839, aged 65 yrs and 4 months,” she continued.

“We are continuing to research and document the reason why Reuben came to Jefferson County. What we do know and have proved so far is that Reuben’s brother, Benjamin, was here in 1811 purchasing a lot of land. We also know that Reuben came to Smithfield and was living there as proven in the 1820 and 1830 federal census. We know that he was a artificer by trade — from his pension records and other records, he worked with wood and built furniture, etc., — and that he applied for a military pension in 1829 here in Jefferson County and again in 1832,” she continued.

Reuben enlisted on April 11, 1776, and served one year as artillery in Capt. Matthew Sadler’s company in Col. Proctor’s regiment of Artillery in the Continental Army, Pennsylvania Line. He also enlisted for one year on April 11, 1778, at Valley Forge, where future president George Washington was wintering under severe weather and without adequate supplies for his men.

“In his military records I read the following statement given by Reuben: ‘My first lieutenant Colonel Forrest, he was killed by lightning, while we were camped near Philadelphia. I forget his first name. I was an artificer not called on duty as in artillery and I remained at Valley Forge after until about the 1st of July 1778 when I went with the company back to the city of Philadelphia. I helped as a mechanic with the company at Philadelphia and remained there for a period of time and made coffins, and furniture and beds.” He was discharged by John Mitchele. He goes on to say, “I was honorably discharged and served one year.” He clearly states that he lived 30 years in West Canon Township, Chester County, Pa., and then he states that he now lives in Smithfield, Jefferson County for the past 10 years.”

VerStraten-Merrin said, “In the 1835 Pension Roll he is listed as 79 years old. He applied for his pension March 4, 1831, and received a pension payment of $50, and sums already received were $138.50. He served as an artificer. An artificer was a skill or artistic worker or craftsman, one that makes or contrives. The Daughters of the American Revolution describe this skill as making/building beds for the injured, furniture and coffins. Reuben also served in the War of 1812 at 43 years of age. I haven’t located his military records for that war as of yet,” she said.

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