New memorial for American Revolution veterans to be installed

The Historical Commission and veterans reps will work with the Sons of the American Revolution to install a bronze plaque at the Old Burial Ground honoring those who served in the war

Above: The Sons of the American Revolution installed a plaque in Marlborough honoring soldiers. Now officials are working towards having one installed at Southborough’s historic cemetery. (image left cropped from photo by Kevin Miller included in 9-5-23 Select Board packet, photo by Beth Melo)

Last week, the Select Board voted to have the Historical Commission oversee details of a new memorial to be installed at the Old Burial Ground. According to Historical’s chair, the Sons of the American Revolution have offered to install for free a bronze plaque honoring Revolutionary War soldiers.

In June, veterans and Historical Commission members debated concerns some residents raised about military flags that had been flown in the Old Burial Ground to honor Revolutionary War veterans. There were angry words and a compromise solution by the Select Board that didn’t seem to make anyone particularly happy. (You can read about that here.)

One detail that all parties had agreed on was that something should be done to honor the veterans in the cemetery, especially those in unmarked graves. There had been an earlier agreement by the Select Board to form a committee to address the issue, but that appeared to have fallen by the wayside.

Then last week, the Select Board discussed an initiative that was brought seperately to the Town by both a veterans representative and the Historical chair. The icing on the cake was the zero cost for taxpayers.

SAR plaque in Marlborough (photo by Kevin Miller in Select Board packet)Historical Chair Kevin Miller told the board that in August he was contacted by Joseph Gauthier of the Mass. chapter of SAR. Gauthier had been contacted by someone in Southborough about their bronze plaque program and was following up with Historical to find out if Historical was interested. (Photo right is an example that SAR installed in Marlborough that Miller visited.)

It appears the initial contact was by a former Select Board member, Southborough’s American Legion Post Commander Dan Kolenda. In a July email to Town veteran’s representatives and administrators, Kolenda wrote:

I’m a Son of the American Revolution (directly related to Dolley (Payne) Madison, First Lady and spouse of James Madison. The Town has talked about further recognizing those patriots from Southborough buried in our Old Burial Ground. One way of doing that would be the placement of a marker/plaque, and the Sons of the American Revolution have done this in other towns. Could I work with someone within our Town to gain approval to have one here?

In August, Miller wrote to the Select Board about the “really good news” on a “path toward honoring Revolutionary War Veterans in the Old Burial Ground”. He followed that his conversation with Gauthier left him “confident that this is a huge opportunity”.

In his email, Miller explained that Gauthier is “spearheading an initiative to place bronze markers listing the names of Revolutionary War Veterans at sites (principally burial grounds) around Massachusetts”.

In the September 5th meeting, Miller said that Gauthier was fully authorized to get projects done quickly. He was hopeful that something could be installed in the spring. Select Board member Al Hamilton suggested that an unveiling on Memorial Day would be excellent.

Miller agreed that if the timing worked that day would be ideal. But he is hoping that the unveiling will be on a day when SAR can participate. Their dedication ceremonies include members dressed in Revolutionary War costumes with muskets. (You can see photos from the Marlborough ceremony in the Community Advocate.) Miller believes the ceremony could be a good way to engage the community in planning for the upcoming Town Tricentennial.

One potential delay for ordering a sign will be the work needed to verify which names should be included on the memorial. But Miller believes they are very close to getting the information they need.

Resident Sally Watters has been researching the history of late residents in the historic graveyard, including those with unmarked graves. As part of that she was examining which residents served/fought in the war. 

According to Miller, Watters had some questions about a few of the names on her list. Once she had more facts, he would like her to present them to the commission, so they can make a judgement about whether or not to list those residents on the marker.

Other details that will still need to be worked out include where the plaque should be placed. Hamilton suggested the location be somewhere that would allow a flag to be planted in front of the sign for Memorial Day.

As part of the Select Board’s approval, they charged the Commission to conduct its work in conjunction with Watters, Kolenda, Veterans Grave Officer (and VFW Commander) Steve Whynot, and Veterans Agent Brian Stearns.

During the meeting, Miller noted that a small plaque in the burial ground already honors the three residents who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war. But none of those veterans are interred in the cemetery. One is buried in New York (where he was poisoned by a Tory) and two were killed at Valley Forge. This would be a way to honor the war veterans buried in Southborough.

As Miller noted in his email to the board, the memorial still won’t address the problem of how to honor non-veterans whose burial stones were lost over the years.

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