As I suggested in a previous post, one never knows what one will encounter in a cemetery, despite the tranquil surroundings. Upon turning a corner in the historic Spring Grove Cemetery on 4th July, we saw two gentlemen dressed in clothing from our nation’s colonial days (1700s) carrying rifles.
Even at a distance, I could tell their guns were not toy props. I realized the men were part of an armed insurrection… of sorts.
I made our presence known, so as not to startle the group (a wise thing to do when approaching a group of men carrying rifles). To our welcome surprise, we had come upon a ceremony hosted by the Members of Cincinnati Chapter of Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).
SAR members have ancestors dating back to the American War of Independence. I found the eligibility requirements on their website:
Any man of age eighteen (18) years or over, who is a lineal descendant of an ancestor who supported the war for American independence is eligible for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution. These ancestors are referred to as Revolutionary War Patriots and include those persons who fought in the military and/or militia, who provided supplies to the American cause, who served on political bodies supporting the Revolution, who signed oaths of support and similar acts.
When I told the group that my name was Cornwallis (after the famous British General) they said, “You can’t be. You wouldn’t be standing!” This was a not-so-subtle reference to the fact that, as members of the Continental Army, they’d have shot me). Everyone had a good laugh.
Dr. Michael B. Gunn, former president of the group, enthusiastically greeted us and shared the details of the day’s ceremony, which included:
- Commentary about the SAR group and their mission
- A color guard procession and salute
- Displaying of flags from different groups
- Taps played by a bugler
- A prayer of thanks
- Readings from the Declaration of Independence
- Commemorating those who fought in America’s War of Independence with a stone marker, flag, and flowers
- The retiring of the colors (flags)
I thought it would be interesting to stay for the ceremony, since it had been years since we observed a similar ceremony in Colonial Williamsburg, VA. Based on the group’s reaction, I sensed they appreciated having an audience.
Despite their good-natured humor, I could tell they took their responsibilities seriously. They had a long checklist and reviewed it repeatedly with each of the members.
Honoring Our Founding Patriots
The Cincinnati SAR was at Spring Grove Cemetery to honor five Revolutionary War patriots: Benjamin Bassett, Isaac Bates, Jason Bushnell, Christopher Cary, and James Hathorn. Each of these men would go on to lead long productive lives, the last one passing away in 1848.
A Nation Is Born
Despite the 90° F (32° C) temperature and high humidity, I got chills listening to Mike read a portion of the Declaration of Independence. I wondered how those early Americans felt upon hearing it for the first time.
Thomas Jefferson’s words then — as now — continue to inspire millions in the United States and around the world:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government…”
— Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence
Inspiration And Education
After the ceremony, we continued speaking with Mike about role SAR played in the community and the importance of tradition. We introduced ourselves to the group’s Chaplain, Dr. Ralph Edgar Bonniwell. He had given a inspirational prayer in a thundering voice.
It’s not difficult to imagine our nation’s religious leaders of the Revolutionary days sounding like Ralph. After all, they were urging their fellow countrymen to take up arms against the most powerful nation on earth, against overwhelming odds.
Ralph told us of his family’s arrival in America in the late 1600s. Like Mike, he stressed how seriously the SARs groups took the responsibility to educate younger generations. Ralph cited an impressive array of statistics regarding the educational outreach programs SARs conducts each year. I got the impression they were willing to meet any group, anywhere, at any time to discuss our nation’s history and traditions.
Honoring The Past
For too many, our holidays have become little more than an opportunity to have another barbeque, visit the pool, or go boating. The events underlying our holidays have faded into the background, with some people having a paper-thin understanding of our history.
As such, it was refreshing to meet Mike, Ralph, and other SAR members and observe their dedication in remembering our nation’s founding and those who sacrificed so much bring it about. Here’s another example of some of the other activities the Cincinnati SAR groups performs.
The only disappointment of the day was that someone from the group had forgotten to bring along some blank cartridges. This preventing them from firing the traditional salute to their Revolutionary War ancestors. Something tells me they will not forget next year.
If you wish to read more about the fascinating story of the American Revolution, I suggest David McCullough’s book, 1776.
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