Sunday, April 27, 2008

Small Town Historians

Small town historians like myself do this job as a labor of love. Often, their personal roots extend deep within their community; then they are bitten by that old genealogy bug and spend so much time with their Town Clerk copying old documents that it makes sense to become the Historian! In Cayuga County, our County Historian brings us together a few times every year and that has been a valuable experience as we come to know each other and exchange information and requests from folks seeking their roots.
I am fortunate enough to belong to a few other organizations, and the Board of the Friends Cemetery Association is a membership I share with 2 other local Historians - Phyllis Stanton and Judy Furness, Historians for Venice and Ledyard respectively.
At our yearly meeting last week (incidentally held by candlelight due to a spring storm) we spent some time talking about the initial formation and members of this Board. I joined the Board initially because my great-great-grandparents, Sally and Daniel Peckham, are buried in this cemetery. Through one of those serendipitous events that other family researchers know occur, through joining I discovered their son and my great-grandfather, Fred Peckham, was a charter member of the Board.
By candlelight, I shared with the other members the story of my great-grandfather, a Quaker who had felt so strongly about the Civil War that he joined the 111th NY Volunteer Infantry.

The 111th has also been known as the Harper's Ferry Cowards, a real misnomer for anyone who has actually taken the time and researched them. The truth was that these green troops, mustered in on August 20, 1862 and with little to no training or weapons provided, were sent to Harper's Ferry where they faced Stonewall Jackson three weeks later on September 13.
Captured, imprisoned and then paroled, somehow Fred was invalided and spent some time in a hospital in Virginia before being discharged in February 1863.
While anti-slavery, the Friends or Quakers were also anti-war. Fred did not return home after serving his country, but made a place for himself in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. In 1869, he married Laura Riddle, a Scotch-Irish woman who had been orphaned by the age of 14. Together, they moved to the then-frontier of Iowa and there they remained for at least a dozen years. Sometime between the 1880 Iowa census and the 1885 birth of my grandmother Mariam Peckham, they returned to Cayuga County.
Fred and Laura both died in 1916 and are buried elsewhere in Cayuga County, but Fred served on the Board of the Friend's Cemetery from its inception in 1899. I believe he found it a way to reconnect with his roots, just as joining the same Board did for me a century later.

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