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Gen. Seth Pomeroy in Peekskill

Colorful Revolutionary War hero who died of a lung infection in 1777 rests in an unmarked grave in the Old Cemetery at Van Cortlandtville

Gen. Seth Pomeroy in Peekskill Gen. Seth Pomeroy in Peekskill Gen. Seth Pomeroy in Peekskill Gen. Seth Pomeroy in Peekskill

The colorful career of Massachusetts-born Gen. Seth Pomeroy, a hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill and other incidents in the early years of the Revolutionary War, came to an anticlimactic end in Peekskill on Feb. 19, 1777, when he died of a lung infection. The general’s life of service to British and later American arms is memorialized in three monuments in Van Cortlandtville cemeteries.

Pomeroy was born in Northampton, Mass., on May 20, 1706, to a family of ironworkers, blacksmiths and gunsmiths. His knowledge of these family skills was highly prized by the British armed forces, with whom he served for more than a quarter-century, including the capture of the French fortress at Louisbourg, in what is now Nova Scotia, in 1745 and the Battle of Lake George in upstate New York in 1755. By the start of hostilities between Great Britain and the American colonies in 1775 he was a major general in the armed forces of Massachusetts.

When news of an imminent battle at Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill reached him, Pomeroy, then 69, rode through the night from western Massachusetts on a borrowed horse to Boston and raced on foot through heavy gunfire to join his American comrades in arms. A few days after the June 17, 1775, battle, he learned that he was the first of eight newly minted brigadier generals in the budding Continental Army.

In late 1776, when the British were threatening the main army of Gen. George Washington in New Jersey, Pomeroy gathered 6,000 Massachusetts militia and headed south in January 1777. He arrived in Peekskill on Jan. 21, dined with Gen. Alexander McDougall on the 25th and two days later witnessed the hanging of spy Daniel Strang at the site of the future Peekskill Military Academy (now Peekskill High School). He planned to depart for New Jersey on Feb. 12 but was prevented by illness. He died of pleurisy, an inflammation of the lungs, on Feb. 19 at the home of Capt. and Mrs. John Johnson in Peekskill. He was buried with the honors of war in the Old Cemetery at Van Cortlandtville in an unmarked grave near the Baptist church (now the site of the Little Red Schoolhouse on Locust Avenue). Despite a detailed description of the funeral by members of the Van Cortlandt family (whose Upper Manor House still stands nearby across Oregon Road) and the 1862 discovery of a sword believed to be the general’s, the exact location of the grave remains unknown.

The sword was accidentally discovered by a local laborer, John Duey, in the course of digging a grave. Duey, described by historians as “a man of color,” kept his discovery quiet for fear of being accused of grave-robbing. After Duey’s death the sword was presented to the Pomeroy Chapter, Sons of the Revolution, in Northampton, the general’s birthplace, on May 20, 1907, the 201st anniversary of Pomeroy’s birth, with former Congressman Cornelius Pugsley of Peekskill giving the dedicatory address.

The community that became Pomeroy’s final resting place repeatedly honored the general. A 30-foot-tall column in nearby Hillside Cemetery was dedicated on June 17, 1898, the 123rd anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill. The day-long event attracted national attention and drew 1,000 people to Van Cortlandtville. Closer to the gravesite, a plaque on a stone was dedicated on July 4, 1962, near the Locust Avenue entrance to the Old Cemetery. Nearby, just inside the entrance, an anvil-shaped monument (recognizing the importance of metalworking in the family’s history) was dedicated April 12, 2008.

In future columns I will write more about the Hillside and anvil monuments. Meanwhile, for more information, please visit www.americanpomeroys.org

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