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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Small World and Discovery of A Prison Ship Cenotaph





It's a small world, so they say. And with Memorial Day soon upon us I thought I'd share a recent adventure that I had that reaffirmed this notion. Huddled against the wood line on a Maine farm, hides a small family cemetery. Under the shelter of an ancient Pine, and with no more than a dozen grave stones, it is protected by no more than a few granite pillars and iron cross bars, and a the watchful eye of a kindly caretaker across the country road. Barely-there tire tracks led the way across unplowed fields to where the earth gently rises. My companion and I stopped before the descent where the hill overlooked the Kennebec River which flows with a rich history of its own to tell.


When we walked up to the beautiful cast iron gate I could tell at once, in this very place there was a story to discover. The first clue began with the name on the gate: Dean Bangs. Once I scurried home to unlock the secrets enclosed within, I found this family name with close community and family ties to my husband's ancestors in Harwich (now Brewster), Massachusetts. Some of them men of the sea during the American Revolution.



The Dean Bangs family cemetery is located on a large tract of land that Captain Bangs purchased in 1802 while in his mid 40's. What motivated him to remove from Cape Cod, where his Pilgrim forefathers had lived from the early 17th century, I know not, but the property in Maine remained in the family for many generations. In his late teens Dean enlisted in the American Revolution as a privateer for one year and a soldier for two more.

There is another story, learned from the cenotaph below. This story is about Dean's father, Elkanah, who was also serving as a privateer in the Revolutionary War, though his fate was not as favorable.

Elkanah Bangs was taken captive with three of his Harwich neighbors and put aboard a British prison ship in Wallabout Bay. The HMS Jersey had earned the nickname "Hell" due to such inhumane conditions and an incredibly high death rate of its prisoners. An exchange of prisoners was arranged and Elkanah's neighbor's were freed from captivity. Because Elkanah had the skill of a ships carpenter he was never released and died aboard the HMS Jersey in July 1777.




Cenotaph Inscription:
To the memory of ELKANAH BANGS, Father of Dean Bangs, who was in the privateer service of the Revolution; was taken prisoner with three of his neighbors, and died on board the Jersey prison ship at Wallabout Bay, New York, in July, 1777, aged 44 years; this CENOTAPH is respectfully dedicated by his great-grandson, Isaac Sparrow, son of Dean  Bangs, who settled upon this farm in the year 1802.

The cenotaph tells a tale that honors this ancestor who is not actually buried in the family resting grounds. Elkanah Bangs's life and service is memorialized in another special monument, the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument in Brooklyn, New York.


Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument Plaque:
In memory of the 11,500 patriotic American sailors and soldiers who endured untold suffering and died on the prison British ships anchored in Wallabout Bay during the Revolutionary War 1776- 1782.


Sometimes when I see large memorials dedicated to so many individuals I am awed and even overwhelmed. But when I come across a solitary marker in the back of a huge field, put there with love and admiration so that a great-grandfather's sacrifice would not be forgotten, it brings history very close to home.


That's a bit of my small world. What's yours? Do you find history around your home?

4 comments:

  1. Not to sound morbid, but I enjoy poking around old cemeteries in out-of-the-way places. You just know that each marker has its own story. Last year we found one in Michigan's U.P. that held the remains of sailors who were victims of a shipwreck and washed up on shore - still encased in ice - in the spring. Couldn't help but wonder what their families went through for all the months they were missing.

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    1. Yes, Pegg, each stone does have its own story. And to think how those stories touch and effect one another! Cemeteries truly are some of the most interesting places. That situation with the ice encased sailor's remains is terrible, unless it allowed the remains to be kept instead of lost forever. But I can't imagine how sorrowful that waiting must have been for those poor families.

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  2. Thank you for sharing this and may I say . . . "What a gate!"!!! ; ) So good to remember what other's have sacrificed for us. I am moving to N. VA and one of the things I am going to do this summer is head in to the IWO JIMA on a Tuesday night and watch the parade at Arlington Cemetery. Hope they still do them, very special . . . overwhelming but patriotic. Many roadside memorials on the roads in Fauquier County -all over VA.

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    1. The gate is exquisite, with a beautifu garland relief. The caretaker takes wonderful care of such things. Well wishes on your move! I hope you enjoy some wonderful times enjoy the sites, memorials, and parades!

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