Revolutionary Mystery: Grave marker of local patriot returned, rededicated
July 3, 2014
- "Today we honor a patriot who fought for this country. Fought against tyranny -- the tyranny of that time -- for the freedoms that we enjoy today."-- Tom Hancock, great-great-great grandson of Pvt. Samuel Smith
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- As the Nation prepares to celebrate Independence Day, thoughts and thanks are given to those Patriots that came before us and fought for freedom and liberty.
On June 28, a Revolutionary War Soldier who helped fight for that independence more than 235 years ago was honored and a stolen grave marker was returned to its rightful place during a grave dedication ceremony.
The Fort Campbell Cultural Resources Office along with the Sons of the American Revolution Clarksville, Tenn. chapter conducted a grave marker rededication ceremony for Pvt. Samuel Smith at the G.H. Smith Cemetery located in the Samuel Smith Memorial Park at Fort Campbell.
"Today we honor a patriot who fought for this country," said Tom Hancock, Smith's great-great-great grandson at the ceremony. "Fought against tyranny -- the tyranny of that time -- for the freedoms that we enjoy today."
More than twenty descendants and guests attended the ceremony, including members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution and the Valentine Sevier Color Guard who presented the Nation's colors in American Revolutionary War uniforms.
Smith's original grave marker was stolen from his grave in the early 1980's, said Ronald Grayson, Fort Campbell Cultural Resources office archaeologist.
The marker was found at a Nashville, Tenn. flea market last year by Lora Clark who purchased the marker in an effort to return it to its rightful place.
"I went up to the owner and I said 'this looks out of place, where did you get it?'" said Clark. "I just couldn't imagine that it wasn't stolen."
The flea market owner wasn't sure how the marker ended up there but told Clark he felt badly having it and agreed to sell it to her. Clark, who was visiting Nashville, purchased the marker and then returned to her home in St. Louis, Mo. and began an online search for its owner.
"I began going through the government rosters of the Soldiers that fought and died during the Revolutionary War [online]," said Clark. "I was amazed at the thousands of just Smiths that existed."
Since the marker provided name, birth year and year of death, her research efforts quickly led her to an October, 2010 News Channel 5, WTVF, article about a Revolutionary War Soldier's dedication ceremony at Fort Campbell, Ky., by the DAR.
"I had no idea it was that close to its original location," said Clark, who then contacted the Fort Campbell Cultural Resources Office last January.
The phone call came as a quite a surprise to the staff. "Sometime in the 1980's, someone had stolen the SAR marker off Smith's grave," said Grayson. "She called and said 'I've got a grave marker, from your Army base, in St. Louis,' and it turns out it was the one that had been stolen more than 30 years ago. It also turns out she was just a few blocks from where I grew up in St. Louis, so she gave it to my dad, who still lives there, who then brought it here to me."
After contacting Smith's Family with the news, his descendants expressed their desire to have a rededication ceremony -- to officially return the marker in its proper place.
Clark's compassion and determination touched Smith's Family, who had traveled from several states to attend the rededication.
"The effort that she put out to bring it back to us, to put it in its proper place, it was remarkable," said Billy Anderson, descendant. "We are very appreciative. In today's time, you don't see people do that, you just don't see that."
Smith was born in Warren County, N.C. in 1762. During the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War, Smith fought at the Battle of Brier Creek under Brig. Gen. John Ashe. Smith received a land grant of 640 acres in Montgomery County, Tenn. for his service in the war.
In 1833 Smith brought his Family and led a group of about 350 settlers from North Carolina into Tennessee and settled in the Clarksville, Tenn. area. Smith is also credited for bringing pine trees to the area.
"He brought a few Carolina White pine tree seedlings in his saddle, which he did to help remind his wife of North Carolina," said Grayson.
Some of those seedlings flourished including one, believed to be the largest, which sits a few feet from his grave.
The pine tree, at one point, stood more than 100 feet tall, well above the tree line and was used by Fort Campbell helicopter pilots as a landmark during flights.
Smith died in Montgomery County, Tenn., January 16, 1837. Smith's grave rests on what was his Family's property, which was acquisitioned by Fort Campbell in the early 1940's, said Grayson.
The cemetery is located in a memorial park named in Smith's honor, located in Fort Campbell's Training Area 18. The park was dedicated to Smith on Aug. 12, 1976 at a Bicentennial Ceremony conducted by the 20th Engineer Battalion and the Girl Scouts of America, according to Grayson.
The tree still stands on the former Smith property, although now roughly half its original size, as time has taken its toll on the once magnificent tree. It sits at the head of its American Patriot, providing shade over his grave.
"It's an interesting story and it's come full circle, coming back to where it originally started," said Grayson.