30 November 2009

Tombstone Tuesday -- a Bogus tombstone? Hardly

The attached NY Times article from 1901 (click on the headline above) includes a biography of Michael Cresap who died of disease at age 33 while leading troops during the Revolutionary War.  The article starts out talking about two absolutely bogus tombstones in Trinity Churchyard in Manhattan, then turns to Michael's story.  They tell it faithfully, but the reader is left to believe that this tombstone is also bogus which is not true.  What IS true is that it was erected later than the time Michael died.  But he is certainly buried there.  Earlier in his life he was accused of murdering the Indian Chief Logan's family and Thomas Jefferson even read the event into the Congressional Record to make it live forever in infamy.  That too was untrue.  What was true was that Michael was a charismatic young man who died much too young.  He was beloved by his troops, the original Yankee Doodle Dandies, and his funeral was written up in the New York City papers with illustrations of the parade. Michael's younger brother, Daniel Cresap, Jr. who served as a lieutenant under him in the Revolution is our 4th great grandfather.  Daniel's portrait and that of his wife Elizabeth Swearingen are in places of honor in my dining room.

The below from Tercentenary History of Maryland, Vol. I, Matthew Page Andrews, at 542-544, S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago and Baltimore (1925).

    When the letter from Congress authorizing the enlisting of two companies of Maryland "light infantry" had reached Frederick, it was resolved that the companies be raised immediately, the first to be under the command of Captain Michael Cresap, with Thomas Warner, Joseph Cresap, Jr., and Richard davis, Jr., lieutenants; the second to be under Thomas Price, captain; with Otho Holland Williams and John Ross Key as lieutenants. Michael Cresap has but recently returned from active Indian fighting in what may be called the first step towards the acquisition by the United States of the great Northwest, the second step being the expedition of George Rogers Clark, and the third and last the donation of that territory by Virginia, in deference to the insistence of Maryland; for Maryland, as will be seen, refused to accede to the first Union until this territory was so ceded.  Michael Cresap had been falsely accused of murdering the family of Chief Logan (Cf. Brantz Mayer's Tah-Gah-Jute, and Jacob's Life of Cresap).  He was the youngest son of Colonel Thomas Cresap.

    Apparently there was magic power in the Cresap name; so that the mere word that Michael Cresap was to command one of these companies brought daring riflemen 100 miles and more from the farthest reaches of western Maryland.  They had left behind in the forest their families and their all to march to the far-distant camp at Cambridge.

    Not to be outdone, the nearby Virginians were organizing under Captain Daniel Morgan at Morgan's Spring only twenty-five miles away.  The rival companies of Virginia and Maryland riflemen met at Frederick, and it became a point of pride as to which company should beat the others in the race to be the first at Boston.  In Force's American Archives there is to be found a "letter to a gentleman in Philadelphia" dated Fredericktown, August 1, 1775, which thus describes the appearance of Cresap and his men: "I have had the happiness of seeing Captain Michael Cresap marching at the head of a formidable company of upwards of one hundred and thirty men from the mountains and back woods, painted like Indians, armed with tomahawks and rifles, dressed in hunting-shirts and moccasins."  The writer, himself perhaps a visiting Philadelphian of the then "effete East," was particularly amazed at a special display of the marksmanship of these men, described as follows: "A clap-board, with a mark the size of a dollar, was put up; they began to fire off-hand, and the by-standers were surprised, few shots being made that were not close to or in the paper.  When they had shot for a time in this way, some lay on their backs, some on their breast or side, others ran twenty or thirty steps, and firing, appeared to be equally certain of the mark."

    Although Cresap was then in such ill health that he fell a victim to a fever less than three months later, his company was among the first to reach Cambridge.  Cresap and Morgan marched together from Cambridge to Roxbury and their arrival was described by Thacher, in part, as follows: "They are remarkably stout and hardy men; many of them exceeding six feet in height.  * * * They are now stationed on our lines, and their shot have frequently proved fatal to British officers and soldiers who expose themselves to view even at more than double the distance of common musket shot."


  1. Ah, the "magic power in the Cresap name." I know I fell under the spell.

  2. I always thought Cres was the perfect guy. Good for you.


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