Sunday, Serendipity and Survivors at Cayuga Lake-Notes from the Field

Notes to My Readers:  Sometimes our history reaches out to us as a reminder of just how precious and serendipitous our existence is.  It is a wise researcher who recognizes the circumstances of our ancestors and takes the time to consider just how we…you and I…come to be…or not.
Sunday, Serendipity and Survivors at Cayuga Lake

It was Sunday.  My son and I had experienced a most wonderful Saturday in the field.  Mike had found the obelisk of his maternal 3rd great grandparents, Samuel D. Purdy and Semantha Ingersoll and the monument of Semantha’s mother, Elizabeth Weyburn Ingersoll in the old Presbyterian Cemetery in Enfield, NY.  I was thrilled for Mike and grateful for his enthusiasm to assist me in my two year struggle to find them among a dense tangle of bramble and treacherous collapsed earth.  Everything that Saturday seemed a path of fateful synchronicity.

Sunday was supposed to be our day without intense purpose.  The sun was shining.  The leaves were beginning to show their glorious autumn colors.  The lake was sapphire blue.  And we were visiting a pioneer cemetery in Lansing for the first time.  The plan was to photograph the Miller Cemetery which is the resting place of my Case, Bowker and Learn forebears.   With the use of iPhone technology we would archive each burial using digital photography and establish GPS coordinates for each individual burial location.  And pay our respects to my paternal 4th great grandparents, John and Elizabeth Freece Learn and their daughter, Sarah Learn Case and her husband, John R. Case…my 3rd great grandparents.

Miller Cemetery

Small rural cemeteries are a source of valuable information for family researchers.  In the last century individuals and organizations such as the D.A.R. had walked the cemeteries and recorded their observations in various methods.  There was no standard, scientific manner and so you will find the burial listings as simple as name, birth date and death date or thanks to a literal soul a more detailed accounting that would include the location and condition of the stone.  On occasion a local would provide personal knowledge regarding the individuals buried in the cemetery such as a maiden name or military service or family relationship.   These databases are a solid way to begin.  To begin.  They are as fallible as the collectors and those that typed in the information.  In the past year or so, I have taken on the task of validating the burial data with field visits.  A curious mix of practical, data mining for my research and an intensely personal, sentimental journey.

The country road was lined with what was left of this year’s corn crop only interrupted on occasion by a modest home or a stand of woods.  It was peaceful.  After pulling off the road next to the old cemetery which was surrounded by tall woods, we approached the rusty farm-style gate.    The only sounds were the gentle wind soughing through the trees and the half-hearted bark of a neighboring dog.  Stepping through the gate, we found ourselves in a well-kept glade.  Among the old pioneer stones, one or two new granite monuments sparkled in the dappled sunlight.  Small American flags fluttered next to the graves of long gone veterans of past conflicts…the Civil War and WWI.   It was clear that these pioneer families had modern-day caretakers who saw to Miller Cemetery and Mike and I wondered if those caretakers just might be descendants of those who rested there.  And we understood they were our family, too.

John Learn (20 Apr 1779-1867)

John was the son of George and Anna Brink Learn and the grandson of Johannes Martinus and Cadarina Learned of Tannersville, Pennsylvania.  Johannes Learned came to America before 1750 and moved his family from Philadelphia to Tannersville, Northampton (now Monroe) County, Pennsylvania  in 1750.  The Learns, as they eventually spelled their name, operated a tavern in Tannersville, a small settlement nestled in the Pocono Mountains and strategically located in the Delaware Water Gap.

As reported in HISTORY OF WILKES-BARRE LUZERNE COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA FROM ITS FIRST BEGINNINGS TO THE PRESENT TIME; INCLUDING CHAPTERS OF NEWLY-DISCOVERED EARLY WYOMING VALLEY HISTORY, Volume II BY OSCAR JEWELL HARVEY,  “Learn’s was at that time the outpost of Northampton County civilization on the road to Wyoming”.  The Learn family was one of a handful of white pioneers in that area of Pennsylvania.

During that time the colonies were not only fighting with the British for the survival of a nation, but the pioneer families also were engaged in periodic violent conflict with Native American tribes.  A pivotal event in Pennsylvania and New York State history was an expedition across the Pocono Mountains known as “Sullivan’s March” in June 1779.  Planned by General George Washington, the purpose of Sullivan’s March was to exterminate and destroy the hostile tribes of the Indians of the Six Nations. It was a mission to which the Congress assigned as a high priority.

Pennsylvania Historical Marker-Sullivan’s March

There is a historical marker on the corner of Route 611 and Old Mill Road in Tannersville. It reads: “Learned’s Tavern marked the end of the second day march from Easton to Forty Wyoming at Wilkes Barre. The army camped here June 19th 1799 after a 16 mile march from Heller’s Tavern.”

The Massacre

Journalist and Author  Charles Miner, in the History of Wyoming writes about the Larned (Learn) family tragedy: “On the 3rd of July 1781, a bloody and most melancholy tragedy was enacted on the road leading from Wyoming to the Delaware at Stroudsburg. Mr. Larned, an aged man and his son George, were shot and scalped near their house. Another son, John, shot an Indian, who was left dead on the spot where he fell. The savages carried off George Larned’s wife [Anna] and an infant [baby daughter, Susanna], four months old.”

The book Genealogy of Western Pennsylvania – Volume II by J. W. Jordan (1915) adds that “At the time of the massacre George Learn’s little son, John (my4th great grandfather), was taken by an aunt, who escaped (family tradition says) out a window with him, to the shelter of some bushes, where they remained concealed. A little dog followed them from the house, and in order not to be betrayed by him, the aunt muffled his head in an apron she wore.”

John Learn Monument – Miller Cemetery

Standing next to John Learn’s monument, I briefly told the tale of his miraculous survival to my son.  “Wow, Mom,” Mike exclaimed after a brief silence.  “Yeah, Wow,” I replied.    By now we had had a number of conversations about the struggles of pioneer life and have a keen respect for just what that means to our own existence.   Wow, indeed.

Taughannock Falls

The sun was strong and the day was young so Mike and I decided to continue our meanderings along Cayuga Lake and in the footsteps of our ancestors.  After a visit to my grandparent’s graves in Cayuga Heights, and wandering among the many monuments and mausoleums of Lakeview Cemetery, we made our way into Ithaca.  Our morning’s trekking had left us ravenous and in need of a break.  Refreshed after a leisurely lunch at Simeon’s Bistro and one of their signature Bloody Marys, we headed to Taughannock Falls.   At the overlook we joined a dozen tourists snapping photographs of the breathtaking view, but our visit was more of a pilgrimage.

In 1790 Samuel Weyburn had left his homestead in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania and with his family built a log cabin at the base of Taughannock Falls.

The Massacre

Our young country was in the throes of war with England and the hostilities were not limited to the battlefield.  A force of eight hundred Tories and Indians under Colonel John Butler swooped down from New York upon the settlement of New Englanders in the Wyoming Valley. Samuel was one of the Connecticut Yankees that had settled in the Wyoming Valley as part of the Susquehanna Purchase. The settlers numbered something more than three thousand souls. Though there was local militia men which included Samuel, they were ill prepared for defense, as most of their young men had joined the fighting in the battlefields with the Continental army. The local militia of some three hundred men, commanded by Colonel Zebulon Butler went into battle on July 3, near the site of Wilkes-Barre.

After an hour of fierce fighting, the Americans broke and fled for their lives, but more than half of them were slain in the battle or in the massacre that followed. The British commander afterward reported the taking of “227 scalps,” and laid all the blame on the Indians. During the night the Indian thirst for blood seemed to increase, and next day they began anew the massacre. The fort in which many had taken refuge surrendered, and the lives of the occupants were spared by the English commander, but the Indians put many of the others to the tomahawk. All who could do so fled to the woods, and a large number perished in crossing a swamp, which has since been called the “Shades of Death.” Others perished of starvation in the mountains.

Samuel is my maternal 4th great grandfather and on July 3, 1778 thirty-two year- old Samuel was one of just over two dozen men who survived the Wyoming Massacre.

Taughannock Falls October 2010

For the second time that day Mike and I had the same exchange.  “Wow, Mom”.  “Yeah.  Wow.”

And there we stood, mother and son, descendants of the two massacre survivors, over two hundred years later, standing in the October sunlight after a day of walking in the footsteps of our pioneer grandfathers.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved

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