Clues to soldier's past revealed

Saturday, December 9, 2006
Braving cold temperatures, employees of Farmers State Bank, including (above, from left) Trent Smaltz, Martha Janssen, Verdie Stadler, Symantha Landrum, Terry Daniels and Trey Etcheson sing carols during Roachdale's annual Christmas celebration Friday night.

The history of a Revolutionary War soldier whose remains are thought to be buried somewhere near Greencastle is not lost after all.

Little was known, so it seemed, about Sgt. Nathaniel Cunningham of the 1st Virginia Regiment, whose name was given to property recently earmarked by the City of Greencastle for an industrial building.

However, following a recent BannerGraphic story about Cunningham's remains, several local residents have come forward with what they believe are clues to the man's life and even to his burial.

Local historian Jinsie Bingham, who is a member of the Washburn Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, along with genealogy enthusiast Dick Andis recently shared information with the BannerGraphic.

Andis, who has been researching family histories since the mid 1980s, said he spent about five hours researching various records on the Internet and was able to produce, among other things, a copy of an 1825 land grant given to Cunningham for property in Putnam County.

The document, signed by then President John Quincy Adams, was for 160 acres of land on the north side of what is today Ind. 240. Also known as the Goldsberry Farm, the land included what is today F.B. Distro, Ivy Tech and Area 30 Career Center along with the surrounding cornfields and the westernmost portion of Lear Corporation located on Fillmore Road.

A stone marker bearing Cunningham's name and service once stood approximately 20 feet west of Fillmore Road north of Lear, according to several sources.

The marker, Bingham said, was placed there by members of the Daughters of the American Revolution on Nov. 9, 1930 to honor Cunningham's military service.

But in May of 1990, city officials, including current Forest Hill Cemetery Superintendent Ernie Phillips, moved the marker and the soil around it to the city cemetery where it remains today.

Fast forward 16 years -- the city recently announced it was selling the land where the marker once stood, known as the Sgt. Cunningham property, for the construction of an industrial building. When that happened, concerns over the remains of the soldier were raised, with some speculation that Cunningham's bones may still be somewhere on the property.

The BannerGraphic conducted several interviews about the moving of the grave and spoke with Phillips who said the men did not find any remains when they moved Cunningham's grave marker back in 1990. However he said he felt the remains may have disintegrated after more than 200 years of being in the ground.

Andis disagrees.

He told the BannerGraphic this week he believes the location where the marker was placed in 1930 is not Cunningham's actual burial site.

According to his calculations, the easternmost boundary of Cunningham's property would have been several hundred feet west of Fillmore Road, rather than the 20 or so feet away from the road where the marker was placed.

Further, he said he believes tradition would indicate that Cunningham was buried either on his property or in a nearby cemetery.

"I don't know where he was buried. All I can say is that he wasn't buried next to the road," Andis said. "The odds are he was buried on his property."

The city has never conducted an archaeological dig on the property, however, state law dictates that if workers come across any remains while they're digging, they have to cease immediately and notify the state archaeologist.

Greencastle Mayor Nancy Michael said she is comfortable with allowing the work at the site to continue as scheduled. Last week workers began moving dirt for a new road on the property.

State officials, who are aware of the concerns about the remains, told the BannerGraphic they are satisfied with the city's account of what happened and are not planning to take any further action unless remains are found. As for the history of the man, the DAR group determined that Cunningham was born in Petersburg, Va. in 1754 and died Aug. 16, 1832 in Putnam County.

Research indicates Cunningham was one of a number of Revolutionary War soldiers to serve as President George Washington's personal guards. He is one of three such men to be buried in Indiana -- the other two being Thomas Blair who is buried in Spencer County and Jonathan Moore who is buried in Bartholomew County.

As a young man, Cunningham studied at Princeton College in Virginia and later enlisted in the colonial militia, serving three years as a private. He served under Captain Robert Ballard in Colonel Patrick Henry's regiment, according to the DAR.

Cunningham was involved in the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Monmouth and Gate's Defeat. He was reported to have been present at Yorktown, Va. when British General Cornwallis surrendered.

Andis' research indicates Nathaniel married Elizabeth (Betsey) Snead in Caswell, N.C. in January of 1791. The couple eventually moved to Indiana, beginning in Monroe County and then to Putnam County in 1825.

The couple had several children, including Elizabeth who died in Putnam County in 1866, Benjamin who married Margaret Humphrey in Putnam County in 1837, and Lucinda who married William Bailey in Putnam County.

Bingham said records at the Putnam County Courthouse list the heirs to Cunningham's estate as his wife Elizabeth, children Alexander and Amelia Cunningham, David Butler and wife Sally, Jeremiah Stiles and wife Susannah, Absolom Brown and wife Elizabeth, William Bailey and wife Lucinda, along with John W. and Benjamin S. Cunningham.

Bingham said she believes there are a few ancestors still living in western Indiana, however, she has lost track of them over the years.

Andis said he came across a website for the family of an Andrew Balfour. On that site was an article about Cunningham written by a woman named Juanita Bulla Jackson Kesler. He said he does not know how the Balfours and the Cunning-hams were connected.

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