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    Saturday, October 01, 2022

    Tossing Lines: Colonel Ledyard’s family plot is half empty

    The Ledyard Family Plot in Groton’s Colonel Ledyard Cemetery.

    I always assumed that Colonel William and Anne Ledyard’s family plot in Groton’s Colonel Ledyard Cemetery contained their entire family, kept cozily together in death and honor.

    There are 10 stones there, but closer inspection reveals that five are foot stones, so only five graves lie within the black, iron-fenced enclosure, its posts appropriately resembling cannon with a ball perched on top.

    Of the five graves, one holds Colonel Ledyard, and one belongs to his wife Anne.

    That leaves three markers, though there are four of the Ledyard children buried in the plot. This is explained by Anne’s epitaph, which reads: At her fond request her youngest son Charles, aged 8 years, lies interred in her arms. Forty-six-year-old Anne and her beloved eight-year-old Charles died on the same day, and occupy the same coffin.

    Two of the three remaining graves contain two-year-old Henry, and 16-year-old Sarah Ledyard. Sarah died just six weeks before the battle, and no doubt left Colonel Ledyard with a heavy heart as he defended Fort Griswold.

    The remaining gravestone, now reduced to an unreadable nub, contains the colonel’s first namesake son, William, who died two months shy of his 11th birthday.

    The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record contains a list of Ledyard epitaphs from tombstones in the Groton Burying Ground, submitted in 1858 by John Austin Stevens, a Ledyard descendant.

    One reads ”William, son of Major William and Mrs. Anne Ledyard, born 1766, died Sept. the 14th, 1777, in the 11th Year of his Age.” This record of his then-readable stone, confirms young William’s place in the family plot.

    Another son, born shortly after this William died, was also named William.

    The Ledyards had nine children, and the remaining five children are buried elsewhere, as they had relocated in their late teens, whether to seek their fortunes in New York City or to follow spouses established elsewhere.

    But, sadly, like their father, their life journeys were also cut short. Eight of William and Anne’s nine children died before the age of 22.

    The eldest, Mary Ann, married Captain Thomas Seymour of Hartford, and died at 19. She is buried in the Ancient Burying Ground in Hartford.

    The second William went to New York City, where he died at age 18. His tombstone inscription in the First Presbyterian Church’s Old Brick Church Burial Yard in Manhattan noted “He was one of the earlier victims of a pestilence which ravaged New York in 1795.”

    Deborah Ledyard married a man named Smith in Stonington, and died after only five years of marriage at age 21. I hope to confirm she is buried in either Stonington or Ledyard.

    Records for John Yarborough Ledyard are scarce, but I know he died at age 18, one month after his sister Deborah passed in 1792. I suspect he also relocated, likely following his siblings and other relatives established in New York. My search for him continues.

    Peter Vandevoort Ledyard is no doubt buried in New York City, though I’ve yet to find his grave, even after extensive research. He had married Maria Van Tuyl, the daughter of a prominent merchant. They lived at 18 Harrison St. in lower Manhattan, a short walk from the wharves on the Hudson.

    Should you stop to visit the Colonel and his family in Colonel Ledyard Cemetery, perhaps on one of the interesting tours conducted there, consider the lives of this tragic, scattered family.

    Of the children in the Groton plot, two (the first William and Sarah) died before their father was killed, while Henry and Charles were born too late to ever know their father. Charles was born just 10 days before his father died. So these four avoided the emotional impact of a parent murdered when their father was killed by that fatal blade plunged through his body in anger by the British upon his surrendering Fort Griswold.

    But the five transplanted children knew their father, once described in a letter as a “tender, indulgent” parent. Mary Ann turned 18 the year of the Battle of Groton Heights. Deborah was 12, John was eight, Peter was six, and the second William was four. They were all forced to deal with the horrible loss, while witnessing their mother’s overwhelming grief and subsequent struggles.

    Mary Ann and Deborah relocated via marriage, while William, Peter, and John chased the American Dream in New York City.

    The Colonel’s murder marked the beginning of a surprisingly rapid disintegration of his own family. By 1795, just 14 years after his own death, his wife and eight children were also dead, leaving but one survivor, Peter Ledyard of New York, presumably a merchant, like his father.

    Who knows what goes through the minds of children of a murdered parent. Though the Ledyard children had reason to pursue lives elsewhere, one might wonder whether painful, haunting memories played a role in chasing them from Groton Bank, readily leaving the family plot half empty.

    John Steward lives in Waterford. He now lectures on the personal life of Colonel William Ledyard. He can be reached at tossinglines@gmail.com.

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