Stones and bones, where can they be? — The mystery of Vernon’s vanished cemetery, Part V

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Click here for the full series on the vanished Polly Lee Cemetery and the Peeler and Lee families.

Eli and Rebecca (Stebbins) Lee lived “in affectionate and happy communion together for 46 years, until her death in March, 1862.”

Their oldest son was John Stebbins Lee, born Sept. 23, 1820. He learned to read at an early age and set a goal to get a college education. After going through eight grades at Vernon’s West Road one-room school, at age 16 he commenced the study of Latin, which qualified him to teach school. His parents thought it best for him to wait until he was 18, and at that age he first taught school in Guilford, followed by two terms in Vernon, in 1839 and 1840.

His goal of attending Amherst College was achieved in July, 1841. Reputedly, he walked there. Railroads were still in the future locally, and horses were needed at the farm. Among a class of 30, his standing was among the first ten. At once, he began teaching at Mt. Caesar Academy in Swanzey, NH, where he met his wife Elmira Bennett. (more…)

Stones and Bones, where can they be? — The mystery of Vernon’s Vanished Cemetery, Part IV

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Click here for the full series on the vanished Polly Lee Cemetery and the Peeler and Lee families.

In the annual accounting of the Polly Lee Cemetery Fund in a Town Report of the 1920s, the words read “Perpetual care for Eli Lee and Marshall Lee.”

Eli Lee built his house on the hill at the end of West Road, about where the Merritt Farm is today. He remarked that only three letters were needed to spell his full name. He married Rebecca Stebbins, and their son Marshall was one of a large, talented family.

Eli lived through the administrations of all the presidents from George Washington to Chester Arthur, and first voted at the presidential election of 1808, when Madison was elected. He voted at every following election, the last being in 1880, when he was the first to deposit his vote in the ballot box.

Although never seeking office, he was often chosen to fill the town positions of lister, selectman, and justice of the peace. From 1830 to 1848, he was sent to the Legislature, until he declined the nomination, saying others were more worthy to fill it.

It would seem that the Polly Lee cemetery would have been filled with the large families of the Peelers and Lees. It appears that the “overflow” of Lees became buried in the Tyler Cemetery on Pond Road, at some point.

You will hear more about one member of the talented family; you have met him before.

Stones and Bones, where can they be? — The mystery of Vernon’s Vanished Cemetery, Part III

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Click here for the full series on the vanished Polly Lee Cemetery and the Peeler and Lee families

John and Polly (Peeler) Lee’s son George Washington Lee was, like his father, an accomplished builder/carpenter. At least one example of his skill remains in town. It is the Pond Road Chapel, built on land he owned. Funds were raised by subscription, and it cost about one thousand dollars. Completed in 1860 for the then recently organized congregation of Advent Christians, its architectural style is a modified Greek Revival, popular at the time.

Pond Road was then called the South Road, or City Road, and was a narrow dirt road, as they all were, throughout the town. In that year, Vernon’s population was 725, it had seven schools, 43 dogs, two churches and one Agricultural Library, which was purchased by 21 members at a cost of $105.

The Chapel succeeded Vernon’s first meeting house, a large two-story structure located on a bluff overlooking the river (above the location of the current Town Tomb). Built for the use of the Congregationalists and Baptists, it was used for Town Meetings as well. (more…)

Stones and bones, where can they be? — The mystery of Vernon’s vanished cemetery, Part II

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Click here for the full series on the vanished Polly Lee Cemetery and the Peeler and Lee families.

The Polly Lee Cemetery probably started as the family burying ground of the large Lee clan that, in 1781, moved to Vernon (at the time known as Hinsdale).

John Lee, the family patriarch and a widower, accompanied them. He died within a few years (1784) and is buried in the South Cemetery, with a slate gravestone. This implies that there had not yet been time to set aside land for a family cemetery.

The three older Lee sons cleared land for their farms in the area of today’s Newton Road. The youngest son, John, received the least desirable acreage but he made the most of it. It was rocky and mountainous, and tillable soil was pebbly as well. (more…)

Stones and bones, where can they be? — The mystery of Vernon’s vanished cemetery, Part I

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Click here for the full series on the vanished Polly Lee Cemetery and the Peeler and Lee families.

For many years the income from the Polly A. Lee Cemetery Fund has appeared in the Vernon Town Report. Possibly a few people have a faint memory of the existence of the cemetery itself, in the area of today’s Breezy Acres, off Newton Road. No traces of it remain today. Its secrets unfold with the story of Polly’s father, John Jacob Peeler.

During the American Revolution, he was among the 29,000 Hessian mercenaries bought by the British Army. They had been purchased like cattle, at so much per head. The money maintained the Grand Duchy of Hesse, an area of Germany near today’s Frankfurt.

As an oppressed person himself, Peeler hated the British. Instead, he felt a great admiration for the Americans fighting so bravely against tyranny. He wanted to fight alongside them, and at the first opportunity, he deserted. Before reaching American lines, he was captured, and given 39 lashes, a punishment common in the British Army. The lashes were administered using the cat-o’nine tails, a whip with nine lashes of knotted cords.

Almost immediately, he deserted again, was recaptured and received 99 lashes, the usual penalty for a second offense. He was warned that a third offense would result in his being flogged to death, for no one was expected to survive the “thousand lashes save one” inflicted in such cases.

However, his stubborn determination to join the Americans did not waver. Learning the Army of King George III was preparing for a major battle, he deserted once more. He was discovered by John Hare, a British soldier whom he knew well. Hare had the opportunity to let Peeler escape and was offered five pounds by him. Hare scoffed, saying he could get five pounds for Peeler’s return, adding that he wasn’t confident Peeler would survive another whipping and be able to pay him back. At that point, Peeler made a promise to himself that he would survive, and one day would find Hare and kill him.

Peeler was taken back to camp, tried by a court-martial and, with two others, whipped “one thousand lashes save one.”

One of the three died before the 999 strokes were complete, but the strokes were continued just the same, even in his dying moments. All three were placed into a hut. It had only a bed of straw for comfort, and a small bowl of gruel was the daily food ration. Peeler urged his companion to exercise, but he wouldn’t, dying the third day. His death was kept secret by Peeler, who at the man’s portion of gruel.

(more…)