Genealogy connects legions of locals to Revolutionary War patriots

Rebecca Speaker of Columbus can thank her grandmother, Edith (Woehrman) Speaker, for sparking a family fascination that led her to discover roots that ran to patriots who fought for America’s freedom some 250 years ago.

Speaker’s family can trace lives in Bartholomew County back at least six generations, to when John Henry Speaker and his wife, Caroline (Kobbe) Speaker, settled in the area about 150 years ago — or about 50 years after the county was organized in the new state of Indiana.

Because Rebecca’s grandmother often told stories stretching back to her own great-grandparents, Speaker was the beneficiary of a wellspring of living history going back many generations. So one day while Speaker was in high school, she brought home poster board and began to write down the family lore, straight from her grandmother. “She got me started,” Speaker said.

Through further genealogical research years later, Speaker traced her lineage to multiple American patriots at the nation’s founding that entitled her to membership in the Joseph Hart Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution. One ancestor was a soldier who fought in the Revolutionary War, while another was recognized as a patriot by DAR because he swore an oath to a serve as a town official in present-day Boston in defiance of colonial British rulers.

Speaker, who works in the engine business supply chain team at Cummins Inc., joined the local chapter of DAR in 2014. Currently serving as treasurer, she has led the organization that counts 129 members — among the larger DAR chapters in southern Indiana — as past regent.

A few years back, Speaker surveyed members to determine what got them involved in the organization. Some said they were moved by a sense of history and wanting to honor the legacy of those who fought to found the nation. Some were drawn by the service and education aspects of DAR. For others, serving with DAR fulfilled their own sense of patriotism.

“People get drawn in because of those three elements,” Speaker said. “A large portion are there for the service, and the friendship, too.”

Recently, DAR members gathered for service missions to tend to some local cemeteries where Revolutionary War veterans are laid to rest — Liberty Cemetery off County Road 500N west of Marr Road, and Sand Creek Cemetery off County Road 650S west of U.S. 31.

The local DAR chapter credited local chapter member Angel Walker and her son Luke for restoring the grave marker at Sand Creek for Thomas Cook, a remarkable figure who volunteered at age 20 with a North Carolina regiment in 1776, and survived Revolutionary War battles to rise in rank from private to captain by age 21.

Cook filed for a pension at age 82, and he died in Bartholomew County in 1844 at age 88.

Walker and her sons Luke and Jesse also were among volunteers who earlier this month also reset several gravestones and cleaned up Liberty Cemetery near Columbus Municipal Airport.

Walker, who works in the Bartholomew County Veterans Office, began tracing her family tree several years ago, and she said it took about eight years of research to confirm a connection with a Revolutionary War patriot.

But when she discovered her ancestral roots with help from the local Joseph Hart Chapter, she was stunned by what she discovered.

“It was shocking,” she said, “to even know there were triplets — it’s something you don’t think about happening at that time,” Walker said of her Revolutionary ancestors.

Her research traced a lineage back to triplets Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego Pierson (spellings vary), who were born in present-day Culpeper, Virginia, in April 1754.

Walker is a descendant of Meshach, who served in the Eighth Virginia Regiment and lived to the ripe old age of 93. His final resting place is a cemetery in Shelbyville, Kentucky. His brother Shadrack fought with Gen. George Washington in the 1st Virginia Regiment, including during the desperate winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, according to Pierson family history. His final resting place is in Scott County, Indiana. Adebnego died before reaching adulthood, according to historical records.

Meshach, too, had ties to the father of our country. Selected as a life guard for Washington in 1776, he was in the general’s entourage as a wagoneer through the siege of Yorktown and throughout the war, Walker said.

Walker said she is hoping to work with the cemetery in Kentucky were her Revolutionary ancestor is buried and locate his grave for restoration of a marker.

“It probably took me eight years” of genealogical research to confirm her lineage to Meschach Pierson, Walker said.

For the past six years, Rhonda Bolner has served as registrar of the local DAR chapter, and a large part of her responsibilities include helping members and hopeful members establish connections with patriots.

“We have to prove with records all the information we’re putting down on paper,” Bolner said. She recently said she had multiple applications for membership pending, as well as members who are seeking to establish ties with additional Revolutionary-era figures.

Once Bolner has done the research and feels confident that the documentation establishes a link, it then must be approved by a genealogist in the DAR’s national office.

“I’ve never had to rule anybody out yet; I’ve always found a connection so far,” Bolner said, though finding the lineage and proving it with documentation doesn’t always follow a lineage that someone thinks is likeliest. “It’s always so gratifying when we find it.”

Bolner found a tie to her patriot — Robert Peele of North Carolina — about seven years ago. She said because he and his family were Quakers, they did not fight in the Revolutionary War but are recognized by DAR as patriots because they supported the Americans fighting for independence and donated money to the cause of freedom.

Like others in the local chapter, Bolner said she’d love to take the time to research whether she might be descended from others who were active in the cause of American freedom some 250 years ago. She says she might someday, but for now, she spends most of her time helping others find those connections.

“Sometimes I feel I know more about other people’s families than my own,” she said.