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Descendants Descend On Grove Street
by Allan Appel | Sep 23, 2013 7:33 am
Brad Boardman didn’t travel all the way from Seattle to visit the grave as a tourist or Colonial history buff.
It was personal: His paternal grandfather’s mother’s mother’s mother’s father was Roger Sherman, signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Boardman was one of about 50 members of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence (DSDI) who brought their family affair to the Grove Street Cemetery Saturday morning.
Lawrence Croft, a descendant of North Carolina signer William Hooper, said the organization is primarily patriotic. Members don’t discuss politics even around the bar of the Omni Hotel, where the group was headquartered for its weekend conclave.
Founded on July 4,1907, DSDI has three meetings annually: Every Independence Day in Philadelphia, and then one gathering in the North in the fall and one in the South in the summer.
Many of the members—there are about 1,000 all told nationwide—are white-haired and, according to the findings of a short survey conducted by this reporter, joined up after their kids left the nest or after retirement.
Each meeting is organized around a visit to at least one of the 56 signers. The group had not been in New Haven since the 1980s, said Shelly Cruz, the Branford-based local organizer of the event.
At that time too the group also visited the grave of Sherman, who has the distinction of having signed not only the Declaration, but also the other three of the nation’s founding documents.
Members stepped lively as Captain Richard Grennalch and piper Staff Sgt. Priscilla Wawrzeniak of the 2nd Company Governor’s Foot Guard led the way with spirited tunes like “Yankee Doodle” and “Road to Boston.”
It was a short walk from the gates of Grove Street to Sherman’s grave site, a stone and a table, on the eastern side of the burial ground.
At Sherman’s grave, Boardman read moving remarks that his grand uncle Roger Sherman Boardman originally delivered in 1941 reaffirming the nation’s values on the eve of America’s entry into World War Two.
While he has known all his life of his lineage, Boardman said he joined the organization when a work change gave him a little more time to check out the family genealogy. You have to be a direct blood descendant, not connected, for example, through a niece or nephew.
The organization finds and puts appropriate insignia on graves, and promotes study of these individuals in curricula in their communities across the country.
That included, in 2011, erecting two benches at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., to honor 12 signers who are buried in locations where no markers are possible. That would includeThomas Lynch, a signer from South Carolina, whose body was lost at sea.
“It’s an honor, and I’m proud of it,” Boardman said. “All you have to do is look at Roger Sherman himself. Humble. That’s how we need to be [today]. Self-taught man, a surveyor, a shoemaker, not self-promoting, and with the best interests of the nation at heart.”
Lawrence Croft, whose mother signed him up in DSDI in 1993, said the British burned the home of “his” signer, William Hooper, in Wilmington, N.C. Hooper and his family were in hiding and on the run for a year out of fear.
These men lived the last line of the declaration— in which they pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor—said Susan Croft. Lawrence Croft said the organization tries to honor the idea that people across their great differences came together when they had to.
The Crofts did not join DSDI until their five children had finished college.
Sherman had two other descendants traveling with the group: James Moore, from Dagsboro, Delaware, and his nephew Sean Moore of Boston. Sherman would be their fifth and sixth grandfather, respectively, but from the line begun by Roger Sherman’s second wife, they explained.
This signer became the vice president under James Madison; he’s the only one of the 56 buried in Washington, D.C.
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posted by: shelleyhc on September 24, 2013 3:11pm
The DSDI group had a wonderful weekend in New Haven, and were so impressed with the places we visited including the Grove Street Cemetery, the New Haven Museum, the Yale Art Gallery, and the Center Church on the Green!
New Haven is full of treasures unknown to many who have spent many years here, including me! I have lived in the area for 43 years and have learned so much about New Haven by being involved in this recent meeting! Anyone interested in history should take a tour of the New Haven Museum on Whitney Avenue, or a tour of the crypt under Center Church…. both fascinating places..
Hooray for New Haven!