Remembering Fort Griswold’s community through gravestones

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The view of the Thames River from present-day Fort Griswold, Groton.

For a fight that quite likely didn’t last more than twenty minutes, the Battle of Groton Heights left an astounding mark on my hometown. The late-Revolutionary War attack by Benedict Arnold on rebel soldiers at Fort Griswold is remembered today through annual reenactments and tours, two battleground museums, an impressive monument and an organization called the Friends of Fort Griswold, which is dedicated to the preservation and memorialization of the battlegrounds.

Local historians have analyzed accounts of the battle written by witnesses and their descendants and examined artifacts left behind by soldiers to determine the facts and implications of the battle. But while the details of the battle have been kept alive, many stories of the men and women affected by the conflict slowly disappeared as time passed. The area surrounding the Thames River—present-day Groton, New London, Old Saybrook, Stonington, Gales Ferry and Ledyard, Connecticut—lost a great number of its able-bodied men to the British. Some neighborhoods lost all of their adult men. I can only imagine how devastating such a tragedy must have been to the colonial community.

I have found that the gravestones of the soldiers offer insight into the community’s emotional reaction to the battle. These headstones, scattered throughout the area’s oldest cemeteries, bear haunting inscriptions both honoring the deceased and cursing the enemy. Raw emotion was preserved and memorialized for generations to come, like in this chilling inscription from the tombstone of soldier Moses Jones:

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The headstone of Moses Jones in Turner Cemetery, Groton.

Will not a day of Rec-
koning come; Does not
 my blood for vengeance
Cry; How will those
Wretches bear their
Doom; Who hath me
Slain most Murderously.

When I first saw epitaphs like these, exploring the graveyards near my parents’ home, I felt as though I had a better understanding of the people who lived there before us. Their stories are hidden in these stones, slowly worn down by the rain, snow and wind. The families that created these headstones wanted their loved ones to be remembered by future generations. For my senior thesis, I took a long look at the gravestones and worked to understand what they meant to the people who created them, drawing on the research of local historians and memorial academics.

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