It Happened in Windham: A day to celebrate first president, those in his command

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George Washington was born on this day, Feb. 22, way back in 1732. As a political leader, military general, statesman, commander in chief of the patriotic forces during the American Revolution and the first president of the United States of America, he is known as the Father of Our Country. His birthday has been celebrated by Americans long before it was declared a national holiday in 1879.

On the centennial of Washington’s birth in 1832, Sen. Henry Clay and Congressman Philemon Thomas adjourned Congress out of respect for Washington and to commemorate his birth. The day became an official federal holiday on Jan. 31, 1879 when Congress added Feb. 22 to the list of holidays to be observed by federal employees.

Descendants of some of Windham’s founding families were probably happy and proud that Washington’s special day was being honored because many of their forefathers had served in Washington’s army during our country’s war for independence.

According to the famous Windham historian, Nathan Goold, 91 men from our town served in the Continental Army. Among the families represented were the Andersons, led by Lt. Edward Anderson; three members of the Bodge family; and three members of the family of New Marblehead’s first settler, Thomas Chute.

Another familiar name on the army roster was Elder, with four family members enlisted in the military service. The Knight family was also well represented, including Capt. William Knight, who had served earlier as a major in the Colonial militia.

The Manchester family had three men in active duty and they mourned the loss of young Stephen Jr. who was sent from Valley Forge to a hospital in Reading, Pennsylvania, where he died in January of 1778. Five men from the Mayberry clan served with the Continental forces and Capt. Thomas Trott of the Windham Town Company was also on hand for the fight.

Other founding families who represented Windham during the conflict were the Webbs, the Winships, the Hunnerwells and the Halls.

It is fitting that we still celebrate George Washington and his birthday to this day. The holiday is referred to nowadays as President’s Day after Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law in 1968 and Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays were combined into one federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday of February.

Nonetheless, it is still a day to recognize the courage and integrity of our country’s first president and the heroic men who served in his command. It was these patriotic citizens who fought for their principles against massive odds to help create the nation we live in today. We thank them for our freedom, our democracy and our inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

God bless them and God bless America.

Haley Pal, a resident of Windham, is active in the Windham Historical Society.

Thomas Chute’s memorial stone in the Chute Cemetery on Chute Road. Three members of the Chute family served in Washington’s army.

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