VFW on mission to mark Revolutionary War soldier’s grave

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Bob Mountain of VFW Post 10879 scans the "Old Yard" in Gorham Village, focus of a search to find the burial site for Revolutionary War soldier Alexander McLellan. Mountain, who has asked the federal government to provide a headstone, hopes to verify McLellan's burial site, a requirement to qualify for a marker.

Bob Mountain of VFW Post 10879 scans the “Old Yard” in Gorham Village, focus of a search to find the burial site for Revolutionary War soldier Alexander McLellan. Mountain, who has asked the federal government to provide a headstone, hopes to verify McLellan’s burial site, a requirement to qualify for a marker.

Armed with paperwork, Bob Mountain of VFW Post 10879 searches for the burial site of Revolutionary War soldier Alexander McLellan who died at home in Gorham in 1779 just days after discharge from the Massachusetts Militia.

Bob Mountain

GORHAM — Members of a veterans’ post here have unsuccessfully combed an old cemetery in Gorham Village hoping to find the burial site of a Revolutionary War soldier who died 238 years ago.

They want to recognize and honor Capt. Alexander McLellan’s military service with an official, government headstone, but with no official record of “federal military action” or his grave location, they’ve got some red-tape unraveling to do.

Bob Mountain of VFW Post 10879 is heading up the effort, assisted by post members Don Veilleux and the Rev. Timothy Sandeno. They have focused their search for a gravesite in the so-called “Old Yard” in Gorham Village where many of McLellan’s contemporaries were buried.

“We’ve hunted in this cemetery over and over,” Mountain said recently as he peered at epitaphs on ancient stones at the site.

The VFW post has assumed sole responsibility of tracking down gravesites of the town’s veterans. The “Old Yard,” now named the South Street Cemetary, includes two mass burial mounds, a stone crypt and some broken gravestones.

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides grave markers for vets but first requires documentation of participation in federal military action and of the burial site, Mountain said.

The post has supplied a document that McLellan served with the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia beginning July 7, 1779, during the Revolutionary War. But certification of militia duty might not be sufficient and the location of McLellan’s burial site is mysterious.

McLellan was born in 1742, according to the “History of Gorham,” written by one of his relatives, Hugh McLellan, and printed in 1903. The history reports Alexander McLellan was the fifth child of early town settlers Hugh and Elizabeth McLellan. He died at home in Gorham on Oct. 4, 1779, leaving a wife and several children, the history says. 

To prove McLellan’s service, Sandeno, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, traveled to Massachusetts in search of military records. Sandeno acquired a certificate from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Adjutant General’s Office in Concord verifying that McLellan had served for two months and 18 days as a captain in Col. Jonathan Mitchell’s Regiment in the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia.

“I’m thankful that Massachusetts has preserved these records,” Sandeno said.

The Gorham history recorded that McLellan was on the Bagaduce Expedition in 1779 with Mitchell’s regiment. Local citizens supplied McLellan with a drum for his company of militia soldiers raised in Gorham.

The expedition fought British forces ashore and on water at the mouth of the Penobscot and Bagaduce rivers in the area of present-day Castine.

The expedition was organized by Massachusetts during the American Revolution to thwart the British effort to build a stronghold on the Maine coast. But the colonists’ force suffered defeat, as British forces routed the Americans.

Sandeno said the campaign was a fiasco.

The British had built a fort at Bagaduce in June of 1779, alarming Massachusetts patriots, according to the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport.

“To retake Bagaduce, they sent 39 ships under the command of Brig. Gen. Solomon Lovell and Commodore Dudley Saltonstall. It became the worst American naval defeat until Pearl Harbor in 1941,” the museum says on its website.

Notable patriots in the infamous defeat included Paul Revere, who was in charge of artillery, Mountain said. Second in command at Bagaduce was Gen. Peleg Wadsworth, who became the grandfather of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

McLellan was honorably discharged Sept. 25, 1779, according to militia records, when the unit demobilized. He died nine days later, Mountain said, at age 37.

“He had a fever contacted on the campaign,” Mountain said. “It was a major campaign.”

Mountain hoped that the militia certificate would substantiate McLellan’s standing as a veteran.”We assumed this would do it,” Mountain said.

But, Sandeno said the challenge is to prove McLellan’s service would be determined to have been federal action. Sandeno said there is no official recognition by the federal government of McLellan’s service.

Mountain said correspondence with the government has been helpful and swift, but federal officials are seeking information in addition to McLellan’s militia certificate. He has requested that the Department of Veterans Affairs conduct its own research.

Mountain also has enlisted the assistance of Brenda Caldwell, Gorham Historical Society’s recently retired archivist, to help document a burial site for the soldier. “They need  a record of disposition of the body,” Mountain said about federal requirements.

Caldwell, a retired town clerk and the town’s former cemeteries superintendent, said last week she hadn’t located any death record or burial site for McLellan. But, she said, there had once been a stone for McLellan in the old cemetery.

At the behest of Mountain, Caldwell is willing to submit an affidavit about the fact that the cemetery was the only one in town where the old soldier would have been buried. Mountain said he was  told in a recent telephone conversation with a federal official that Caldwell’s documentation would suffice.

Mountain said Tuesday he plans to resubmit all material to the National Cemetery Administration in Nashville, Tennessee, in hopes of satisfying federal requirements.

If a headstone is provided, Mountain said, Terry Deering, assistant director of Gorham Public Works, will accept and erect the stone.

“We’ve done just about everything we can,” Mountain said.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or rlowell@keepmecurrent.com.