Town of Newburgh History

Native American origins

By Alan Crawford
Posted 8/5/21

There is a fantastic word in the English language, enigma! Its definition is “a person or thing which is mysterious, puzzling or difficult to understand”. I’m sure almost every one …

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Town of Newburgh History

Native American origins


There is a fantastic word in the English language, enigma! Its definition is “a person or thing which is mysterious, puzzling or difficult to understand”. I’m sure almost every one of you have one of these events or things in your journey through life. You yearn to find the facts, but they somehow elude you, like a person you can’t see through a thick fog, but you can hear speaking to you.

Well, back in 1974, when I became enamored with genealogy, I’ve previously told of arranging and meeting with many aging family members to hear their stories. This, is one of them.

My grandmother took me to meet with one of her first cousins. We spent the afternoon perusing old photos, documents, and reminiscing about people. One of the interesting things this lady, my grandmother’s cousin, spoke of was that her great grandmother was a Mohawk Indian! This was the first time I had heard of this possibility on our family tree.

Half a century ago, we didn’t have the research tools we do today, and the pickings were slim. Most things I learned were gleaned from conversations with people and their recollections of what had been passed down to them as “tribal knowledge”. Years passed.

With the use of DNA, and the use of various genealogical platforms, I began to connect with cousins who had previously been simply a name on paper. We often have met over coffee and chatted and shared what we have learned individually and networked out to include others.

A few years ago, when I first met two cousins, we shared our knowledge and I was amazed they had also been told of a Native American Indian on the family tree! One of their aunts had told of this lady attending family events such as Thanksgiving. It was said she had long, braided black hair and would rather sit Indian style on the floor than at the table.

The enigma of this person had continued to elude all of us, with just snippets of a mention occasionally found in some dusty archives. My cousin believed the lady’s name was Mary Eliza Cloud. We searched various records for this name, cemetery grave marker inscription records, and so on with no luck. Just the past week a few of us cousins spent some time sharing what we knew. This group also included the great grandson of the first cousin of my grandmother. He had been told of the Native American Heritage of his ancestor, but didn’t really have much hard evidence. So, last Thursday the enigma continued.

Now, let’s look at another amazing word in the English language….serendipity. Its meaning? Simply said, it’s “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”. Many times I’ve experienced this phenomenon, and last Friday was one of them. Only a day after the get together.

Some of you may recall one of my pet projects is rejuvenating the Rossville Church and cemetery. I’ve held grave marker cleaning workshops there, a movie shoot, and volunteer to maintain the grounds. We’ve resurrected the Rossville Cemetery Association and continue to move forward with a meeting soon being scheduled.

So, after finally getting the lawnmower repaired, we tackled the high grass. Trimming and mowing around grave markers is definitely an adventure and an exercise in patience.

I managed to mow the center part of the east cemetery portion and commenced on the southeast end of it. As I made the first sweep around the perimeter, I was paying attention to avoid hitting plot corner markers while getting as close as possible to the headstones. This is when serendipity struck!

In the very southeast corner, two solitary markers were standing. As I approached and made a sweep in front of them, the tangential light from the sun, or perhaps a whisper through the mists from Mary Eliza Cloud, lit up the name Mary Eliza Cloud through decades of old moss and lichen!

I had to stop, unbelieving what I was seeing! Using my gloved hand, I rubbed at what the ages had used to conceal. Yes, it was Mary!

When we halted for lunch, I ran home and brought back the chemical solution and tools to properly begin cleaning the marker. Over the next hour much of the grime and lichen was slowly and gently removed. You’ll see the two markers prior to cleaning. The adjacent stone, according to records I’ve viewed on Ancestry, is for her son. There is mention on many of the family trees showing a Mary Eliza Cloud, married to a Daniel St. John. The year of her death matches, 1868, but there appears to be some confusion on the year of her birth.

As I removed some of the soil around the base of her grave marker it states she was 60 years old at the time of her passing. I need to do more but this takes time and being extremely careful I don’t believe we will find much better confirmation than a grave marker with her name, stating she was the widow of Daniel St. John, and the grave marker of her son, William P. St. John, by her side.

I hope this will provide some more knowledge and facts for those researching their family lineage. But, perhaps, it has yielded another enigma. Why are the names of Mary and William not listed in the 1920’s list of grave marker inscriptions for Rossville? Is there a reason they were interned at the far end of the cemetery? Let’s see if we can find some answers. There will be many assumptions, but the facts will eventually reveal themselves. It only took half a century to find her resting place. Thanks for the help, Mary!