Baptist Cemetary Students

Junior High students preserve the past
Longwood students restore headstones of local Revolutionary War soldiers

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Peggy Spellman Hoey PHOTO Students from Longwood Junior High School set new gravestones from the Veterans Affairs Department to mark the graves of Revolutionary War soldiers buried at the old Baptist Church in Coram last Saturday.

Minuteman Daniel Hammond's headstone in the graveyard at the old Baptist Church in Coram has been showing signs of aging for at least the last 100 years.

Over those years, the headstone for Mr. Hammond, the son of the church's founder and a whaler in the Arctic prior to his taking up arms in Suffolk County's first militia, had become as colorful as his life -- featuring various forms of lichens, mold and signs of erosion. But thanks to a group of Longwood Junior High School students, the former Revolutionary War soldier's headstone now looks as though it was set only recently. Mr. Hammond's headstone was one of three new grave markers -- along with those of fellow local Revolutionary War soldiers Palmer Overton and William Sexton -- set at the cemetery by the students with the help of the Veterans Affairs Department. The new granite grave markers, which are similar to those seen at military cemeteries throughout the U.S., were used to mark the soldiers' weathered headstones as further insurance that their names will be remembered for generations to come.

Erik Fergal, 13, of Coram, was assigned to research Mr. Overton, who fought in the Continental Army.

"It was kind of hard to find [his headstone] because he had a lot of relatives," Erik said. "It was fun. We got to research. It was interesting because people from our area helped establish this country."

Classmate Amber O'Neill, 13, of Ridge, had an easier time locating William Sexton, though.

"We found [his headstone] under a bunch of leaves," she said.

In addition to setting the three headstones, roughly 50 students from the seventh and eighth grades spent the better part of their Saturday collecting litter, weeding and trying to locate additional headstones at the graveyard. The research project was started 10 years ago with the help of former Town Historian David Overton, who died in 2005. This was the first year students were able to set stones.

Steve Ball, chair of the Social Studies Department at the junior high school, said he hoped the children might pick up a newfound understanding and appreciation for the history of their community with the hands-on lesson at the graveyard.

Coram resident Andrea Sanfilippo, 13, a member of the historical support club, called the experience amazing.

"The revolutionary war was such a historical event," she said. "It's the reason why we have a country today."

Her classmate, Shannon Mutchig, 13, of Shirley, also a member of the historical support team, uttered much the same sentiment on the soldiers.

"They fought for the country and they deserve to be buried in a place that is very beautiful for them," she said.

Teacher Jennifer Perrier, who has helped students with the research project for two years, said there are about 50 more headstones which will be shipped out to the area by next year, so the project will be picked up by a new group of students. If anything, Ms. Perrier said, she trusts the students came away with a valuable lesson.

"History is still alive and it's changing every day," she said.

In the coming weeks, the students will visit other graveyards in the Longwood community and conduct similar mass cleanings, he said. In the meantime, Mr. Ball said he hoped the students gained something valuable from the experience that they will take with them for the rest of their lives.

"These guys were the real rebels -- they hated the British," he said. "The Baptists here disliked the British immensely. This was a good place to start."


Note - The students have received fifteen tombstones from the government to date.

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