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Historians Seek Identities of 600 Revolutionary War Veterans

Marblehead Museum and Historical Society attempting to solve mystery of how many veterans are buried on Old Burial Hill.

The Marblehead Museum and Historical Society wants to correct an historical inaccuracy, and establish a complete record of town residents who fought, and those who died, during the American Revolution.

An old marker placed at the Old Burial Hill on Orne Street, placed at the time of the town's 300th anniversary in 1930, recounts how "six hundred Revolutionary heroes ... were interred at the top of the hill."

Yet there is no accurate record of who these men were, when they died and where they are buried.

Without a true accounting, the sign is misleading, a state surveyor of the 1636 burial ground told Marblehead historical commissioners recently.

Dick Carlson, president of the Marblehead Museum, said he has taken up the challenge to identify and list all of Marblehead's Revolutionary veterans, and establish where they are buried.

The challenge is substantial. Two-century-old records are spread across multiple volumes. Many of the records are sparse, only listing name and rank and regiment.

It is also unlikely that the remains of Marblehead soldiers and sailors killed in the war would have been returned to town for burial.

"What we think happened is there was no way their body would be brought back," Carlson said. 

Three Marblehead soldiers killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill were buried in mass graves. "We think that happened to a lot of Marblehead soldiers," Carlson said.

Many of the names on ancient headstones on the hill have worn away; and there may also be unmarked graves, making the task still more difficult.

"A lot of these people were not wealthy and couldn't afford tombstones," Carlson said.

Volunteers needed

The museum has put out a call for volunteers to help track down the records. So far, about a dozen amateur historians have offered assistance.

Carlson said the museum will establish a protocol for volunteers on how to conduct the research, matching lists of Marblehead veterans with other sources, such as military pension records, to establish the dates of their deaths.

Once the list is compiled, the museum will be able to establish it as a resource for people conducting genealogy research into their family histories.

"When you think about a small community, Marblehead was decimated by the Revolution," Carlson said, noting that the town had some 500 widows and 1,000 orphaned children by the war's end.

"These people deserve to be known," he said. 

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