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Revolutionary War veteran honored

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By DAVID LEE

At the unveiling of the historic sign on Birge Hill Road in Chatham. Photo by David Lee

PEOPLE FAMILIAR WITH THE BY-WAYS around Chatham may know Birge Hill Road as it curves, rises and descends in a rough parallel to the Taconic State Parkway from Route 295 to Bushnell and South Cross connecting to Route 203. That road is named for Hosea Birge, the Revolutionary War veteran in whose memory a new historical marker has been installed.

The sign, one of the blue and yellow cast iron historical markers, is sited on the lawn in front of the farm house that Hosea Birge built in 1842 and reads as follows:

HOSEA BIRGE 1760-1843. REV. WAR VETERAN, SERVED FROM 1777-1780, FOUGHT IN BATTLE OF RHODE ISLAND. EST. FARM HERE 1785.

The line at the bottom credits the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, 2023.

The placement of the Birge historical marker has been a long time ambition of Chatham resident Van Calhoun who counts Hosea Birge as his fourth great-grandfather. There was an unveiling of the marker conducted before a small group of neighbors and guests on May 26, appropriate with the approach of Memorial Day, and also as it was the 243rd anniversary of Hosea Birge being decommissioned from the Continental Army in 1780 by General George Washington. Unfortunately Mr. Calhoun himself was unable to attend that afternoon, but performing the honor was his wife Sue Senecah who read Mr. Calhoun’s prepared remarks including an account of the revolutionary war soldier’s history.

Hosea Birge’s resume is novel-worthy. Mr. Calhoun’s research has found that he was born in 1760, descendant of Puritan refugee Richard Birge, and at 16 lied about his age to get into an irregular militia before there was a continental army. A year later he was a soldier in the 9th Connecticut Regiment of the Continental Army and fought in many Revolutionary War battles. According to Mr. Calhoun, he was wounded in the battle of Rhode Island. Also, he became a member of George Washington’s personal guards or “Life Guards” as they were called.

The marker overlooks the section of land that Mr. Birge acquired in 1785 for $300. There he built a log cabin which is no longer standing, but Mr. Calhoun says the impression of its foundation in the ground is still visible. He built the farm house that now stands on the property in 1842, a year before his death.

“He lived in a small cabin just over there and began building a family,” relates Mr. Calhoun in the statement read by Ms. Senecah. “First building a barn and then a successful subsistence farm, and building the community that became Chatham, NY 10 years later in 1795 in this ‘new’ Columbia County.”

According to Philip Lord writing on the website of the New York State Museum, the first of these cast iron historical markers were installed in 1926 as a means of drumming up interest in the 150th anniversary of the American Revolution. With $2 and some documentation, people could make an application with the New York State Department of Education. People and events described thereon had to be supported with primary documentation and this is still the case. State funding for these markers ran out in 1939.

However, markers continued to be installed in subsequent decades and though approved by the State Education Department they were mostly privately funded. In 1972 the functions of the State Historic Trust were handed to the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. While New York State no longer manages a historical marker program, the William G. Pomeroy Foundation working with the Association of Public Historians of New York State has taken up the cause and funding for markers. Lending their imprimatur to the proceedings at 28 Birge Hill were Lisa Weilbacher, the executive director of the Columbia County Historical Society and her colleague Carrie Rodgers who is director of engagement.

Following the unveiling, the assembly retired to the front porch of the house for a champagne toast, snacks and conversation.

Calhoun’s account of his ancestry continues, “I am the seventh generation who grew up in this farmhouse and worked in these fields, hand pitching hay into the wagon and relaxing on the porch or in the living room listening to my great grandmother Laura Birge, born in 1872 and died in 1964 at 94 years of age. Nanny Laura was also my childhood best friend, telling amazing stories about her own experiences growing up in this house and stories about her earlier generations. For example, she told of sitting on her stoop in Jersey City and watching the Statue of Liberty being erected.”

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