MILLPORT - Even with the years of research, including 18 months to find the gravesite, descendants of Revolutionary War veteran James McClellan admit there is little known about the man.
However, through the places he was and his militia service, the family believes they have pieced together a picture of a self-reliant man with strong values, a loyal husband and father, a devout Christian and a patriot.
"He was a patriot in a time of great confusion in the political loyalties of his contemporaries," one of those descendants, Dick Lewis, said during a dedication ceremony Sunday of a Revolutionary War veteran's marker in the Bethesda Cemetery near Millport.
Morning Journal/Deanne Johnson
According to Lewis' research, McClellan was born in 1760 in the British Colony of Pennsylvania. McClellan was nearly 15 when the conflict broke out in Lexington. In 1776, when General George Washington called in the Flying Camp Militia, McClellan's father Samuel, a member of the militia but also about 44 years old, sent his teenage son in his place.
"Other than knowing how to shoot a flintlock rifle, he would have been a totally untrained recruit," Lewis said.
As a cold wind swept through the crowd in Bethesda Cemetery Sunday, Lewis told the story of icy encampments near the Delaware River and long marches by militia members through deep snow during the winter of 1776.
Besides the Flying Camp Militia, Lewis' research shows McClellan also served later with the Chester County Militia regiment. Local history in Chester County, Pa., says the local militia was part of a ruse to fool the troops of British Gen. Cornwallis.
By spreading themselves out throughout the entrenchments, stoking campfires and making as much noise as possible, that group of militia fooled the British into believing they were the entire American army, which gave Gen. Washington's main troops time to head toward Princeton and escape a bad strategic position in Trenton.
Eventually, McClellan would serve in the newly formed 8th Battalion of the Pennsylvania Militia formed in 1777 and rise to the rank of sergeant in 1780, but little else is known of his military service.
McClellan married Hannah Witherow in 1783 and by the 1790 census was listed in Mifflin Township, Washington County, Pa. He would soon move his entire family to Columbiana County.
Records show McClellan and his wife joined the Presbyterian Church in Lisbon on Sept. 18, 1814. Then in December, he filed to purchase a 160 acres in Center Township, which was sparsely settled. His wife died in 1822 and was buried in the Bethesda Cemetery. McClellan lived on his successful farm until his death, 34 years later, at the age of 89.
With both the Grand Union flag and the Betsy Ross designed flag flying above the new marker on Sunday, Lewis pointed out it was the Declaration of Independence, which made the Grand Union flag with the British Union Jack in the corner, obsolete.
"There is no agreement among historians what flag James McClellan followed during most of his service and it doesn't really matter," Lewis said. "He was following an ideal. The yearning of a free people to govern themselves, secure in their God-Given rights, unhindered by an oppressive and unresponsive government."