ROCKLAND, Maine ― Five years ago, there was almost nothing known about the dozens of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 veterans who are buried in a 238-year old cemetery on a Rockland backroad.
But the Lady Knox Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution has made it their mission to change that.
After completing a restoration of the Tolman Cemetery in 2017 ― and getting it placed on the National Register of Historic Places ― the women of the Lady Knox Chapter are working on a book detailing the cemetery’s history and the lives of the 42 early American war veterans who are buried there.
The women have been researching the details of the men’s lives for the last two years and are hoping to complete their book by 2023. The Lady Knox Chapter is working with Thomaston-based Maine Authors Publishing to publish their book.
“We want the men to come alive, we want them to be real, not just a stone, not just a slab, we want them to be real. We want people to understand what they went through,” Lady Knox Chapter Regent Joanne Richards said. “There doesn’t seem to be any type of collection of information on the cemetery right now. So this will be the first attempt to try to get it.”
The Daughters of the American Revolution is a national organization with about 3,000 chapters across the U.S. The organization is open to women who can trace their family history to soldiers who served in the Revolutionary War. It focuses on promoting historic preservation, patriotism and education.
The Lady Knox Chapter of the DAR first got involved with the Tolman Cemetery ― located on Lake Drive ― about five years ago when a local man went to the cemetery to locate a relative’s grave. After seeing the dire condition of the cemetery, he reached out to the local DAR chapter.
About a third of the headstones were broken, with some pieces scattered throughout the cemetery, and others were leaning over.
“It was horrible,” Richards said.
The cemetery, which includes 242 headstones, was established in 1783. The land was provided by Isaiah Tolman, a local landowner who served as a member of the committee of safety during the American Revolution. The cemetery was used until about the mid-1800s.
While the Rockland Cemetery Association kept the grass trimmed, it had no records on the people buried in the cemetery, which Richards said was unusual. It is unclear why there were no records for this cemetery. The Rockland Historical Society also did not have any records specific to the cemetery, according to Richards.
After raising $25,000, a massive restoration effort was undertaken in a period of two weeks at the cemetery in the summer of 2017. Women from the Lady Knox Chapter worked with a gravestone conservator to repair the broken headstones and clean others. Volunteers from the Maine Old Cemetery Association also pitched in.
During the process, they realized an error on a monument erected by the national DAR in 1947. It listed the names of 21 Revolutionary War soldiers buried there, but the Lady Knox Chapter realized another three men who either served in the war or helped the revolution effort were also laid to rest there.
Additionally, 18 veterans of the War of 1812 are buried in the cemetery.
“We were determined to honor these guys,” Richards said.
Having done extensive research during the restoration process, about the cemetery’s origins and the people buried there, Richards said it seemed like a good idea to begin compiling a book.
“In the process of doing this we found out so much about them. But they’re just names and numbers and dates on stones. We wanted to make them more alive. We want to make them more like people,” Richards said.
Work on the book began in earnest around 2019. Since then, the women of the Lady Knox Chapter have poured through records found on genealogy sites, in local libraries and historical societies to piece together information about the veterans buried at Tolman Cemetery.
While the bulk of the research into the facts of the mens’ lives has been completed, they’re currently seeking more information from local families or historians that might not be included in public records, like stories that have been passed down through generations, Richards said.
“You get into it, and you find out the things that happened in their lives, that were either wonderful or horrendous, you know. And so the whole goal was to make these people real,” Richards said.
Richards affectionately refers to the veterans buried at the Tolman Cemetery as “the boys.” She visits them frequently to make sure things are in order, both placing and picking up flags as the seasons change.
She may have never known them in life, but she’s committed to preserving their legacy for generations to come.
“It became a project of love, actually,” Richards said. “I kind of consider these guys family. [I’ve] been spending so much time with them.”