This weekend many of us will be celebrating the Fourth of July and celebrating our country’s independence. Two-hundred and thirty-eight years ago, the Second Continental Congress declared this country, now officially known as the United States of America, free and independent from Britain. What followed were eight years of fighting for this declared freedom.
With Elkhart County not being established until the 1830s, one might think there is no way the American Revolution could be connected to our community – but it can. Of the thousands of soldiers who fought for independence, some made their way west, where they lived, died and were buried here in Elkhart County.
Here are their stories.
William Tuffs was born in 1740 in Mystic, Mass., and as a child he moved with his family to Boston. His father was an innkeeper, and William worked in the inn while he grew up. As an adult working at the inn, he was witness to a number of meetings that took place between a group of men who were against the rulings of the British – particularly the number of taxes that were levied against the colonies. At age 33 Tuffs joined this group, known as the Sons of Liberty, and took part in the Boston Tea Party.
His patriotic duty did not end there. In 1775 he joined the Continental Army and served under Col. Benjamin Gill for a total of 90 days before being discharged. He reenlisted in May of 1776 and was given the task of transporting goods across lakes before he was discharged again in February of 1777. He would enlist a third time later that year as a member as member of a militia and would fight at the battles of Rhode Island, Germantown, Monmouth and Bunker Hill. He was taken prisoner at the Battle of Ticonderoga. After his release, he continued to fight and was part of the winter camp at Valley Forge. Tuffs also enlisted in the army during the War of 1812, which is amazing given the fact he was 72 years old at the time. He fought in the Battle of Lundy’s Lane in Ontario and was discharged immediately afterward. Tuffs moved to Elkhart County in 1839 and lived here until his death in 1848 at the age of 108. He is buried in Bonneyville Cemetery, just east of Bristol.
Jacob Lear served as a private during the Revolutionary War, but what he did prior to joining the army is what put him at one of the most historic locations in the founding of our nation. On February 12, 1777, Lear was appointed as the doorkeeper for the Pennsylvania General Assembly. His job was to make sure that members of the state assembly, housed in what we now know as Independence Hall, were protected. Philadelphia was under constant threat of invasion, as it was home of the Continental Congress. The city was captured in September of 1777, only seven months after Lear’s appointment as doorkeeper. He would later join the army and serve in the Revolution, as well as the War of 1812. It is not known when Lear arrived in Goshen, and it is believed he died in 1829 and was buried on his own land. To commemorate his service, a memorial stone was placed in Oakridge Cemetery on May 23, 1938.
John Edward Proctor
John Edward Proctor was born in Stafford County, Va., in 1752. He enlisted in the army in 1777 and served for much of the war. It is believed he took part in the Battle of Brandywine, the Battle of Cowpens and the Siege of Yorktown, which resulted in the the surrender of British General Cornwallis and brought an end of the war. After the war, Proctor moved to various states including Arkansas, Kansas, Illinois and Texas before finally settling with his son here in Elkhart County. He died on January 11, 1856, at the age of 104 and is buried with various members of the Proctor Family in the Heaton Baptist Cemetery, which was renamed Proctor Cemetery and is located west of Bristol.
Robert and John Cathcart
Robert and John Cathcart also served during the American Revolution, though very little history is known about these two. There is a record of a John Cathcart serving as part of the Ninth Battalion out of Lancaster, Pa., and it is believed that Robert served with a New Jersey militia from 1782 to 1784. Both men came to Indiana in the early 1800s and are buried behind the Elkhart County Historical Museum in a fenced-off area designated as a cemetery, which bears their name.