-by Kelly Yacobucci Farquhar, Montgomery County Historian/RMO - Jan, 2007
You know those blue and yellow signs that you often see posted along the sides of the road? Sometimes you might be traveling at a speed just fast enough that you are unable to read all of the text on the sign. Those signs, known as historic markers, designate events or locations significant to the history of a particular area. Historic markers have long been a pet project of the Montgomery County Department of History & Archives, and specifically, the department’s “friends group,” the Heritage & Genealogical Society of Montgomery County.
In 1926, New York State, under the direction of the State Education Department, began the program of funding and erecting cast-iron historic markers along its roadways. According to an article by Philip Lord, Jr. on the New York State Museum website, (http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/research_collections/research/history/hismarkers.html) there were some 2,800 markers erected across the state from the start of the program until 1936 and state appropriated funding for this program appears to have been exhausted by 1939. After such time, any new historic markers have been erected through funding from private sources, such as the Heritage & Genealogical Society of Montgomery County, alumni associations, private individuals, municipalities, as well as the Governor’s Commission under Governor George Pataki. Typically, the funding source is cited at the bottom of each historic marker.
At the Department of History & Archives, we have been working on establishing a comprehensive list of all those historic markers in Montgomery County. This project, started by the late Town of Mohawk & Village of Fonda Historian Volkert B. Veeder, involved each municipal historian taking photographs and citing the locations of each marker in their jurisdiction. Those photographs, though not complete for each town, are a part of the photograph collection at the Department of History & Archives. Since his passing in June of 2006, Mr. Veeder’s project has been taken over by his successor, David Freeman who has traveled Montgomery County roads completing the list and making note of any markers in need of repair, repainting, and / or replacement.
One such marker in need of repainting was found on Denice Road in the Town of Florida. The marker commemorated the significance of Captain Samuel Pettengill, a Revolutionary War hero in Colonel Frederick Fisher’s Third Regiment of the Tryon County Militia who died at the Battle of Oriskany. While Samuel’s efforts and sacrifice contributed to the fight for independence from the British Crown, I was reminded of the strength and courage of his wife in a time of terror that should be remembered as well.
When her husband died at Oriskany in 1777, Elizabeth (Cline) Pettengill was left widowed with thirteen children. The bravery and courage that Mrs. Pettengill displayed in the years following her husband’s death, not only in the daily care of her family but also during the raid of Major John Ross and Lieutenant Walter Butler on Warrensbush in October 1781, can only be described as remarkable. The following story is quoted from an account of the harrowing ordeal as told to Robert M. Hartley by Samuel and Elizabeth Pettingill’s great-granddaughter, Rachel Pettingill Devendorf:
“One of the detachments sent out from the raider’s temporary encampment on Yankee Hill, as previously mentioned, was discovered approaching the dwelling of Mrs. Pettingill, who with her family was able to escape to the near-by woods. They continued their breathless and headlong flight until they reached a secluded overhanging bank along the Chuctenunda Creek. Here they hid in a cave-like recess in the creek gorge. But several Indians had trailed them, and with hushed breath the hidden family could hear them coming over the tinkling slate rock along the shore of the creek, searching for their place of concealment. Soon several Indians passed by – almost within touching distance, but they did not discover the terrified family as they lay huddled in the crevice covered by vines and branching hemlocks. As the sound of the Indians’ footsteps became less distinct over the crackling slate, the youngest child, a little girl, began to sob and cry, fearing the child’s crying would reach the ears of the retreating Indians, the dauntless, quick-witted mother grabbed her apron and smothered the cries of the child. Instant action was necessary, for it meant death for all the family if their place of concealment was discovered. Several minutes passed before the mother dared remove her hands from the mouth of the now unconscious girl. She was apparently dead, but by vigorous shaking soon began to breathe again. Towards night-fall, the family cautiously made their way back to their home, only to find their buildings burned with all their possessions. Family tradition is, that fortunately a stack of wheat had failed to burn although set on fire by the raiders, and it is related that the family lived in this stack of wheat during the early fall until they could build themselves within the cellar of their burned dwelling a make-shift shelter from partially burned timbers and poles, which they thatched and roofed with brush and straw – and here they lived through the hard winter of 1781-82. It is also family tradition that the undestroyed wheat in the partially burned stack contributed very largely to the family’s source of support during the winter.”
While there is no marker to remind us of the terrifying, and often tragic, ordeals faced by the colonial women left to care for their families and farms when their husbands went off to war, it is vital that their stories not be forgotten. Perhaps a marker is in order to honor Mrs. Pettingill’s struggle to keep her family safe.
The Heritage & Genealogical Society of Montgomery County, for the last fifteen or more years, has erected or replaced one or two historic markers annually in Montgomery County. The Society has developed a form for anyone wishing to apply to have a new marker erected or replaced within Montgomery County. Because each aluminum-cast marker typically costs around $750, donations to support this program are welcome. To date, ninety-six markers have been documented throughout the county.
For more information about the Heritage & Genealogical Society’s historic marker program or to become a member of the Society, please contact the Montgomery County Department of History & Archives, Old Courthouse, PO Box 1500, Fonda, NY 12068-1500, (518) 853-8186. A membership application form is available on the Department of History & Archives website at www.co.montgomery.ny.us/historian.