Wayne County Wanderings: In Search of Jeremiah Osgood
Our adventure begins on a blistering hot, oppressively humid Wayne County afternoon.
The intrepid explorer David Stuart Edwards and me (his trusty sidekick) parked our car beside the Edwards Family Cemetery in Lake Ariel.
We gathered provisions, stopped to pay respects to our ancestors, then began hiking.
Dad led the way.
He grew up here and, even at the ripe old age of 39, knows this land like the back of his hand. We walked down a dusty dirt road and then out onto the berm of Rte. 191.
From there, we turned right and began the arduous climb up what was once known as “Morgan Hill” in the general direction of Hamlin.
Dad talked while we walked, sharing treasured childhood memories as they came flooding back.
Here was a grove of ancient trees he and his siblings used as a fort. There was an overgrown path that led downhill to a pond in which they swam on hot summer days like this one.
We'd only been marching for about a quarter mile when he stopped, took a generous swig from his water bottle and pointed.
“Let's go in right here,” he said.”
To the casual observer, there was absolutely no difference between this spot and any other along the road. It was all tall grass, pickers and forest as far as the eye could see.
Yet somehow, Dad knew instinctively that this was the place.
And so, as cars roared past … their bemused drivers wondering what the heck these two dudes were doing on the side of a busy road in 90º heat … we plunged in.
Into the Woods
Joseph Campbell is one of my favorite writers and thinkers. He taught at Sarah Lawrence College for nearly 40 years before dying at the age of 83.
Campbell is most famous for his pioneering research on world mythology in general and Native American folklore in particular.
His classic, “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” remains one of the 20th century's most influential books. In fact, George Lucas consulted him extensively while filming the original Star Wars.
One of Campbell's most important themes was “the hero's journey” in which we all seek to embrace our destiny via life affirming adventures.
So, I couldn't help but think of this quote as we passed from the sunshine into the shade:
“You enter the forest at the darkest point,
where there is no path. If a path already exists, it is someone else's...”
Dad fought through the underbrush and I followed in his wake. Looking back over my shoulder, I noticed that the branches seemed to close in behind us, acting a a natural portal between two very different worlds.
The woods were eerily quiet as we hiked in, the only sound leaves crunching beneath our feet and mosquitoes buzzing in our ears.
“Hmmm,” Dad mused as we hiked. “I was sure it would be right here...”
I guess now would be a good time to tell you the object of our quest.
Last year, when my Uncle Wayne was laid to rest, Dad had mentioned the existence of another small cemetery not far from the Edwards plots.
It had been owned by the Osgoods, one of Salem Township's founding families. He remembered its general location … and that there had once been an “Osgood School” in the same area … but, that was about all.
He and his brother Darrell both recall walking just a bit faster after dark when headed home past the “spooky old cemetery.”
We decided then and there to go looking for it the first chance we got. And so, nearly a year later, there we were in the woods searching for a forgotten graveyard.
While Dad looked around for remnants of the school's foundation, I hiked over to a small rise and clambered up, figuring I'd get a better view from an elevated position. Bingo!
Incredibly, the point at which we'd entered the forest was just 50 yards away from the cemetery.
We walked over and paused a moment to take in the sad sight. What once was a beautiful place has deteriorated almost to the point of ruin.
The stone walls that enclose the tiny graveyard are slowly collapsing into the forest floor. Weeds, briars and ferns strangle most of the approximately 20 headstones.
While it's undeniably peaceful and quiet, it's also sad. After all, this cemetery marks the final resting place of a genuine American hero.
Every good war story begins with intrigue and this one is no exception.
Jeremiah Osgood was just 14 when he enlisted in the Continental Army in 1776. His father, Daniel Osgood, had been killed by the British earlier that year.
According to his own testimony, Jeremiah joined up to “avenge my father's death.”
He served under General George Washington and survived that legendary, brutal winter of 1777 at Valley Forge. Jeremiah fought with distinction at the Battle of Germantown, but was captured and held as a prisoner of war for three months.
Osgood was eventually liberated and remained on active duty until 1781.
In recognition of his service to the young nation, Jeremiah obtained 400 acres in Salem on a soldier's claim. He began carving out a farm for his burgeoning family round about 1801.
Jeremiah lived to the ripe old age of 99, finally passing away Oct. 26 1857.
As we stood there in reverential silence … me with my rumpled old Mets hat in hand and Dad doffing his Phillies lid … several thoughts occurred to me.
There was a time when this was very likely the most important grave in Wayne County.
Jeremiah Osgood was a bona fide hero of the Revolutionary War. He fathered many children, established a thriving farm and lived to be nearly 100.
And yet today his crumbling headstone stands crooked sentinel over a mostly forgotten graveyard.
It's a fact that made me pause and reflect, another Joseph Campbell quote rising in my mind: “A hero is someone who has given his life to something bigger than himself.”
Jeremiah Osgood played a vital role in the founding of our country. He devoted his 99 years to the idea of a sovereign nation free from oppression.
He's a hero who deserves to be remembered with more than a fading epitaph and weather-worn flag.