Frontier Cavalry (part of the 26th New York Cavalry)
Finding Private Rufus George (1829-1887)
Co. F., Frontier Cavalry (26th New York Cavalry)
While shopping at the local farmers' market this summer, a Montpelier, Vermont, resident asked newly elected city councilor Greg Guyette what could be done about broken gravestones and overgrown trees and bushes at the Elm Street Cemetery, the city's old burial ground. Soon after the conversation, an article describing conditions at the cemetery appeared in the Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus. Guyette received more than a dozen telephone calls, and a Montpelier family responded by writing an ample check. City cemetery commissioners hired the Granite Corporation of Barre to repair the broken gravestones, and during August, September, and October Patrick Healy, city cemetery director, worked with his crew and volunteers to reclaim the grounds of the cemetery.
As a result of the publicity, a Marshfield, Vermont, artist contacted councilor Guyette to say she had a gravestone in her apple orchard engraved for Rufus L. George, who died in 1887, and she wanted to return it to the Elm Street Cemetery. Salvaged from under a bridge over the North Branch of the Winooski River after the flood of 1927, the marble gravestone had been used as an inking stone in a Montpelier print shop. When the shop closed after the ice dam flood of 1992, the artist was given the stone to use at her studio. After growing increasingly uneasy about using a gravestone in her work, she wanted to return it to Montpelier. Guyette asked Carolyn Stone, Montpelier resident and independent historian, for help. Stone, who recently published a history of the North Branch Cemetery in Middlesex, Vermont, suspected the gravestone was from Middlesex, not Montpelier. Confirming that the Elm Street Cemetery burial records do not include the George surname, Stone searched a North Branch Cemetery inventory compiled when the burial ground was moved in 1934 from the bank of the North Branch of the Winooski River to its present location above the Worcester Road. Rufus George, who died in 1887, and whose grave was marked by the Grand Army of the Republic, was among the names. Montpelier death records confirmed that Rufus L. George died on 13 September 1887 and was the son of Rufus L. George and Nancy Blanchard. Both father and son are buried in adjoining lots of the North Branch Cemetery, along with other family members. Vermont vital records and federal censuses supported the conclusion that the gravestone in the Marshfield apple orchard was that of Rufus L. George (1829-1887), son of Rufus and Nancy George, and husband of Abigail Jones. In September 1850, it appears that Rufus and Abigail, parents of an infant son named Charles, moved from Vershire, Vermont, to Middlesex. By September 1860, Rufus, Abigail, and Charles, now 10, and four other children were enumerated in Worcester, Vermont.
Stone also searched the microfilmed Records of the Adjutant and Inspector General (PRA 364), Vermont Military Records Project, at Vermont public records in Middlesex. According to military enlistment contracts, Rufus volunteered in Rutland, Vermont, for one year of military service on 3 January 1865. Muster rolls record Rufus L. George held the rank of private in the 1st Regt. Frontier Cavalry, also known as the 26th New York Cavalry, and that he was accredited to Worcester, Vermont. Rufus was born in Washington, Vermont, and had gray eyes, dark hair, and dark complexion. On 11 March 1865, his unit was moved from Burlington to St. Albans. Companies M and F were mustered out on 27 June 1865. Vermont Adjutant General's burial records confirmed that Rufus L. George was born in April 1829, served as a private in Co. F of the Frontier Cavalry, died 13 September 1887, and was buried at the North Branch Cemetery.
In 1870, 41 year-old Rufus George, a carpenter joiner, was enumerated in the federal census of Montpelier with Abigail and five children. Two young women, boarder Amanda Brown and seventeen-year-old May Humphrey, who was teaching school, were also in the household. In 1880, Rufus's 72 year-old mother, Nancy, was enumerated with them. According to the Argus and Patriot, 14 September 1887, Rufus L. George died on Tuesday morning, 13 September, leaving his wife and seven children. He had been "ill for several weeks, and his death was not unexpected." Some time earlier Rufus had been so badly bitten on the arm by a "vicious stallion" that his arm was amputated. It was believed that the "poison" that "entered his system" at the time of the bite was a significant cause of his death.
Thinking that the gravestone carved to mark the burial place of Rufus L. George had washed from the original North Branch Cemetery during the destructive flood of 1927, Stone asked for help from two members of the cemetery association to return it. With the assistance of the Marshfield artist, the marble slab was loaded into the trunk of a car and returned to Middlesex, but it was soon clear there was a problem. Initially, it was thought the gravestone was missing from an existing foundation in the cemetery, but that was not the case. Everyone agreed there was no stone missing from either of the George lots, or any other location in the cemetery. Records from 1934 revealed that while fourteen graves were washed away from the original cemetery during the flood of 1927, the George name was not among those burials. Also, the detailed cemetery inventory described the gravestones of Rufus L. George and his father as "large" and carved from Scotch granite! Scotch granite is found in a variety of colors, including gray, but the George monuments were carved from distinctive red Scotch granite. So, how did the gravestone of Rufus L. George wash from the North Branch Cemetery to beneath a Montpelier bridge during the flood of 1927? The answer is that the stone was already in Montpelier, not Middlesex, when the flood occurred.
Gravestone style has changed to reflect the fashion, culture, taste, and beliefs of the times. As the George family grew in size and prosperity, the large Scotch granite monument was erected and the old marble gravestone removed. When the new Scotch granite stones were set, very likely between 1910 and 1920, the marble stone would have been removed as a courtesy by the monument company, or taken to serve as a pattern in reproducing the engraving on the new stone. The old stone was probably stored in a Montpelier or Wrightsville granite shed, washed away by the powerful floodwaters in 1927, and came to rest beneath the bridge.
It is interesting to speculate why the George family chose red Scotch granite rather than Barre granite. Perhaps they had a cultural connection to Scotland. The elder Rufus George's (1803-1857) birthplace is recorded as Washington, Vermont, but it isn't known where his father, Asa George, was born. Perhaps he came from Scotland, or perhaps the red Scotch granite was simply preferred by the family to Barre gray. Whether red granite from Scotland or gray granite from Vermont, in 2004, 117 years after the death of Pvt. Rufus L. George, his life and service are remembered and honored.
Carolyn Stone, Independent Historian