OCPS Preservation Report -- Laura Palcisko, Harper-McArthur Cemetery

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The Burial Ground of
John I. Harper and Captain Orange McArthur
By Laura Palcisko

"When history becomes legend,
print the legend."
John Ford (film maker)

John I. Harper
July 10, 1774 - August 26, 1849

John I, Harper came from a long family line of pioneers. His great grandfather, James Harper emigrated from the county of Derry in Ireland and arrived with his family at Casco Bay in Maine in October 1720.1 After a war broke out with the Indians, James Harper moved with his family to Boston. James Harper's youngest son, John, the grandfather of Valley View's John I. Harper stayed in Maine for nearly four years defending the province before joining his family in Boston. He later traveled to Connecticut where he married Abigail Montgomery in 1728 and had eight children, their third son being Colonel John Harper (the father of Valley View's John I. Harper) who was born in 1734. In 1754 the family moved from Windsor Connecticut to Cherry Valley, Albany County in the province of New York.1

John I. Harper's father, Colonel John Harper married Miriam Thompson in Windsor, Connecticut.2 Colonel Harper became a land speculator and with his brothers in 1768 acquired a patent from the New York governor to purchase Indian Lands. They founded the settlement of Harpersfield on this newly acquired Indian land in Delaware County in New York.1 It is there that John I. Harper was born on July 10, 1774. He is believed to be the first white child born in Delaware County, New York.2

At age three, John I. Harper and his family narrowly escaped death. John I. Harper's father attained the rank of Colonel during the Revolutionary War as a patriot. On August 8, 1777, a detachment of 300 Tories and Indians were commanded to invade Harpersfield.1,2 An Oneida Indian in the invading party, who had been friendly with Colonel Harper in the past, slipped away from the camp during the night, and informed Colonel Harper of the planned attack.1,2 Colonel Harper put toddler John I. Harper, his wife and infant daughter on the only horse, and he and the other children all walked through the night in a heavy rain arriving to safety at the town of Sharon, Schoharie County, New York at noon the next day.1 Their home was burned to ashes the next day and the Grist Mill the Harpers had built was destroyed, but the family was saved.1,3

The Harper family retreated to Middleburgh in Schoherie County, New York, and from there John I. Harper was sent with his mother and siblings by his father to East Windsor, Connecticut to be with relatives.2 From there, Colonel Harper raced to Schoharie, New York where he gained his fame defending the settlement during the war in a 1772 stone fort that still stands and honors him today.2

John I. Harper's mother died in 1778. His father, Colonel Harper, remarried the widow of his brother Joseph who had died in 1782, Isabel McNight. After the war Colonel Harper, his father, and his brothers Joseph and Alexander returned with their families to the ransacked settlement of Harpersfield New York in the winter of 1783-1784.2

John I. Harper continued to grow up with the settlement of Harpersfield, New York. He married a woman named Amanda and they had a daughter named Hannah about 1810.4,5 His father, Colonel Harper died at Harpersfield New York in November 1810.6 In 1810 at age 36, John I. Harper and his brothers, Archibald and William left New York and came to Ashtabula County in Ohio.7 John I. Harper's uncle, Captain Alexander Harper, had pioneered the settlement of Harpersfield in Ashtabula County Ohio in 1798.14 John I. Harper's first cousin, John A. Harper, the son of his uncle, Captain Alexander Harper, built Shandy Hall there in 1815. Shandy Hall still stands as one of the oldest surviving structures of our region and is now a museum owned by the Western Reserve Historical Society. John I. Harper and his wife had a son Erastus about 1812 and a daughter Samantha about 1814.5

In October of 1816 at age 42, John I. Harper and his wife Amanda purchased 110 acres at the riverbank in Lot Two, Gore number 6 in the Connecticut Western Reserve, of what is now Valley View.4 The 1820 United States Census lists him in Independence Township as a farmer, along with his brother Archibald. One of their neighbors at that time was Abraham Garfield, the father of the not yet born President James Garfield.8 John I. Harper's brother Archibald died September 25, 1825.6

John I. Harper was elected as one of the three Trustees of Independence Township in 1834.9 Valley View was a part of Independence Township at that time. These are the oldest existing records of the Township, as earlier records were destroyed by fire.9 John I. Harper died on August 26, 1849 at age 75 and is buried in the family cemetery he had established on his property.10

Captain Orange McArthur
1811 - November 13, 1837

Orange McArthur was born in 1811.10 His father, Rial McArthur (who earned the rank of Colonel during the War of 1812) first came to the region in 1808 as a surveyor of the eastern section of Independence Township for the Connecticut Land Company. Colonel Rial McArthur returned to the area in 1833 and served a Postmaster.9,11

Captain Orange McArthur was one of two elected constables for Independence Township in 1834, the earliest records in existence. The other elected constable that year was Jonathan Frazee.9

Captain Orange McArthur died on November 13, 1837.10,12 A notice of his death appeared in the Cleveland Herald and Gazette Newspaper on November 16, 1837 stating simply "Died, at Independence, Cuyahoga County, on the 13th instant, Capt. Orange McArthur, aged 26 years".12 No occupation for Captain Orange McArthur was listed. Local oral tradition consistently states that Orange McArthur was a canal boat captain. The Ohio and Erie Canal opened between Akron and Cleveland in 1827 and one of four locks within Independence Township cut through the property of John I. Harper, whose land Orange McArthur was also buried on. Unfortunately, the earliest known existing records that include the names of canal boat captains date to 1839, after Captain Orange McArthur's death.

The Cemetery

The cemetery originated as a family plot on land purchased by John I. And Amanda Harper in 1816 as a 110 acre parcel east of the river bank.4,10 It was traditionally known as the Harper Family Cemetery or the Old Rockside Cemetery.10 John I. Harper extended its use to others. From 1825-1827 construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal cut through John I. Harper's property. Local oral tradition stated that canal workers who died of swamp fever were buried there.10

The cemetery originally was south of Old Rockside Road. Over the years, the neighboring public avoided the low, swampy road to the north of the cemetery by cutting to the higher ground on the south side of the cemetery, between the cemetery and the Harper home.11 Frequent use turned the south side of the cemetery into the road, which was realized when county surveying was done years later to clear land titles along Old Rockside Road.11

Some local oral tradition stated that there may have been as many as one hundred burials in the cemetery.11 About 1929, Garfield Heights resident Velma Matzger (1911-1984) recorded the inscriptions of the only four legible stones recording five burials of the cemetery for the Western Reserve Historic Society.10,14

The inscriptions were:

HARPER Our father John I. August 26, 1849
He has gone home
He entered the second sphere

HARPER Martha, dau of E.R. & A. Harper,
died _____ 31, 1851,
age 5 yrs, 7 m, 26 days

(Erastus R. Harper was John I.
Harper's son. His wife's name was
Amanda).5

McARTHUR In memory of Capt. Orange McArthur,
who departed this life Nov 13, 1837, age
26 yrs, 9 mos.

JOINER Ithraim and Samantha
Our Father,
He has gone home

He has entered the second sphere, October 23,1847

Our Mother
Her home is with the spirits
She left this sphere July 24, 1840

The Leader local newspaper (no longer in existence) carried an undated old photo on its January 5, 1995 edition that showed three boys standing next to the upright gravestone of Captain Orange McArthur.15 By May of 1989, photographs taken by local historian Dan F. Ostrowski show Orange McArthur's gravestone lying in the grass. John I. Harper's gravestone is the only stone standing.16 By 1998, only the bases of two stones, one being John I. Harper's remained. The cemetery was nearly extinct. Floods, erosion, farming and commercial development as well as neglect had taken a heavy toll.

In 2000 with new commercial development unknowingly encroaching on the burial ground, the Village of Valley View, under Mayor Randall Westfall enclosed the burial ground with a split rail fence. On April 26, 2003 the Bicentennial Committee of the Village of Valley View erected a sign and dedicated the Harper-McArthur Cemetery.

Prepared by:
Laura Palcisko
April 25, 2003

1 History of Delaware County, N.Y. with Illustrations, Biographical Sketches and Portraits of some Pioneers and Prominent Residents. 1777-1880. New York: W. W. Munsell & Co., p.217-220. Viewed at Fletcher Davidson Library, Delaware County Historical Association, Delhi, NY.

2 Those Rugged Hills and Green Valleys. By Evangeline MacLaury 1987. pp.2, 3, 10, 13, 14. Viewed at Fletcher Davidson Library, Delaware County Historical Association, Delhi, NY.

3 Delaware County New York, History of the Century 1797-1897. Edited by David Murray. William Clark, Publisher, Delhi, N.Y., 1898. p.158. Viewed at Fletcher Davidson Library, Delaware County Historical Association, Delhi, NY.

4 Cuyahoga County Deeds, July 10, 1810 -- March 16, 1830, Volume B. 392 Viewed at Cuyahoga County Archives

5 United States Census 1850. Independence Township Ohio Viewed at Western Reserve Historical Society Library, Cleveland, OH

6 Records of the Harper Family. Compiled by Jane Cowles Ford and edited by Carrie Harper White. The A.C. Rogers Co., Cleveland, 1905. p.38. Viewed at Fletcher Davidson Library, Delaware County Historical Association, Delhi, NY.

7 Guide to Records in Cuyahoga County, vol. II, Municipal Archives. Chapter, Independence Village. Viewed at Western Reserve Historical Society Library, Cleveland, OH.

8 United States Census 1820. Independence Township Ohio. Viewed at Western Reserve Historical Society Library, Cleveland, OH.

9 The Story of Independence. By Grace Miller, Elizabeth Spelman, Kathryn Boyer, and Robert Boyer. Independence Historical Society, Independence, Ohio, 1979. pp.33, 40. Viewed at Garfield Heights Historical Society, Garfield Heights, Ohio.

10 Cuyahoga County Ohio Cemetery Inscriptions, Part II., prepared by Western Reserve Chapter DAR, Cleveland, Ohio., 1978. pp. 40-41. Viewed at Western Reserve Historical Society Library, Cleveland, OH.

11 The Village of Valley View, Cuyahoga County, Ohio: Three Hundred Years of Recorded History. Fifty Years of Incorporation 1919-1969. By Valley View Founder's Day Historical Committee, 1969. pp. 13, 31, 32. Viewed at Garfield Heights Historical Society, Garfield Heights, Ohio.

12 Annals of Cleveland 1818-1937, 1837 Volume XX. Abstracted by: J. Young, I. Thomas, W. Kenney, F. O'Sullivan, Multigraphed by the Cleveland WPA Project 16823. Cleveland, Ohio., 1938. p. 88.

13 Carl Ehmann, Canal Society Secretary 2001., University of Akron Archives.

14 Norman Braun, Garfield Heights Historical Society.

15 The Leader Newspaper. January 5, 1995 edition., p.1.

16 Independence Township Cemeteries. Cuyahoga Valley Genealogical Society. Brecksville, Ohio., 1998. p.156.

Reprinted with permission by the author.
April, 2003

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