by JOHN McKEEGAN, Home News Staff writer
EAST BRUNSWICK — Rain fell hard yesterday on the patch of trees where Revolutionary War veteran Jehu Dunham lay surrounded by future homes, while 20 people marked the plot for posterity.
The Veterans Day ceremony brought together Middlesex County and local historians to dedicate a headstone to Dunham, a member of the prominent Dunham family, who joined the Middlesex County militia in 1777 at the age of 15. But the ceremony honored all veterans as those people attending honored this one veteran.
Dunham’s grave, which had been vandalized and neglected, lies in the Obert Family plot on their former farm of Summerhill Road. The graveyard may contain the graves of more than 100 others, according to county historians.
The Rev. Dr. John Hayward of the First Baptist Church of New Brunswick asked God to join those congregated to honor the dead soldier.
We ask that you be present as we commemorate Jehu Dunham this afternoon,” Hayward said. “We ask that on this Veterans Day 1986 that we live for what he stood for."
The ceremony came after a five-year effort by Dr. Richard G. Durnin, commissioner of the county Cultural & Heritage Commission, to confirm with historical documents the existence of Dunham’s grave and then petition the U.S. Veterans Administration to commemorate this grave with a marker as they have graves of other Revolutionary War veterans around the country.
Jacqueline Brown Gerth, Dunham's great-great-great-granddaughter, came from her home in Gleview, Ill., with her husband, Floyd, to attend the ceremony. She thanked her U.S. Senators, Paul Simon (D) and Alan Dixon (D), who interceded to speed the process.
She said the ceremony was to honor not only Dunham, “but all men who have given so diligently.”
"What our forefathers fought for 200 years ago, we must still continue today," said Mayor William Fox, adding that veterans of the Vietnam War should be remembered just as bravely as those of other wars.
Middlesex County Cultural & Heritage Commission Chairman Estelle Goldsmith, who is also active in the East Brunswick Historic Society, remarked how many historic sites there are in the township. “East Brunswick Township has always been proud of this heritage,” she said.
Around the plot, piles of wood to build the more than 100 homes of the Summerhill Meadows development waited for workmen to come in dryer weather. Mud surrounded the wood and foundations of future homes.
Within the plot, on a bed of ivy, graves were marked by blocks of stone but no words. Only Dunham’s stone of whte marble, installed last Friday, had an inscription: Jehu Dunham, NJ Militia, Rev War, Sep 24, 1761, Apr 6 1842.
Members of the Middlesex County MilitIa 2nd Regiment flanked the headstone as local officials and Gerth filled in Dunham’s personal history between his birth and death.
Gerth said that Dunham’s father, Elisia, may have been the son of Ephriam Dunham and Phoebe Smalley, which would make Jehu Dunham a descendent of Rev. Edmund Dunham who founded the Baptist Church in Piscataway.
Dunham was born in Washington, N.J., now known as South River, and entered the militia on Jan. 1, 1777, right after the battles of Princeton and Trenton. His company was in the Middlesex Brigade and he went daily, with up to 40 other men, to watch troop activity around the British-occupied city of New Brunswick.
Col. Lou Force, who led the 2nd Regiment honor guard, said Dunham probably served under Col. John Nielsen, the commander of the Middlesex Militia starting in 1775.
In the spring of 1778, Dunham was ordered to Woodbridge and in the fall of that year he fought in the Battle of Springfield. He was discharged In the fail of 1778 but later rejoined and served until 1782.
He filed for his war pension on Sept. 11, 1832, in Middlesex County Court, and received $80.
In 1834 he asked for a raise in the pension. A friend, Runyon Barkelew, recommended the increase in a letter calling Dunham “true as steel to his country." Dunham received the increase.
“I’m indeed proud to be a descendent of such a man,” Gerth said.
Source: Home News, Nov. 1986