A Fredericksburg man afflicted by a family cemetery desecrated just over three years ago found some solace on Saturday when a government-issued headstone was officially placed at his estranged relative’s grave.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Gordon Sileck. “I would have preferred to have the original stone in pristine condition there, but since it’s been destroyed it’s been fantastic.”
Since his early childhood in rural New York, Silleck has never stopped learning, preserving and honoring the memory of his very distant parents, all of whom are buried in the Wallace family cemetery in South Stafford, located in the Liberty Hall Estates subdivision off Truslow Road.
“It’s just an interest in history that I’ve always had combined with this cemetery,” Silleck said. “Who was buried there and what was their life like. It was the main attraction for me.
In the 1960s Silleck had an aunt who lived in Falmouth. Every year, Sillecks’ parents, Katherine Wallace and Sidney Bayley Silleck of Scarsdale, New York, piled Gordon and his four younger siblings into a Ford station wagon and headed south on US 1 to visit Agnes “Nannie” Wallace and her daughters at Clearview, the family estate. During these visits, one of Nannie’s daughters, who is passionate about family genealogy, would take the children to visit the old family cemetery, which in colonial times covered 975 acres of greenery known as of Liberty Hall Farm.
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Visiting the family cemetery located deep in the woods and surrounded by an old wrought iron fence, the children rubbed charcoal engravings from the white marble and sandstone tombstones to permanently preserve their images before time, the weather and age won’t take its toll.
Among those buried are Silleck’s great-great-great-grandfather, John Wallace of Fredericksburg, as well as Silleck’s great-grandfather, Samuel Gordon Wallace, a Civil War soldier who served in the 30th Virginia Infantry Regiment.
Decades later, when Silleck moved from New York to Fredericksburg after a career with the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in Connecticut, he returned to the Wallace family cemetery to find that the woods he once walked through as a young man were now bulldozed, leveled and cleared by a developer to make way for a collection of grand homes that has now become Liberty Hall Estates. To Silleck’s dismay, the bulldozers and their steel blades used in clearing land passed directly over the historic Wallace family cemetery without precaution.
“The earth had been dug about 4 inches and leveled all over the cemetery,” Silleck said in early 2019. and it looked terrible.There was a pile of debris containing marble and granite that could only have come from the cemetery.
Stafford County officials ultimately cited the developer for violating the county’s Cemetery Preservation Ordinance. In April 2019, officials sent the developer a notice including nine alleged violations for disturbing soil and vegetation near the cemetery and for removing concrete slabs, as well as the iconic black wrought-iron fence. The developer was also cited for headstones and footing stones removed from the ground and improper leveling of the land.
Although the developer’s attorney said his client did not move any headstones or damage the cemetery, the developer eventually agreed to piece together the broken cemetery to Stafford County’s satisfaction. But the end result did not meet Silecks’ expectations.
“I would give it a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10,” Sileck said. “I’m a bit disappointed that no one was held accountable and there was no accountability, but it all worked out.”
Silleck said the builder eventually installed a 4-foot-tall aluminum fence around the cemetery, and a plaque was also placed on the lot bearing the family name. Silleck said the fence and plaque “seemed like the cheapest thing (the developer) could do” and said the permanent damage done to some of his loved ones’ headstones allegedly by the developer was “incomprehensible”.
“[John Wallace’s] tombstone was standing when [the developer] took over, then it fell and now it’s just shattered to pieces,” Silleck said. “Of all the stones out there, a Revolutionary War patriot is the one that broke.”
Shortly after pouring rain passed over Hartwood late Saturday morning, John Wallace, the original owner of the Liberty Hall farm who died on May 4, 1829, finally received a new Georgia white marble headstone issued by the government with the help of six volunteers from Col Fielding Lewis Chapter of the Virginia Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.
Chapter member Seth Roderick said a 2019 Free Lance – Star story that reported Silleck’s dilemma at the cemetery prompted him to get involved.
“We wanted to do something to support Gordon in his efforts to remember his descendant,” Roderick said. “We came up with a few ideas and the most likely was to ask the Veterans Administration for a new headstone.”
Roderick, who said his chapter represents several counties in the area, including Stafford, said the group maintains a stockpile of brass markers to place on veterans’ graves, but the opportunity to place a marble headstone for a Revolutionary War veteran is a big deal for the chapter. members.
“We hope this grave marker will last for another 200 years to remember one of Stafford’s citizens and his contributions to his community,” Roderick said. “It was during a difficult time in our shared history which was the founding of the United States.”
Roderick said the process of getting the official headstone took about four months. He said a member of the chapter who was familiar with submitting the necessary government documents led the way, while other members scoured the Internet for relevant military service documents associated with Wallace.
“I logged in and retrieved proof of service for John Wallace from Fold 3 and other online sources,” Roderick said. “I was able to find copies of his original muster papers.”
During their search of military records, local chapter volunteers also discovered that Wallace had served in the Battle of Valley Forge from late 1777 to June 1778, and then in the Battle of Monmouth. He also camped at Middlebrook Encampment in Bridgewater Township, New Jersey, West Point, New York, and Smith’s Clove, a pass through New York’s Ramapo Mountains. He eventually joined the Philadelphia campaign, which lasted for a year, from July 1777 to July 1778.
After decades of caring for the cemetery while worrying about its future, Silleck believes the residents of Liberty Hall Estates will become loyal stewards of the hallowed ground and said several of them have already stepped in to help maintenance of the cemetery.
“During one of the storms a branch fell in the cemetery and they cleaned it up, so they’re watching over it,” Silleck said. “I think the HOA in the future will take care of that. It’s a great feeling.
Next month, the Roderick Chapter will officially dedicate the new headstone at John Wallace’s grave, which will also feature a brass Revolutionary War veteran marker. The August 14 public ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. and will include members of Falmouth’s Falls of the Rappahannock and Fredericksburg’s Washington Lewis chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
“We are all keepers of a rich and vibrant history,” Roderick said. “The founding generation pledged their life, fortune and sacred honor to freedom and their honor is our legacy. Remembering John Wallace and others like him is a small token of gratitude and a decent thing to do in the community.