Ambrose Orvis and James Wilsey are unique residents of New Hudson Cemetery.
Of all the people buried there, they are the only ones known to have served in the Revolutionary War. Today, however, few people know these patriots who immigrated to the municipality of Lyon towards the end of their lives and died within four months in 1844.
“Most Revolutionary War soldiers are buried on the East Coast,” said Kristi Mulligan, historian of the Grand River Trail Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. “Some that have made it to the West are very special. Ambrose moved here in 1842 and James in 1838… We hope to draw attention to these two gentlemen. It’s something special to have them here.”
Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution chapters held pre-250th anniversary celebrations as part of the National Society’s effort to honor Revolutionary War soldiersth anniversary of the United States.
The historical marker with information about the soldiers is on each side of a 4ft by 2.5ft plaque mounted on a post in New Hudson Cemetery. A similar historical marker was placed in Highland Cemetery in May.
This will be the only historical marker of its kind in Lyon Township, Milford or Walled Lake, as Mulligan said, Orvis and Wilsey are the only two known Revolutionary War soldiers in the Grand River Trail Chapter area.
Mulligan recently received approval from the Lyon Township Board to proceed with historical marking, although significant work remains to be done. She is currently in the process of confirming historical information she has on the two.
Among the details she has learned so far:
Ambrose Orvis was born on January 7, 1758 in what was then the colony of New Hampshire. In 1776, at the age of 18, he volunteered as a musician and served for three months with a military unit working on roads and bridges in New England. Four years later, in August 1780, he got in touch again. He was a soldier in the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment and served at various locations in New Jersey. In January 1781 the regiment was called to New York “to help hold off the enemy and quell a mutiny”. He was released on February 10, 1781.
The following year he married Rebecca Galpin in Massachusetts and they had three children. Rebecca died around 1824, shortly after the family had settled in New York. In 1832, Ambrose Orvis claimed his Revolutionary War pension, and a decade later he moved to the new state of Michigan to spend his final years with his only son.
He died on August 30, 1844 at the age of 86 and has one of the oldest original headstones left in New Hudson Cemetery. Almost a century later, in 1935, the General Richardson Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a bronze marker on his tombstone to honor him as a revolutionary soldier.
James Wilsey was born on September 13, 1758 in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, New York. He was only about 17 years old in 1775 when he enlisted in the New York Militia. He served as a militiaman and scout for a total of about five months from 1775 to 1776.
In 1777 he joined a regiment that marched to the west side of Lake Saratoga in February, where timber was being collected before the ice broke. “The logs were then used to build a barrier which was sunk under the waters of the Hudson River to pierce and sink any British ships that passed over it.”
After his discharge in late 1777, Wilsey went on scouting parties until the end of the war in 1783.
Wilsey married his first wife Salley about 1791 and they had two children. Salley died about 1810 and six years later remarried Dorothy Benson Hutchinson, a widow 27 years his junior. They had three children together.
In 1832, Wilsey applied for his Revolutionary War pension in New York, and six years later he and Dorothy moved to Michigan to live with their children. James Wilsey died on December 11, 1844 at the age of 86. His original headstone in New Hudson Cemetery does not survive, but he has two replacement markers identifying his burial site, including a miliary headstone dedicated by the DAR General Richardson Chapter in 1956. Dorothy, who died nearly 30 years after her husband is beside buried him.
Mulligan has more information in what she calls the “simple” biographies of Orvis and Wilsey, but researching the history of individuals who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries is no easy endeavor.
Members of the Daughters of the American Revolution know this well, as they must prove their own parentage to be admitted to the National Society. The resources Mulligan uses in researching her own family history are similar to those she uses to uncover facts about the lives of Ambrose Orvis and James Wilsey. These resources include newspaper articles, community and district histories, and pension, census, and military service records.
Putting all the information together to create a picture of a person and their descendants is Mulligan’s favorite puzzle, one that holds endless fascination.
“It’s really cool to see all the things that had to happen to get you where you are,” she said. “A lot of misery has happened, and somehow you’re where you are now… The story is a mystery.”
Once Mulligan has completed her research on Ambrose Orvis and James Wilsey, she will submit the paperwork to the NSDAR in Washington, DC. She expects to get final approval for the marker from them by next spring, with installation in the summer or fall.
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