By MJ Hanley-Goff
On a blustery Saturday among the quiet greenery of Washingtonville’s historic cemetery, two of Orange County’s infamous Revolutionary War personalities were remembered. One for a murderous deed, and the other for his service for his country. Meet Claudius Smith and Major Nathaniel Strong.
A group of about 40 or gathered to view the unveiling of a special historic marker standing tall at the intersection of North Street and the entrance to the cemetery which commemorates the “many Veterans & Major Nathaniel Strong, murdered by Loyalists 1778.” Guests learned about the Major’s death by Smith and his men, known as the Cowboys in a reading by the Major’s “paternal 2nd cousin, 8 times removed,” Jill Moore. Smith, says Moore, was a devoted Loyalist and came upon the Strong’s home in the middle of the night, firing shots through the door, hitting the Major. As he lay dying, he identified Smith as the killer. Smith was soon captured, and with a trial held in Goshen, was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang.
Moore, also the chapter registrar for the Quassaick Chapter of the DAR, helped to spearhead the process of applying for the marker. “When I moved to Orange County from Ohio, my [family] tree happened to explode about that time at the Woodhull line, and in researching Colonel Jesse Woodhull, I found Major Nathaniel Strong's story. When I began volunteering on the Washingtonville Cemetery Committee, I brought up perhaps getting a historic NYS sign.” That was in June 2020, and just three months later, Moore along with Washingtonville’s Historian Linda Standish who worked with Moore on the project, were informed the marker had been approved.
The ceremony was held on May 1, coinciding with Washingtonville Cemetery’s founding by the First Presbyterian Church one hundred and sixty years ago. Standish opened the ceremonies with a welcoming message and handed the podium to members of the cemetery staff, the DAR and SAR representatives; among the crowd was Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, Blooming Grove Supervisor Robert Jeroloman, and Mayor Joseph Bucco. After the Pledge of Allegiance, remarks by Elder Hanora Sullivan on the church’s history, and a congratulations from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, the purple curtain was removed by Moore and Standish; representatives of a 124th New York State Volunteer Company, a Civil War Soldier re-enactor unit provided a military salute. After the unveiling, the group moved to the center of the cemetery for a prayer service at Major Strong’s burial place as a wreath and DAR marker was placed beside the headstone.
Applying for the historic marker is no easy task, says Moore. “We did have to provide primary documentation about the cemetery to show our founding date of 1854,” she explains. “We were lucky to have deeds and an original, dated 1855 map drawn by the Honorable Robert Denniston with the original plots laid out. We also provided a front-page story from The Whig Press by one of the church elders who discussed the cemetery and church right after it opened. He also mentioned some of the earliest burials which we were able to document with Find a Grave to corroborate the early dates. I think the ‘key’ was our three deeds…they'd be hard to dispute. For Major Nathaniel Strong's part, we used NSDAR records, Fold3 records, and relied heavily on the papers of General George Clinton where the coroner had taken testimony from the Major’s wife.”
The interest sparked by the marker has also been a boost for the local cemetery which Moore says, “was in dire straits financially.” She says, “It was felt there was no community interest in it or its history. We set out to change that about a year ago. We launched a website with a blog and a Facebook page where we share stories of the people buried there. The interest has been phenomenal,” and adds, “we're very energized to see more people now caring about the cemetery and taking an active interest in saving and preserving it.”
The Office of the Orange County Historian has been hosting gravestone cleaning training programs for the past five years and invite residents who have a local cemetery in need of help to contact Nicole Nazzaro at firstname.lastname@example.org . Please note that cemetery headstones require a special cleaning process, and everyday cleaning products and techniques should not be used.
MJ Hanley-Goff, freelance writer, enjoys writing about Hudson Valley history. email@example.com.