Brigadier General John Swift Cemetery
Wayne County, NY
Photograph Contributed by and
Church Street across from Catholic Church.
2005 Driving Directions - Rte. 31 West into Palmyra. Follow to the four churches. Make Right onto Maple Avenue. Cemetery is down road about 1/10 mile on the left. There are Historic Markers to mark the location near the roadside.
Barnes Cynthia, wife of John, Aug. 28, 1836, 50y 4m
WAYNE COUNTY HERO.
Movement to Honor Memory of General John Swift.
Who of all this region knows where is buried the man who saved this section from pillage in the War of 1812? He is scarcely remembered in name. He has been forgotten so long that even in history he is mis-called, and in the "Military History of Wayne County," carefully compiled as it was, his Christian name is wrongfully given and the hero of Wayne county at the time of the War of 1812 passes on as Philetus, although his tombstone erected by his family makes it John Swift.
There is a neglected patch of earth but a few steps inside from Palmyra's main street, within sound and sight of the trolley road, hedged in by dwellings, a road and a manufacturing plant, but withal so overlooked that it seems to be regarded as something uncanny or haunted. It is a grave-yard, perhaps the first burial plot of the county, for dates on the moss-grown headstones are as early as 1803. Buried there are men and women who redeemed the wilderness, hewed the forest and made the highways, laying the foundations of the country's prosperity, but their graves are trodden down, their tombstones fallen and their memorials slighted.
The grave of greatest interest to the antiquarian is that of General John Swift, whose energy and bravery saved the farmers of the lake shore from pillage and ruin when the British soldiers landed in 1813, and set about despoiling the stores known to be kept at Pultneyville and Sodus Point. General Swift gave to Palmyra the land where lies his grave, one acre of it, in 1792, on condition that the same be used for a cemetery and belong to the village. He clinched the condition by a clause providing that should it cease to be a cemetery it should revert to his estate. And there is where is found the reason of the seeming neglect of the graveyard.
No burials have taken place there for two generations at least. Shrubbery planted for decoration has thrived, and grown and tangled until it is like a jungle, and weeds flourish; bushes form a dense shade, and only boys and tramps ever visit the spot. Burrows through the undergrowth lead about the spot, showing that it is a playground for truants and a lair for juvenile outlaws. The old marble headstones have been pushed down until many lie around, broken and despised.
Offers have been made the heirs of Swift in recent years to give their ancestor's bones fitting interment elsewhere, to erect a suitable monument to the first and greatest man of the town, but one refuses to sign, and nothing more can be done. As gravel, the land is valuable to the village. As a cemetery it is a desecration. It is "no man's land."
Perhaps by chance - certainly not for reason of respect - as the inscription is scarcely legible, the gravestone of General Swift has escaped the fate of almost all the others and stands nearly erect, the weeping willow at its crown spreading out as if mourning for the dead hero lying there. Swift was killed in Canada in 1814, when 52 years of age. His son, as tells the next stone, had died the previous year, aged 25 years. He, too, had achieved something of military renown, for he was Captain Elisha Swift.
Tombstone poetry of the philosophical order was popular in that period, and if General Swift chose the verse which was to be inscribed on his son's headstone he certainly was not gloomy.
How blest is our brother bereft
A battered fragment of marble in this field of the forgotten announces cheerfully an intention.
Depart, my friends, dry up your tears.
The name on the stone is that of James Robinson, whose death in 1805 following that of his wife, Abigail, who died May 25th, 1803, aged 20 years, so soon that opportunity is given the imagination to picture the young husband; he was but 28 when he went, pining for his lost bride. Abigail's epitaph bids him come with:
Behold and see as you pass by
It is noticeable that so many of those interments were of men and women who died in the flush of youth. So many were just entering maturity. It would see that death smote the young more frequently than He does now. Children lie there, who, if they had lived, would now be senile, decrepit men, yet their headstones remain, mossy and defaced, speaking of their infantile charms as imperishable and unfading.
However time may treat the marble set over the grave of General John Swift, and however neglected may be his last resting place, he carved his name indelibly on the hearts of antiquarians and hero worshippers. Whence he came to Central New York is not recorded, but he purchased the town site of Palmyra, giving it a name chosen from classic literature and carrying with it doubtless a meaning that is lost to the present generation. A monument to the memory of General Swift would keep his beneficiaries reminded that it was not an accident that England did not recoup her lost fortunes in the War of 1812 in Wayne county and that perhaps the battle of Sodus Point was the crisis of the nations's time of peril.
***** There are two age and relationship discrepancies between the article and the cemetery list:
Swift was killed in Canada in 1814, when 52 years of age. His son, as tells the next stone, had died the previous year, aged 25 years. He, too, had achieved something of military renown, for he was Captain Elisha Swift.
Swift General John, born June 17, 1761 in Kent, Conn, who was killed by the enemy of his country, July 12, 1814, near Newark, Upper Canada, aged 52y 25d
From the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Saturday, August 18, 1923
Palmyra, Aug. 17.- An interesting feature in connection with the dedication of the General John Swift cemetery next Saturday is the fact that the monument will be unveiled by a great-great-grand-daughter of General Swift, Miss Edna Frantz, of Geneva.
A bronze tablet has been placed on the large boulder with the following inscription:
"In Memory Gen. John Swift. Honored by the State of New York as Soldier and Pioneer. Founder of Palmyra, 1790. Erected by James R. Hickey Post, No. 120, American Legion, and Citizens of Palmyra, 1923."
From the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Sunday, July 10, 1932
Palmyra Pioneers Rest
Palmyra, July 9- Men are now at work cleaning up and beautifying what is known as the Gen. John Swift Cemetery in Church Street. The grass and weeds have been cut down, hollows filled in, shrubs trimmed and a general improvement has taken place.
The eastern slope has been terraced, the wall is being re-pointed and refaced and a coping is being added. This eastern slope will be seeded or sodded.
Gen. John Swift donated the lot for this cemetery, which was the first in the village. It is just north of where once stood the Union Church, the first church here. In this old cemetery most of the pioneers, including General Swift, the founder and settler of Palmyra, were buried.
Members of the James R. Hickey Post undertook the task of clearing up this forsaken place and for many weeks during 1922 and 1923 the members worked diligently. The markers were cleaned and set in concrete. A flower garden was planted, together with shrubs which transposed this sacred spot into a place of beauty. On Memorial Day, 1923, five trees were planted and dedicated to the comrades who had fallen in the five great wars, Revolutionary, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish-American and World War.
A large boulder bearing an inscribed brown plate has also been placed on the grave of General Swift.
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Created: Sometime in 1998
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