Memorial Day


Fairview Cemetery

Decoration Day, on Tuesday, May 30th, though uncomfortably hot, was celebrated by the citizens of Matteawan and Fishkill Landing, who showed their patriotism and appreciation of the service rendered by the soldiers in putting down the great rebellion. The band from Newburgh arrived, accompanied by a delegation from Post Ellis of that city. They were met by the Denning Guards and Excelsior Fire Company No. 1, and marched to Matteawan, where they were received by a delegation from Post Howland, No. 48, G.A.R., and Protection Fire Company, No 3 of Matteawan.

The procession went to the Catholic Cemetery (Old St. Joachim’s) and then to the Protestant Episcopal Cemetery (St. Luke’s) and “beautiful flowers were strewn upon the graves”. Fishkill Standard, 1871

This was the first Memorial Day in what is now the City of Beacon, organized by the newly formed Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.).

This week Boy Scout Troops 41 and 1, Cub Scout Pack 3001, and the Beacon Historical Society placed flags on the graves of veterans buried in Beacon’s Cemeteries.

On Monday, May 30th, at 10:00 Beacon will hold it’s annual Memorial Day Parade on Main Street organized by American Legion Post 203.

William Wilson, first Beacon soldier killed in World War I

Old St. Joachim’s Cemetery – Grave of William Wilson

Troop 41 Boy Scout places flag on grave of Roman Norris, a Civil War soldier buried at the Methodist Cemetery



A Cub Scout places a flag on the grave of Theodore Norris, a Civil War veteran buried in the Methodist Cemetery

St. Joachim – St. John Cemetery


Fairview Cemetery – Soldier’s and Sailors’ Monument

St. Joachim-St. John Cemetery

St. Luke’s Cemetery – Spanish American War veteran

St. Luke’s Cemetery – Civil War soldier


St. Luke’s Cemetery – Daniel Annan, M.D. – War of 1812

Spencer DeFreese – Civil War veteran – African American Cemetery

Cemetery Committee, Beacon Historical Society at Old St. Joachim’s Cemetery



Civil War Headstones

Roman Norris

Roman Norris

Roman Norris was a typical patriotic young man living and working in the village of Matteawan who was eager to answer the call of his country at the outbreak of the Civil War. His determination to serve proved to be beyond the call of duty …

Theodore Norris

Theodore Norris

At the age of 19, in the fall of 1861, he enlisted in New York’s 57th Regiment for a term of three years. Due to poor health, Norris was discharged from the military in 1863. In January of 1864, when his younger brother Theodore joined the Union ranks, Roman re-enlisted too, this time in the 16th New York Heavy Artillery. Soldiering again got the better of his health and Roman Norris died on June 26, 1865. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Methodist Cemetery on Beacon’s North Walnut Street. His brother survived the war and returned to Matteawan, where he worked as a hatter in a local factory. Theodore Norris died of unknown causes on November 16, 1867, and, like his brother, was buried in the Methodist Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

Robert Pickles

Robert Pickles

Robert Pickles was a 43-year-old emigrant from England living in Matteawan with a wife and family when, on August 8, 1862, he enlisted in the 128th New York Infantry. He was stationed in New Orleans, when like so many other soldiers in the Civil War, he fell ill to sickness. In the summer of 1864, Pickles was sent home on furlough to recover. He died in Matteawan on September 5, 1874, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Episcopal Cemetery, then known as “St. Anna’s.”

Spencer DeFreese

Spencer DeFreese

Spencer DeFreese was born in Orange County and grew up in Chester, New York. On September 23, 1863, he enlisted in Co. H of the 8th U.S. Colored Infantry. DeFreese fought in the Battle of Olustee in Florida. After the war, he settled in Fishkill. He died on July 18, 1875, and was buried in the “Colored” Cemetery on North Walnut Street in an unmarked grave.

… These are only four soldiers of the more than 150 Civil War Veterans who are buried in Beacon’s cemeteries. Many of this number, whose families could not afford headstones, had no marker on their graves. In 1879, Congress authorized government-issued stones for the unmarked graves of Civil War veterans buried in private cemeteries. Our community’s Howland Post #48 of the Grand Army of the Republic took charge of this project, identifying unmarked graves and applying for headstones.

The first group of 21 headstones—including those for the Norris brothers, Robert Pickles, and Spencer DeFreese—arrived here early in 1880 and set in place in local cemeteries that spring. The stones were of white marble, with a sunken shield in which the soldier’s name and unit appeared in bas relief.

“Sir:   The headstones applied for by me, also a couple I think applied for by Mrs. C. A. Norris have been set by the graves and give good satisfaction to the friends of the deceased soldiers.”

The headstones applied for by me, also a couple I think applied for by Mrs. C. A. Norris have been set by the graves and give good satisfaction to the friends of the deceased soldiers.”

Over the years these stones have deteriorated, or were damaged or stolen by vandals. Today, most of the original government headstones of 1880 are in poor condition, many are missing. The Beacon Cemetery Committee with the help of our community plans to replace these veterans’ headstones. First on the list are those of the soldiers mentioned: the Norris brothers, Pickles and DeFreese. The Veterans Administration will provide the stones free of charge, with either the soldiers’ families or the community paying the cost of installation.

The Beacon Cemetery Committee, thanks to generous donations, has raised the money to install the first four headstones.

We need additional support not only in raising funds to replace more stones help in identifying and learning  any local Civil War veteran who lies in an unmarked grave. We also would like to hear from anyone with an ancestor who was a Civil War veteran and is buried in a Beacon cemetery. Please join us in this worthy project.

Chancellor James Kent

“Here Lies Beacon’s Most Illustrious Son” reads the headline over the photo of a gravestone in the September 26, 1939, edition of The Beacon News.

Kent 1939 newspaper photo Kent 1939 newspaper article

The newspaper referred to James Kent, former Chancellor of New York and Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, whose modest gravestone lay fallen over somewhere in the oldest section of St. Luke’s Cemetery in Beacon.

James Kent, portrait by Alonzo Chappel, from Library of Congress website

James Kent, portrait by Alonzo Chappel, from Library of Congress website

Kent, however was not one of Beacon’s sons. He was born in Dutchess County, in Fredericksburg, which is now part of Putnam County and did practice law in Poughkeepsie, but he had little association with Beacon other than being buried here. His interment in our city came about when his son, William Kent, had the chancellor’s body removed from Marble Cemetery in Manhattan and moved to Beacon.
According to an article in the April 1873 edition of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record,

“Then, pious hands prepared a fitter resting place for him in the retired and beautiful cemetery attached to St. Luke’s Church, in the village of Matteawan.”

The Kent stone today.

The Kent stone today.

The article contains a further description of the grave as a

“… large white marble slab resting at four corners on four upright marble posts.”

The grave toppled from the posts sometime before 1939 and while the grave has been uncovered, there are, so far, no signs of the posts. The Beacon Historical Society plans to restore this grave.

James Kent had an illustrious career. He served as Chancellor of New York State, the highest judicial position in the state, from 1814 – 1823. He was the first law professor of Columbia University. Kent County, Michigan is named after him, because he represented the Michigan Territory in its dispute with Ohio.

The Commentaries can be found online. Click on the picture to link to Open Library.

The Commentaries can be found online. Click on the picture to link to Open Library.

He is known for his Commentaries on American Law, which generations of American law students studied and which is still available on Amazon.  Scholarships are still given in his name, and scholarly articles written about him and his writings. ITT Chicago-Kent College of Law is named after him.

In the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress, statues represent eight categories of knowledge. Chancellor Kent represents law.

James Kent - Library of Congress

James Kent – Library of Congress

Memoirs and Letters of James Kent, by his great grandson, William Kent, is available on "Open Library" - click on the picture to read the book

Memoirs and Letters of James Kent, by his great grandson, William Kent, is available on “Open Library” – click on the picture to read the book