Gravestone ceremony recalls Revolutionary hero's fight for freedom

By Genevieve Reilly

Samuel Smedley died 200 years ago, but local officials and area veterans gathered Saturday to honor the Revolutionary-era naval freedom fighter at his grave in the Old Burying Grounds for his service.

" `Taps' heard in twilight means the end of the work day, it's bittersweet to hear in the middle of the day," Roger Crossland, a retired captain in the U.S. Navy, said after a rifle salute to Smedley and a rendition of "Taps."

Smedley's headstone had fallen over in the historic cemetery, and with the help of Bill Lee, the town's historian emeritus, the money was raised earlier this year to restore the captain's grave marker.

Smedley, at age 26, was named captain of the ship, Defence, and is considered a local hero of the Revolutionary War.

He had enlisted at age 23 as a lieutenant of marines of the defense, becoming captain a year later. According to a book about Smedley by Jackson Kuhl, he survived smallpox, a shipwreck and was captured twice but escaped from prison. The two-hundredth anniversary of his burial was last June 13.

On hand for the re-dedication event was the honor guard from Port 5 in Bridgeport, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6940, which provided the military salute, firing rifles three times.

Crossland said he remembered that, as an ensign, waiting for deployment, his assignment was to act as the widow's escort during military funerals. "I often wondered then when I would again enter a cemetery in dress blues with medals," he told the gathering. "I'm happy this is a commemoration and not a mess mate's funeral."

Kuhl, whose book is titled, "Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer," said the headstone doesn't reference Smedley's service in the Revolutionary War, but rather his services as the customs collector for the district.

"I think Smedley and his fellow patriots really wanted to be remembered for their contributions," he said, but not during the war, bur "for what they done to improve and advance the Republic."