By Rick Hinton
There are nuggets of south side history sitting silently tucked away. Obscured from daily thought, they weather the years as one generation replaces another. And almost always, they have a story to tell. One such is the Round Hill Cemetery at Epler Avenue and Old Meridian Street (135) encompassing what was once two separate cemeteries and boasting the fact that John George — former Revolutionary War drummer boy for George Washington himself — is buried there!
George enlisted in 1777 at the age of 17 in the First New Jersey Battalion, initially serving his first three years in the war as the drummer boy for George Washington’s Headquarter Guard. As the story goes, he was a participant in the Maxwell Brigade and saw his fair share of action at Clay Creek, Brandywine, the battles of Germantown and Monmouth and the brutal winter campaign of Valley Forge. For George’s first three years he was private. Re-enlisting in 1780 he returned as a sergeant, was involved in the Battle of Yorktown and retired from Washington’s Continental Army in 1783.
Because of his service George received a veteran’s land grant of 100 acres. He chose Kentucky, marrying and raising a large family. When his wife died in the late 1830s an elder John George moved with his daughter and son-in-law Peter Stuck to Perry Township, living with them in a house just east of currently The University of Indianapolis. In 1842 he was interred in Round Hill Cemetery.
Round Hill Cemetery would have been in the middle of nowhere back in the day. The present peaceful ground was established in 1830 and has expanded throughout the years, also expanding that slice of historical significance: two other Revolutionary War folks and one Civil War veteran reside. Unfortunately, there are also markers that can no longer be read due to age.
What was a drummer boy? Musicians have played a role on battlefields for centuries. As noncombatants, they were generally younger, yet back in the days of the Revolutionary War, 16 was considered mature. And Militia service began at 16! Parental consent was not required until around the early 1800s. Drumming provided cadence and encouragement to the soldiers marching forward into confrontation. This carried over into the future Civil War, with drummer boys much younger than their predecessors. However, as the years rolled forward, the drum was replaced on the battlefield with a bugle.
There are several claims for drummer boys for George Washington; as there should be. You wouldn’t think there was only one drummer for the entire Continental Army. Alexander Milliner, buried in Rochester, New York, was a life guard for Washington’s personal security detachment. He was also involved in the campaigns at Brandywine, Monmouth and Yorktown. Frederick Hesser, drummer boy for Washington and buried in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, is another. Robin Englemen writes: “In a very real way, every drummer who served in the Continental Army was ‘Washington’s drummer.’ After all, the army itself was considered Washington’s. And they thought of themselves as such.” They, including Sgt. John George, may not have personally rubbed shoulders with George Washington himself, but that doesn’t make their contribution any less significant.
It was a rainy Saturday when I found the grave and those of “Stucks” close by. Even with Meridian Street close by, the cemetery was quiet and peaceful. It’s reported that in the 60s or 70s two boys claimed each had separate encounters in the cemetery with a man with “weird or strange” clothing. It was later determined the clothing was from the 18th or early 19th century. George? Who knows?
Special thanks to Indiana Spirit Quest, Michael Kallio, Arville Funk, Michael Aubrecht, Bill Cahn and Robin Englemen for information pertaining to this article.
Rick Hinton, a Southport resident, loves researching things that go bump in the night. His articles can be read on Facebook: Rick Hinton, Southport Paranormal Examiner. Hinton conducts paranormal investigations with his team, South Central Paranormal.