Finding something to do
Local heroine of War of 1812 honored
By DIANE R. CHODAN
It’s not “written in stone;” but the metal plaque honoring Celea (Sampson) “Widow” Cole for her role in the War of 1812 is attached to a stone. This plaque, like something written in stone, is meant to be permanent and unchanging. It tells a compelling story of courage and tenacity.
On Sept. 26, 1812, some of the first shots of the War of 1812 were fired by soldiers from the British schooner Lady Prevost. A small boat carrying soldiers from the ship was sighted pursuing an American salt barge that had taken refuge at the mouth of Canadaway Creek. Widow Cole rode her horse to the settlement of Canadaway (Fredonia) to secure reinforcements. She reportedly also carried food and water for the soldiers and melted her pewter dishes for bullets for the American soldiers to use.
The official dedication of the plaque was held on Saturday, April 1 at the Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans Park. Windy, cold weather brought the dedication ceremony inside to the much warmer parlor of the lighthouse keeper’s home instead of outside near the actual marker. Attendance was impressive; the crowd overflowed to the rooms outside the parlor.
Present for the event were several members of the National Society United States Daughters of 1812, State of New York Society, the organization which provided and dedicated the plaque. Those who traveled to Dunkirk were: National Treasurer and NYC Chapter Registrar Ann Farley, 4th Vice President National and State Historian Mary Raye Casper, State President Beverly Sterling-Affinati, Charlotte Lasher, State Chaplain pro tem Elfreda Stangland, and State Chairman Doreen Cesari. The ladies came from several areas of New York State.
State Historian Casper researched the details about Widow Cole and the skirmish between the British and Americans. One source of information was an article by Pomfret Historian Elizabeth L. Crocker, which appeared in the Fredonia Censor on Thursday Oct. 29, 1959 and was reprinted in the program.
Casper wrote the text for the plaque as well as providing additional background during the dedication. “Heroic actions are often lost to history,” she said.
Local residents Terri Helwig and her son Matthew sang the national anthem for the dedication. Terri said, “I can’t reach some of the higher notes so Matthew does that part for me.”
Other local participants in the ceremony were Dunkirk Mayor Willie Rosas and Lighthouse Event Coordinator David Briska.
Rosas’ remarks were brief and to the point. He welcomed the National Society United Daughters of 1812 State of New York Society to Dunkirk and thanked the group for the plaque placed on the lighthouse grounds. He said, “I think that the job of a mayor is to stay connected and be involved,” he said before thanking the Dunkirk Lighthouse members for inviting him.
Briska declined to retell the story of the skirmish at Canadaway saying, “Mary Raye (Casper) has already told the story well.”
Sterling-Affinati and Stangland alternately read the official dedication. In part Sterling-Affinati said, “Nothing is really ended until it is forgotten. Whatever is kept in memory yet endures and is real.”
Briska later explained that members of the organization visited the Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans Park about two years ago. The group decided that the park was a good place to put the memorial, rather than at the official site located at Temple Street and Route 5 where there is a marker.
Briska said, “As part of our tour, we emphasize the story. It’s important and we want them to know all about that (Widow Cole and the War of 1812).” He said that about 4,000 people visit the lighthouse each year.
A good number of people attended the dedication. Some were members and/or volunteers at the Dunkirk Lighthouse. Others were members of other historical organizations or just interested in history.
The National Society United States Daughters of 1812 is a non-profit, non-political, women’s service organization for descendants of patriots who aided the American cause during the War of 1812. It is celebrating its 125th year.
Its website is www.usdaughters1812.org and lists seven local chapters located in New York State — the nearest the Niagara Frontier Chapter in Lockport. State President Sterling-Affinati can be reached at email@example.com for further information.