O Shenandoah! Country Reckoning


O Shenandoah! Country Reckoning


By Don Silvius

High on a hill northeast of Route 55 between Strasburg and Lebanon Church is a beautiful little cemetery encircled by a black old-style wrought iron fence. This cemetery is known as Boehm Cemetery. To me it is as close as I can get to the genesis of my family.

From the vantage point of the little cemetery, one can see the tops of the hills to the West as they verge upon the Allegheny Mountains. On my memorable visit to this site, in the late summer of 1994, a thunderstorm had just crossed the valley, and clouds still clung to the top of North Mountain.

There are as many as 350 graves in this common burial ground. Most of the graves are marked solely with field stones, some with hand-carved inscriptions to commemorate lost loved ones buried there. More modern stones and markers are evident throughout the cemetery. Conforming with an old German custom, the burials are aligned with the foot of the graves facing toward true East.

The oldest known burial here is Elizabeth Boehm, who died May 10, 1783, but certainly some of the other field-stone marked graves are older. By the discernible names on the stones, this was a burial ground for, among others, German, Scots-Irish, and English families. At least one Revolutionary War veteran is buried here, John Bly, a sergeant in the 8th Virginia Regiment is memorialized with two markers. There could be several Civil War veterans buried here, since the mid-1800's seem to be the pinnacle of use for this burial ground.

One of the families that called this area home during this time was the Supingers. Descended from the Zuppinger family of Switzerland, the earliest established burial from this family was Conrad Supinger, who died October 30, 1813. Beside him is Mary Supinger, most likely his wife, who died January 30, 1817. These graves are marked with inscribed field stones bearing their names. A Supinger family member worked hard to memorialize his lost loved ones. At least one other generation of this family is buried here, William Supinger (2-April-1803 - 16-March-1881), could have been Conrad and Mary's son.

Boehm Cemetery would have to include members of the Boehm family. As mentioned before, Elizabeth Boehm is the earliest known burial here. Even her marker is an inscribed field stone. Abraham and Joseph Boehm, who died in 1813 and 1809 respectively, could have been sons or grandsons of Elizabeth. Mary Boehm, who died in 1934 also lies here.

Bakers and Stickleys are also buried here. The intertwining of these two families is well documented. Abraham Baker and his wife Tirzah, whose maiden name was Boehm, share a modern style headstone. The Stickley family is one of the pioneering families in this area. They are descended from the Stöckli family of Switzerland. Descendants of the Stickley family currently own the property surrounding Boehm Cemetery.

The most common surname in this cemetery is Mowery. At least four generations of Mowerys are buried in this picturesque cemetery. Fred R. Mowery (16-September-1788 - 4- April-1866) is the earliest with a marker. I would surmise that, since they owned property nearby, Fred's parents, Frederic and Elizabeth (Rosenberger) Mowery, and his wife Catherine (Supinger) Mowery also lie in Boehm Cemetery. Fred and Catherine's sons Cornelius and John F. Mowery were interred here as were their wives. Cornelius was a Confederate veteran who died 11-December-1861 after being listed as absent sick from his regiment 22-November-1861. There is no indication of the nature of his illness or the cause of his death. Another brother, Ephraim is said to have been captured as a prisoner of war on his own property during the Battle of Fisher's Hill. Ephraim Mowery died in 1864 at a prisoner of war camp in Elmira, NY, where he is buried. The wives and children of these three brothers were also laid to rest in Boehm Cemetery. The early deaths of some of their children is evidence of how life-threatening the process of childbirth was in the past for both mother and child.

I knew, before I visited this quaint little cemetery that I would find some of my Mowery ancestors here. I did not know that the Mowerys were just the tip of the iceberg that is my family tree. In addition to being descended from the Mowery family buried here, I have ancestors in this cemetery from the families of Boehm, Baker, Stickley, Supinger, and perhaps also Kline and Watson. Of the 80 plus marked graves in this cemetery, 45 bear surnames that are validated branches of my family tree. If only we could know the names of the others buried in unmarked graves here.

My trip to Boehm Cemetery in 1994, with emotions still running high from the birth of my first child, was akin to Alex Haley's search for Kunta Kinte. Only I didn't have to travel to Africa, just 40 minutes south on interstate 81, to be able to stand in the same place so many generations of my forebears stood. I could see the same countryside they saw and experience some of the same emotions they felt. It was as though I had traveled back in time.

If you have become disconnected from your roots, maybe you should try to get back in touch with them. The moment of re-connection is a great joy. The ties that bind us are eternal ties. They contain such power, force and influence, that once you are disconnected, the rejoining is like lighting up a city. For me, this day was like lighting up the world. Each person buried in Boehm or any other cemetery has a story to be told. Whether they were kings, soldiers or dirt farmers, all their stories are equally important.

Don Silvius works as a computer programmer, has been involved in genealogical research for about five years and has written approximately 150 songs, including all of the music for his wedding. A descendant of three families (Silvius, Campbell and Mowery) who have been in the Valley since at least the early 1800's, Don lives with his wife and two children near Inwood, WV on part of the property once owned by his great-grandparents. He's a graduate of Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, WV, and is active in his local Little League Baseball organization. Don can be reached by e-mail at DSilvius@bibfile.com .

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"Shenandoah Roots" © Don Silvius, 1997. All rights reserved.