I had a chance to visit a distant relative in Connecticut yesterday. He’s long dead, but had a lot to say nonetheless. I met a few of his neighbors while looking for him, including a long dead United States Senator and several Revolutionary War veterans. One of them had a message for all of us. But first the man I came here to find: Henry Smith, or more formally and for all time on his headstone; Deacon Recompense Henry Smith, who died on March 7, 1804. Which meant he walked among the giants of the time – the Founding Fathers save for Benjamin Franklin were still alive, and Abraham Lincoln’s entire lifetime took place on Henry Smith’s watch. The United States of America was finding its stride in those years. It was an extraordinary time in our country’s history and a fascinating time to be alive.
Deacon Recompense is a position of distinction. To be a Deacon is to be a leader in your faith and in the community. Recompense means to compensate, and in religious terms it usually meant life beyond the grave as a servant of the Lord. So Henry Smith was a leader and revered as such in his community. That community is the Stafford and Tolland area, in the northern central part of Connecticut. Travelers between New York City and Boston by coach would have come through this community then on the Post Road, just as we do now on I-84.
In general Connecticut is not my cup of tea. Heavy traffic clogs the roads seemingly always, and drivers tend towards the crazy side. But there are lovely places here, and one of them was this place called Skungamaug Cemetery. This is a quiet place, but the whispers are strong here. Less than half a mile away is an archeological site where 7000 years ago Native Americans camped, hunted and left time capsules for the future. They surely walked on the land that is now the cemetery, just as those currently residing there may have in their time, and I did yesterday. Our time is fleeting, as the stoics would remind us. And it turns out Deacon Smith and one of his neighbors a few stones away had a little stoic in them. Each offered advice for me, and man they’d never imagine would be walking over their remains, but perhaps they contemplated someone like me reading their advice.
“The fate of mortals here behold
For young must die
As well as old
For refuge then
To Jesus fly
Forget this world”
– From the Headstone of Deacon Recompense Smith
Captain Ichabod Hinckley died in 1807 at the ripe old age of 72 (there must be something in that Skungamaug River water). Ishabod was a veteran of the French and Indian War and served in the 2nd Connecticut Regiment in the Revolutionary War, where he was stationed at Valley Forge and commanded a company of fellow Connecticut men. He offered his own message, even more stoic than my Great (x 5 or 6) Granddad’s, for those who would heed it. I found Ichabod before I found Henry. Had it been the other way around I’d likely never have met him. Perhaps the two conspired in some way to make that happen, so I’ll share his words here too:
Death is a debt
To nature due
Which I have paid
And so will you”
– From the Headstone of Ichabod Hinckley