More About Monroe’s Revolutionary Residents

From a September 1978 article in a Belfast Republican Journal article written by Monroe resident (at the time) Ginny Rimm:

Peggy Liley: Unsung Revolutionary Heroine, or Myth?

Her grave lies in the far corner of a small country cemetery on Stovepipe Alley, surrounded by a white picket fence, sheltered by stately old elms and evergreens. The joint headstone is simple and fairly new, the information on it sketchy. “Soldiers of 1776,” it reads. “William Winchel, Peggy Liley.” Nothing more. Nothing to hint of the tantalizing tale handed down in the quiet village of Monroe for generations–a tale of a quadroon girl who who fled southern slavery, disguised herself as a man and joined the Revolution.

An official Revolutionary marker distinguishes the grave, but it honors only Winchel, described variously as a Lieutenant and as a Quartermaster. Despite the headstone’s plural caption no recognition is extended to Peggy, and the American flag placed on her grave each Memorial Day flies only in memory of Lt. Winchel.

Peggy’s name is not listed in the town’s cemetery records, either. Compiled during the Roosevelt years under a W.P.A. program, many of them have proven inaccurate, according to [Monroe] Town Clerk Vesta Rand. Mrs. Rand’s own ancestors are incorrectly listed in the wrong cemetery, for example.

Strangely enough, the Monroe W. P. A. records do included a listing for one “Moll Pitcher.” No cemetery location or plot are included on the card nor is there an enlistment date. But according to the card, Moll Pitcher “enlisted as a drummer boy.” She is described as “a colored woman.”

A real Moll Pitcher earned her place in history, carrying water to the fighting men on a Revolutionary battlefield and manning her husband’s cannon when he collapsed. Seh was born in Trenton, N.J., and died in Carlisle, Pa., a long way from Maine. There is no indication that she was black, enlisted as a man, or served as a drummer. Is it too far-fetched to believe that her tale might have become intertwined with that of Peggy Liley by a well-intentioned W.P.A. worker?

Attempts to unravel the truth have been fruitless so far. The Maine and Massachusetts archives have no record of a Peggy Liley and neither does the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where an intensive search was launched with the assistance of Congressman David Emery’s office.

“That search was probably the [cut off line] ered.” Emery aide Charles H. Smith said. The archivist searched under a dozen variations of spelling but found no trace whatsoever of Peggy Liley.

An Archives spokesman pointed out that information on individuals who served in that time period is extremely scanty because an 1800 fire in the office of the Secretary of the Army and an 1814 ransacking of the remaining records by the British. The absence of records in no way proves that Peggy did not server, he said. It simply fails to confirm that she did. And whaile she used the name of Peggy Liley in later life, it is conceivable that this was an assumed name, adopted to protect her from recapture and the punishment that would inevitably follow.

The late Wealtha Grant, ancestor of former Monroe resident Maude Getchell, now in her eighties had Peggy’s and Lt. Winchel’s remains moved from the paupers graves where they were first land to rest. She had them re-interred at the Harmony Place Cemetery. “My great aunt bought the headstone for them,” Mrs Getchell recalls. “I remember my mother, Bertha Neally, saying that Mr. Winchel and Peggy both worked for the Grant family back several generations.” Peggy lived in an adjoining farm, she says.

Peggy was als a quadroon, Mrs. Getchell recollects, who ran away from slavery and joined [line cut off]. “When her sex was discovered, General Washington took her into his group as an orderly,” she says. Peggy’s psalm and hymn book passed down through the family and today belongs to Mrs. Getchell. But while Peggy’s name is inscribed on the flyleaf, Mrs. Getchell doubts that Peggy herself wrote it. More likely, she says, a family member put it there.

The late Doris Gould of Bangor, a nurse, was closely acquainted with Peggy’s story. “Doris was fascinated by the story of Peggy Liley and always put flowers on her grave,” recalls her sister-in-law, Nina Gould of Belfast. She adds another spec of information — Peggy was in her twenties when she entered military service. “But this story has been handed down so many times! All Doris knew was what some of the older ones had told her.”

Doris Gould had written to this author about Peggy shortly before her death, saying she had “considerable other information” about Peggy’s life and Lt. Winchel’s and that of Ruben Ricker, another Revolutionary soldier buried in the cemetery who was also her great, great-grandfather. But like so many links with the past, this one is now severed and forever lost. “We cleaned everything out for trash after Doris died,” her sister-in-law explained. “But the information Doris had was mainly what she had been told.I don’t really think she had anything written down.”

“I don’t think I ever took the story too seriously,” Nina Gould added.

Nina Gould is not the only one with reservations about the authenticity of Peggy’s military career with General Washington. Bernice Giggie of Monroe, who succeeded Doris as head of the Harmony Place Cemetery Association, also suspects the story is “just a bit too fantastic to be true.”

“But who knows?” she shrugged, recalling that Doris Gould had said Peggy worked as a housekeeper for William Winchel and for others in the neighborhood doing various domestic chores. “I remember Doris saying that Peggy always wanted to die in her own home when she got too old to work out any more, and that she was taken in during her last days by a Mrs. Ricker.”

Peggy and the Rickers apparently had their occasional differences. The most extensive bit of writing unearthed to date about Peggy’s life is found in the 1955 yearbook of the former Monroe High School. While efforts to find out who compiled the information and where it came from also have been fruitless, it makes intriguing reading. Describing

two lonely gravestones side by side” it goes on to say there was “no intimate relation between the two persons buried there other than their activities during and after the Revolutionary War. They were not remembered for any great while after their death. William Winchel, hero of the Revolutionary War, fought under General Washington and after the war took up residence in Monroe. He lived here until his death. During his days here his wealth and standard of living declined and at his death he was a pauper. No headstone marked his final resting place.”

The other grave is Peggy Lily. Peggy was a quadroon slave in Virginia at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Upon escaping  from her master she joined the Continental Army as a drummer. After several years of service she was discharged and moved to Monroe. She supported herself with odd jobs and services for the townspeople.

Daniel Ricker and his wife befriended the dusky ex-slave as she had greatly admired the two,” the account continues. “It was her wish she spend her last days in the Ricker household and when her time drew near Mrs. Ricker took Peggy into her house and cared for her.

Lots of tales are told about Peggy’s bewitching powers. One relates to Monroe. One day Peggy was angry with Daniel Ricker and was said to have put a curse on his oxen. Daniel was bringing in a load of hay to the barn when for no apparent reason the oxen stopped, refusing to go a step further. A thunderstorm was brewing. The oxen stayed outside the barn until the storm was over and the hay was ruined,” the account concludes.

Despite the yearbook account’s comment that Peggy and Lt. Winchel “were not remembered for any great while” the story does indeed persist, and is familiar to many of the village’s older residents. Bernice Monroe, another member of the Harmony Place Cemetery Association, says that as far as she knows Peggy never married or had children. She believes that both Peggy and Lt. Winchel lived in “extreme poverty. But the people who knew these things are all gone now,” she points out.

Peggy’s life certainly appears to have been a fact. But as for her military career, it may have been embroidered a bit over the years. The account of Peggy’s “bewitching” powers smacks of it. For now readers will have to decide for themselves.


Pivot point for this idea

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