An honorable Connecticut African American Revolutionary War soldier
A Letter to My Great Great Great Great Grandfather Timothy Cesar
Now that I have discovered who You were after many years of searching, and I know what You did to help establish our nation, I want to publicly acknowledge your sacrifice and service in joining the fight for America’s freedom at a time when most Black people were still enslaved. Fortunately, by the grace of God, this was not your condition, which allowed your descendants the birthright to live and die as “free people of color.”
Sometimes I even questioned your reason for joining the fight considering that the outcome would seem to be more of an impossible dream than a viable reality for most Black people, whether enslaved or free.
But deep inside I believe that You believed that what You were doing would one day allow your children and their children’s children, including Me, to live in a country where the ideals that you were fighting for would one day become a reality!
I read that You trekked many treacherous miles from New Haven to your designated rendezvous point to join the rest of the Connecticut Regiments; and that You endured extremely harsh weather conditions during some of the coldest winters on record, all the while suffering from the lack of adequate shoes and clothing.
You faced relentless starvation from the constant lack of adequate food and water during and after battling the enemy at Stony Point and Monmouth Courthouse.
I read that the huts You and your fellow soldiers built at Redding and Morristown were bitterly cold and without adequate heat, light or ventilation.
And that your comrades and yourself had to take turns going out into the bitter cold on foraging expeditions to cut firewood to be used for cooking whatever you might find to eat.
But You were determined to keep up the good fight…or die trying!
Upon your death in 1822, an obituary notice published in a New York newspaper read:
“At New Haven, Ct. Timothy Cesar, (black) a revolutionary war pensioner, 80.”
And yet, despite public announcements of your death and acknowledgment of your status as a Revolutionary War Veteran, You were placed in an unmarked grave in a section of Grove Street Cemetery reserved for “strangers, paupers and colored people” with no one but God to witness your burial, the ultimate act of disrespect to any soldier.
However, I was determined that You would one day have an honorable “burial ceremony” and a headstone.
Therefore, in June 2019, over 197 years after your death, I wrote a letter to the the Department of Veterans Affairs and submitted a copy of your Discharge Certificate signed by George Washington’s ADJ at Newburgh in January 1783, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate signed by former President Barack Obama, requesting that a headstone be inscribed in your name and sent to be placed in the only public cemetery that existed at the time of your death in New Haven, the historic Grove Street Cemetery (aka New Haven City Burial Ground).
Once the headstone had been placed there, I contacted the wonderful members of the 6th Connecticut Regiment Re-enactors who enthusiastically offered to hold an official military style “Mourn Arms” type ceremony.
I proudly attended the ceremony on Sept. 14, 2019, in the historic Grove Street Cemetery and watched as Representatives of the David Humphreys Chapter of the Connecticut SAR placed an SAR grave marker and a flag by your headstone.
Starting this year your headstone will be included in the annual Fourth of July ceremony in Grove Street Cemetery!
Finally, You are forgotten no more!
May You now Rest in Peace!
Your Great Great Great Great Granddaughter, Katherine Overton
Dear reader: If you would like to watch a short version of the June 2019 ceremony that was captured and produced by the former Hartford Courant journalist and videographer Frank Harris III, which was posted to his You Tube Channel by the same name, please search for “Private Timothy Cesar” on YouTube.
Or you may check out shorter clips of the entire ceremony as posted on the 6th Connecticut Regiment Facebook page or their Website by the same name.
Katherine Overton, Cesar Family Griot (“One who tells the story”), lives in Ellicott City, Md.