Illinois DOES have Ties to the Revolutionary War

Ever since word got out that the Mount Prospect Historical Society was planning a huge Revolutionary War re-enactment as a fundraiser, staff members and board members alike have been peppered with questions about how that war relates to this area of the country.

In an effort to answer that question, Greg Peerbolte, executive director of the Society, has come across several interesting Cook County connections.

In a quiet cemetery just south of the Jane Addams Tollway at Arlington Heights Road lie Eli Skinner and Aaron Miner, two early settlers of what is now Elk Grove Township who were veterans of our war for independence.

Gravesite of Aaron Miner“Both Skinner and Miner lived into their 90s, and were listed among the first European settlers of the area,” noted Peerbolte. “By all accounts, Skinner enlisted at age 14, and because of his young age, was assigned to play the fife. Miner’s unit was under the command of General Washington at Long Island and White Plains.”

An even more interesting “story” involves in Lincoln Park. A sizable boulder that eulogizes a man named David Kennison lies near the Wisconsin Street entrance to the park. The boulder reads “In Memory of David Kennison, Last Survivor of the Boston Tea Party, who died in Chicago, February 24, 1852, Aged 115 yrs, 3 mos, 17 da, and is buried near this spot.”

According to a wonderfully thorough website entitled “Hidden Truths,” maintained by Northwestern University, researcher Pamela Bannos discussed the many problems with Kennison’s claims; including multiple spellings of his name. He arrived in Chicago in the late 1840s, and claimed to be present at a number of milestones in the American War for Independence, including the Boston Tea Party and the British surrender at Yorktown, even bearing a vial of what he claimed was tea from the event to substantiate his claim. As a result, he was the recipient of a number of benefits throughout his city and was given one of the city’s most elaborate public funerals yet seen at the time of his death.

The boulder monument was erected in 1903 by Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution groups. As early as 1914, public claims were made casting doubt on Kennison’s claims. One of the definitive pieces of evidence came in a 1973 essay published by Albert G. Overton entitled “David Kennison and the Chicago Sting.” Sifting through historic evidence including genealogy and pension records, Overton concluded that Kennison was almost certainly around 85, not 115, at the time of his death and while he served in the War of 1812, his involvement in the Revolution was nearly impossible. Overton lambasted many of Kennison’s public claims, many of which should have been obvious, stating, “Apparently no one ever questioned his ability to attend the surrender in Yorktown, while at the same time he was a captive of the Indians in upper New York state.”

Gravesite of Eli SkinnerThe Chicago History Museum retains several items related to Kennison, including the alleged tea dumped into Boston Harbor, which mysteriously transferred itself from a wax-coated vial to miniature golden sarcophagus sometime between 1982 and 1987. Overton concludes his paper with a sense of humor, while underscoring the importance of continued historical research: “Hopefully, this publication will sometime assist those who may be David Kennison’s true descendants, be used as an example of what can be found through proper research efforts, and amuse those who will appreciate the humor of the little old man who conned his way into history and stung Chicago for a most valuable piece of real estate as his final resting place.”

According to Bannos, research into the Kennison controversy continues to this day.

Anyone who would like to take their own closer look at aspects of the American Revolution should attend the Mount Prospect Historical Society’s “Colony & Crown” re-enactment event, May 14-15 in Lions Memorial Park, located two blocks south of Mount Prospect’s Metra Station. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (4 p.m. on Sunday. Admission ($10 for adults and $5 for children ages 3-13) will benefit the Society’s operating and educational fund.

If you can share more information about these men and their stories, contact Peerbolte at 847/ 392-9006 or info@mtphistory.org.

 

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