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Preserving history: Local DAR is spreading the word

History obscured is history forgotten.

No one knows this truth better than those who work to preserve headstones and monuments of those who lived and died to make American democracy a reality, and carried on the ideas and values that formed our nation.

The Shelter Island chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) has always worked to preserve the resting places of Islanders who were part of creating the United States. Part of that work is to keep their memories alive through physical markers that future generations can learn from and be inspired by.

“America250,” a nationwide commemoration of America’s 250th anniversary coming up in 2026, is part of the U.S. Semiquincentennial  Commission, which in partnership with the National DAR has developed a program to: “Engage youth through contests and educational programming, and support efforts to better tell the story of underrepresented and diverse patriots who helped to win the American War of Independence.”

Honorary Regent Joyce Bowditch-Bausman and Chapter Historian Karen Kiaer of the Island’s DAR have been out front on these efforts. Seven years ago, the Island’s DAR completed a “burying ground project at the Presbyterian Church’s  cemetery,” Ms. Kiaer said. “The project included preserving and repairing nine patriot headstones and tabletops. Three Islanders served in Washington’s first Provincial Congress. And, to my knowledge, we have the only Long Island tabletop for a woman, Mary Watts Nicoll Havens.”

The East End has mobilized to restore and therefore remember markers and headstones, Ms. Kiaer said, noting that the Southampton DAR chapter, with the help of a Gardner Foundation grant, recently completed the repair and restoration of 23 patriot headstones in the Sag Harbor Old Whalers historic burying ground.

“Shelter Island has three Patriots over there,” she said.

Ms. Kiaer has been on the road speaking to other DAR chapters, visiting five chapters, most recently in Wading River.

The point of her visits to the DAR chapters in our region, she said, is to challenge “them to locate the sites of their patriots and see that they are cleaned and repaired. The Long Island chapter of the Sons of the American revolution — my three sons are SAR — is donating signs to the completed projects where Patriots have been identified.”

The Long Island chapter of the SAR, along with conservator and historian Zachary Studenroth, are now trying to identify all Long Island Patriots, which Ms. Kiaer estimates at about 1,000 individuals.

“There are over 500 private family historic burying grounds on Long Island, and then there are all the municipal town historic cemeteries,” Ms. Kiaer said. “There are multiple lists for various towns, but calculating accurate numbers is a challenge. Many stones are missing or gone under highways and parking lots.”

With the America250 project underway, Ms. Kiaer and Ms. Bowditch-Bausman — who claims more than 100 headstones on Shelter Island related to her family — and the local chapter have been ahead of the game. On Independence Day 2021, the two women posted pictures around town, with identifying Patriot service information, as well as pictures of the Patriots and their early settler family homes.

“We will be in the cemetery again, this July 4th,” Ms. Kiaer said.

For more information, go to https://sites.google.com/site/shelterislandchapternsdar/home.