NEW DURHAM Cub Scouts combined history with community service by clearing out Colonel Thomas Tash's family graveyard. A dedication stone the boys cleared off calls Tash a town benefactor and Revolutionary War veteran, but he also served during the French and Indian wars and acted as town moderator and selectman.
Cathy Allyn. (click for larger version)
May 31, 2017NEW DURHAM — Caleb Croteau likes "helping." As a member of Cub Scout Pack 859, Tigers' Den, he has a lot of opportunities to do so.
Last week, on a cold rainy afternoon that prompted parents to put their boys in sweatpants and winter jackets, the pack helped out in an area of town that is rarely seen or spoken of. Tucked away in the woods behind a field on Old Bay Road is the final resting place of Colonel Thomas Tash, one of New Durham's most prominent early citizens.
"My wife and I were looking to kick off a small project for her den," Mark D'Entremont said. "We figured we could do some community service and clean up a cemetery in New Durham."
He checked in with Town Historian Catherine Orlowicz and it was decided that the Tash cemetery would fit the bill.
Caleb, and his fellow Cub Scouts Timothy Drake, Ryan D'Entremont, and Hunter Chase, along with assorted younger siblings and parents, were eager to get to work, despite the weather. Wearing boots and gloves, they scrambled across the field to the graveyard, dragging rakes as they went.
They stopped briefly to peruse some deer tracks and had a quick lesson on how to make a whistle from a blade of grass.
Orlowicz pointed out where Tash's house used to sit, at the top of the rise.
"Where?" the interested youngsters asked repeatedly.
She explained that the building was originally the parsonage for the town's first minister, and that when the Tash family lived there it was considered an elegant mansion.
Two stories high, it was beautifully furnished and had a porch to receive friends in style.
The family graveyard is located a short distance from the house, which burned to the ground after the estate was sold following Tash's death. It is not far into the woods, and four seven-year-olds, intent on a mission, found it quickly.
"We're here," shouted Ryan, excitement in his voice.
The kids began raking leaves before the adults even arrived. When those that covered the stone dedication laid at Tash's headstone in 1983 were swept away, Orlowicz read it aloud and explained who was buried there.
She had prepared a short presentation for the boys on Tash's life.
"They were attentive," D'Entremont said.
Tash was born in Durham in 1722, the eldest son of an Irishman who arrived in Portsmouth before 1718. He made the military his career, beginning as an Indian Scout, then serving during the French and Indian wars. He held the rank of major when he commanded a battalion of five New Hampshire companies in the defense of Fort Edward in 1757.
Tash's name is on the original petition for the grant of land for New Durham and called the first town meeting in 1762.
He served under George Washington during the Revolutionary War, and after that conflict, moved to New Durham from Newmarket in 1783. He was a selectman and Town Moderator, as well as a representative to the General Assembly at Exeter, which became the New Hampshire Legislature.
Orlowicz welcomed the opportunity "to share some of our history" with the scouts.
"We're nurturing future volunteers by sharing history," she said. "We need to know where we came from to know where we're going."
Tash died in 1809 at the age of 87. Did he ever give a thought that more than 200 years later, children would be clearing his family's graveyard?
"The kids were excited to be there, which was great, and they did a wonderful job," D'Entremont said. "They took out small shrubs and saplings, cleaned up, and replaced the flags. They had a good time."
When it was time to go back to the cars, everyone was cold and wet. Orlowicz made a point regarding the conditions Tash and his troops suffered through.
"Our time in the rain was nothing, compared to them," D'Entremont said. "It's good for the boys to think about what those men sacrificed and how hard life was back then."
"The clean-up was perfect timing, right before Memorial Day," said Den Mother Susan D'Entremont. "We'd like to make it an annual event."
Another project has risen from this outing. "The kids didn't realize that Tash Road was named after the Colonel," she said, "and they wanted people to be aware of the connection. So we're talking about doing a fundraiser for a sign that explains it."
D'Entremont said the Benjamin Berry gravesite is on his property, so his sons are familiar with caring for a cemetery. "Ryan knows all about George Washington," he said, "and here is Colonel Tash who knew Washington."
"He fought in a war," said Ryan, understanding that deserved respect. "We cleaned up trash."
Ryan is glad he's a Cub Scout. "We do good stuff for the earth."
"Scouting has been an excellent experience for our family," Andy Croteau said. "I know Caleb likes it, which is good."
Susan D'Entremont said the Cub Scouts are looking forward to getting more involved with the community. "We have some plans for that coming up."
The boys received a conservation badge for their work, and a history lesson about a member of their town. Walking back through the field watching their sons, their parents were aware that they'd gotten quite a bit more than that.