Settler cemetery visible from road
One of Rockford’s—then Laphamville—earliest settlers, Joshua Briggs, rested in an unmarked grave for over 100 years before research determined that his grave must lie in the family plot on the grounds of Myrtle Park Crematorium at 9619 Northland Drive. Briggs was recognized in a ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 16, surrounded by the aging tombstones of three of his children and their spouses as well as grandchildren. No longer buried in an unmarked grave, the life and death of Briggs is engraved on a new granite marker, which was unveiled during the Saturday ceremony.
Briggs was recognized by members of the Rockford Area Historical Society and members of the Daughters of the War of 1812 for his service as a soldier in the two-year war declared June 18, 1812. Without the fame of the Revolutionary War, the historic fight was also between the Americans and the British for our freedom as a country. Battles took place across the United States, off the Atlantic coast and as far away as the Indian Ocean and the coasts of Chili and Africa. Much of the fighting was right here in Michigan, in the Great Lakes and forts of Detroit and Mackinac/Michilimackinac.
“Many people don’t know about the War of 1812,” said historian Claudette Darling, who discovered the location of Briggs’ remains through research.
Darling said she and other members of the Daughters of the War of 1812 found Briggs and many other veterans buried in Michigan, whose graves were unknown or unmarked.
She said a book published in the 1960s on soldiers buried in Michigan had many errors or omissions. In honor of the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the war, the Michigan chapter of the organization hopes to prepare and publish a more complete volume on Michigan’s veterans of the war. Over 3,500 soldiers just from Michigan alone fought in the war.
Jim Kornoelji purchased property, which was part of the original Briggs homestead about 15 years ago. At that time the family burial plot was overgrown, although the stones could be glimpsed through the grass by drivers on Northland Drive. Darling said Kornoelji told her he had an archeologist examine the property to make sure the building foundation and parking lot didn’t go over any graves. Of the half dozen stones on the plot which remain, other unmarked graves were found around the property and it is unknown how many remains there may be in total.
During the ceremony, Rockford Area Historical Society Museum Director Pat Frye read the history of Joshua Briggs. He was born in New York in 1790, and according to his service records, was a private in the New York Twelfth Regiment, commanded by Captain Whitaker. After the war, Briggs was rewarded with the grant of property on the northern border of Laphamville, which was the western frontier of settlements. He came with his family in 1845, among the area’s first settlers. The land where the cemetery now stands was part of that original land grant. Briggs had six children, three of whom are buried with spouses in the cemetery. The other three are buried in the Rockford Cemetery. Briggs died September 23, 1873.
“We want to thank the Daughters of the War of 1812 for their project to identify all of the 1812 veterans whose graves are in Michigan,” Frye said. “Because of this project, Joshua Briggs was found so we could honor him. We hope he would be pleased.”
Darling said she doesn’t know if Joshua Briggs is related to the Briggs families which reside around the Rockford area today. “In the 1860s census, there were other Briggs who were about the same age. They could have been brothers or cousins, but we couldn’t bring the genealogy that far forward,” Darling said.
Judy Hall is president of the Michigan chapter of the Daughters of the War of 1812 and was also present during the ceremony. She said the organization is always interested in information regarding veterans of the war as well as members. She asked anyone who would like to know more about the organization to e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or give her a call at (269) 795-7756.