WELLSBURG - It may be one of the newer headstones at Franklin Cemetery, but the marker bearing the name of Maj. Joseph Gist serves as a lasting reminder of a man who fought not to preserve America's freedom, but to obtain it.
The monument to Maj. Gist will be dedicated in a 1 p.m. ceremony Saturday at the cemetery, with family members and others expected to be in attendance. Gist, who was born in Baltimore and served in a Maryland militia unit during the American Revolution, settled near what would become Wellsburg following the war. He died Jan. 22, 1803.
The ceremony, more than two centuries in the making, was coordinated by Jo McGinnis, a Lancaster, Ohio, woman who uncovered Gist's story while doing a favor for a friend. K. Haybron Adams, a retired history professor from Utah who is a descendant of the Gist family, asked McGinnis to help him with genealogy research.
This headstone at Franklin Cemetery in Wellsburg was erected in honor
of Maj. Joseph Gist, a Brooke County man who fought in the
McGinnis said documents at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling led her to search for farm land on Genteel Ridge Road in Brooke County once owned by Gist.
She had trouble locating the farm, and turned to the phone book to see if she could locate anyone named Gist in the area.
She hit pay dirt, and learned that Gist's and his wife Elizabeth's grave markers had been found decades ago on the Genteel Ridge Road property. However, the Gists' final resting place remains a mystery.
"Nobody knows where the actual graves are, because the headstones were found leaning against the spring house (on the farm) in the 1940s," said McGinnis.
McGinnis said at some point, someone moved the markers, now broken and barely legible, to Franklin Cemetery and propped them up against the stones marking the grave of Gist's grandson.
Very little is known about Gist's wartime service - only that he entered the Soldier's Delight battalion of the Baltimore County militia as a quartermaster on May 25, 1776, and rose to the rank of major before resigning his commission in 1781.
McGinnis said she's not sure what brought Gist to what was then known as Ohio County, Virginia (Brooke County formed in 1796 from Ohio County) but she believes he may have received a piece of property in return for his military service.
"At that time, a lot of soldiers weren't paid, they were given land," she said.
According to McGinnis, records also show at one time, Gist owned more than 1,000 acres of property in Brooke County, including the land presently occupied by Brooke Hills Park. She said Gist and his family once resided in the home where the park hosts its popular haunted house each October.
McGinnis said she's been working on plans for Saturday's event for about a year. The ceremony will include a prayer, a eulogy read by Adams and presentation of the American flag by the Air Force Honor Guard from Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
"I'm awful excited about this dedication ceremony," McGinnis said. "I'm hoping a lot of people will come out."
She said genealogy research has been a passion of hers for many years, noting she recently traced her own ancestry back to a man named Edward Doty - a passenger on the 1620 Mayflower voyage.
"There were a lot of records about him because he was always ending up in fistfights," McGinnis said. "When you do family history, you learn a lot."