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Grave Matters: Mary Bird Lake

November 24, 2012
By Sharon Bopp ( , The Marietta Times

LOWELL-Buried in Rainbow Cemetery in Lowell in 1796, Mary Bird Lake is remembered today for her medical services in New York state during the Revolutionary War-and at Campus Martius in the Northwest Territory.

Born in Windsor, England, she and her fisherman husband Archibald Lake moved to New Newfoundland where Archibald plied his trade along the Grand Banks.

After Newfoundland came under French control, the Lakes moved to New York City. There Archibald found work as a fisherman and ship builder.

Article Photos

SHARON BOPP The Marietta Times
Scott Britton, executive director of The Castle in Marietta, stands at the gravesite of Mary Bird Lake at Rainbow Cemetery in Lowell Friday. Lake, a matron (nurse) in the Revolutionary War, established the first Sunday school in the Northwest Territory in the late 1700s.

"They were there (in New York City) when the Revolutionary War broke out," said Scott Britton, executive director of The Castle in Marietta and local historian.

That break out was the Battle of Long Island in August 1776. When Gen. George Washington evacuated the area, Mary Bird and Archibald Lake followed him.

Mary Bird Lake served as a matron, or nurse, at hospitals in Fishkill and New Windsor, N.Y.

"She was the 18th century equivalent of a modern-day nurse practitioner," said Bill Reynolds, historian at the Campus Martius and Ohio River museums.

Most likely, she also tended the wounded and dying at makeshift hospital locations, Britton said.

"We think of hospitals as static locations. Back then hospitals were wherever you pitched a tent," he added.

Reports tell of commendations extended from Gen. Washington to Mary Bird Lake for her services rendered to the Continental Army.

Mary Bird and Archibald Lake had eight children, although only seven of their names have been found in record books, according to Louise Zimmer whose radio program "Pioneer Past" airs on WMOA-AM radio.

"While all that was going on (Revolutionary War)-escaping with Washington across the river, working in hospitals and dealing with trauma-she was raising a family," said Britton.

Some history accounts say the Lakes came to the Ohio Settlement Company's Campus Martius because of Archibald Lake's war service.

Others say the Lakes moved from New York when the ship building business slowed down in the years after the Revolutionary War.

Mary Bird Lake's medical training proved very helpful during a smallpox epidemic that broke out in the Ohio Company settlement, said Reynolds.

She set up a "pest house," which would be a special ward like today's cancer ward, where all smallpox victims were placed to keep the disease from spreading, he added.

"Her bravery was such that she took care of these people. She saved a lot of lives," Reynolds said.

Mary Bird Lake also gained fame for establishing the first Sunday school in the Northwest Territory at Campus Martius.

"The story goes that she was quite a devout lady," said Zimmer.

"She was described by somebody as a 'lady of intense purity who wore all the graces of pure religion,'" she added.

When the pious Mary Bird Lake learned that some of the Campus Martius children were sneaking out of church and wading the shallow Ohio River to watch Sunday whippings of soldiers at Fort Harmar, she was offended, Zimmer said.

"She snagged those little darlings, brought them back to Campus Martius and sat them on sacks of grain in the storeroom" for Sunday school, she added.

Years later, a group of her Sunday school students raised money for a new headstone at Mary Bird Lake's grave-one that includes more information about her contributions during the Revolutionary War and the Sunday school classes she started.

After the Treaty of Greenville was signed in 1795 reducing the threat of Indian attacks in the area near Campus Martius, the Lakes retired to Rainbow (now Lowell) where Mary Bird Lake died in 1796.



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