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Famous Revolutionary War veteran buried in Montgomery, PA

July 3, 2018
By JADE HEASLEY , The Luminary

MONTGOMERY - Nearly everyone in Montgomery has heard of Michael Sechler. The Revolutionary War veteran's final resting place is under a small, weather-beaten headstone in the Clinton Baptist Cemetery that reads: "Michael Sechler - Van Heer's PA. Dragoons - Rev War". Next to the grave is a marker given by the Daughters of the American Revolution that states: "Michael Sechler A Body Guard of George Washington Buried Here".

Beyond those few statements, little was known about Michael Sechler's life or military service for many years, that is until Montgomery resident, Larry Stout, decided to investigate the life of Michael Sechler and share his discoveries with the Montgomery Area Historical Society.

The Clinton Baptist cemetery is a very small one located near Saegars Station Road close to the railroad tracks. The Clinton Baptist Church was formed in 1830 and had services in a private home and later met at the Baptist School. The first formal Clinton Baptist Church building was built in the early 1870s, long after Michael Sechler's death in 1847.

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PHOTO PROVIDED

Montgomery Area Historical Society President Larry Stout stands next to the grave and historical marker of Michael Sechler, who served in the Pennsylvania Dragoons during the Revolutionary War. The Pennsylvania Dragoons were George Washington's bodyguards during the war. Sechler moved to Montgomery after the war ended and is buried in the Clinton Baptist Cemetery.

The peace and quiet of the isolated country church was shattered within a few years when the first railroad tracks were laid. The extreme noise and the safety concerns of having the railroad so close to the church led the members to sell the brick building in 1888 which was dismantled and used to build a private home. The congregation built a new building on West Houston Avenue and met there for about a century before building the Clinton Baptist Church on Warren Avenue. The cemetery is all that remains of the original location.

In the 1960s a young Larry Stout was walking the railroad tracks when he came upon the Clinton Baptist Cemetery. The plaque left the boy intrigued. The grave marker left young Larry wondering how anyone knew that there was a bodyguard for George Washington and why was he buried in Montgomery? During his younger years those questions went unanswered.

When Larry grew up, he left Montgomery and his work kept him away for many years. He served in the United States Air Force, went to college, earned a Ph.D., and served as a pastor, missionary, and university president. He had also gotten married and raised four children. But when he came back to Montgomery in 2006 he became actively involved in the local community. He joined the Montgomery Area Historical Society and eventually became its president.

Stout's curiosity about Michael Sechler had grown over the years, so he set out to research what he could about the life of the Revolutionary War soldier.

The problem for Stout was that while there are abundant resources on major military leaders like George Washington, it's very difficult to find information on individual Revolutionary soldiers who weren't famous. Taking the scant information on the tomb stone and using a combination of Google searches, resources in the Montgomery Area Public Library, and secondary historical sources, he began to fit the pieces together of what seemed to be an impossible task discovering who Michael Sechler was.

One of the first facts that Stout was able to establish was that Sechler's unit, the Pennsylvania Dragoons was a division of the military that was largely made up of German immigrants that were mainly from the Reading area. Unfortunately, the official government records pertaining to the individual servicemen in the Pennsylvania Dragoons are long gone because they were destroyed during the War of 1812.

The British invaded Washington, D.C. in 1814 and set fire to many government buildings. According to Stout, the archives were apparently burned in the process.

This tragic historical loss didn't deter Stout, so he set out to find any other available resources that could answer his childhood questions about Sechler.

The internet was unable to provide any specific information about Michael Sechler's military service, so he turned to the Montgomery Area Public Library to get resources to discover any remaining pieces of information about Michael Sechler's life. Through highly detailed history books Stout was able to discover that the Pennsylvania Dragoons were the foundation of the modern military police. The Dragoons served on horseback as George Washington's bodyguards and were split into two units. The elite guard served Washington in close proximity to keep him from personal harm. The rear guard served as Washington's eyes and ears and as messengers.

Sechler served in the rear guard for fourteen months near the end of the war and stayed with the unit afterwards and was serving when Washington was inaugurated as President, long after most of the other Dragoons' service had ended.

While the records of Sechler's military service were difficult to research, learning about his life after the war was an easier task. Sechler came to Northumberland with his brother after his military service was complete. He married a woman named Rebecca Lowe who was from the area. In 1802 they purchased a farm in Montgomery and eventually joined the Clinton Baptist Church. Both are buried in the cemetery in separate plots.

Stout shared his research with the Montgomery Area Historical Society in a Third Thursday talk. Although some of Sechler's records were lost, he was able to find enough information to satisfy his childhood curiosity that began years ago on the railroad tracks. He said, "I was surprised to find out how much information there was . . . I can now look at the sign and believe that a bodyguard of George Washington is buried there."

 
 

 

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