FAIRFIELD — History is not forgotten here.
On Saturday, dozens of people came together in Rockbridge County to preserve the memory of one of the community’s founding fathers.
Capt. John McDowell’s final resting place sits within a more than 275-year-old family cemetery north of Lexington on U.S. 11 surrounded by a quiet field dotted with wildflowers.
But the hand of time has been slowly erasing the early settler’s simple headstone — leaving its carved inscription nearly illegible.
During Saturday morning’s ceremony, McDowell family descendants, neighbors and preservation advocates gathered to unveil a new marker made possible by donations and installed to prevent a piece of history from fading into the ether.
“We remember,” Timothy McDowell, a sixth-generation descendant, declared as he stood overlooking the hillsides that his ancestors once called home.
To keep history alive for future generations is to be part of a storied tradition that dates back to some of the earliest eras of mankind, added McDowell.
In Ireland, from where Capt. McDowell emigrated , it was once said that to kill a storyteller was one of the highest crimes because they played a vital part in safeguarding the country’s history.
“Thank you all for being a part of this,” he said during Saturday’s service. “Let us remember Capt. John McDowell and the foundation that he laid.”
John McDowell, born about 1714, made his way to America at a young age, and it was his skills as a land surveyor that eventually brought him to the uncharted region of what is now the Shenandoah Valley.
He built his family a log home, painted in shades of red, no longer standing but commemorated by a state historical marker erected near the cemetery.
He was buried in the private cemetery in 1742 after being killed in a skirmish between militiamen and Native Americans.
His descendants went on to become state leaders, including a governor in the 1840s, as well as lawyers, soldiers and pioneering doctors.
During Saturday’s memorial, the next generation of McDowells — his seventh-great-grandchildren — carried the colors in the opening procession. The event was marked by traditional bagpipe music, flowers and a three-volley salute fired by descendent Robert Gang.
More than 60 people gathered inside the low brick walls of the cemetery to pay their respects. That included representatives of groups such as the American Legion Post 126, Historic Lexington Foundation, Washington and Lee University’s anthropology department and the Col. Thomas Hughart Chapter of the Virginia DAR.
McDowell family descendants traveled from as far away as Colorado and New York state to take part. The relatives spent several days in the area touring historic sites and delving deeper into their family’s roots in the region.
The McDowell family cemetery itself once appeared at risk of fading from memory. Aging and overgrown, it was saved by a community push in 2011 to preserve it. The Historic Lexington Foundation now oversees its maintenance.
The family’s descendants rallied to raise the money for the new grave marker unveiled Saturday. Timothy McDowell, who lives in Denver, said the eroding inscription on the original headstone was like the fading voice of history.
“But that voice will not be faint anymore,” he added as the new marker was unveiled. “ We honor Capt. John McDowell today.”