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Family restores ancestors gravestone

December 22, 2007|By DON AINES

Born near the end of the Revolutionary War, Overton Harne likely saw the rockets' red glare over Fort McHenry in 1814, and the retreat of Confederate forces from Gettysburg 49 years later, in a life that spanned most of the United States' first century.

Overton and his wife, Susannah, both died in 1873 and, though the tombstone that marked their final resting place in Rose Hill Cemetery became broken and overgrown in the ensuing century, they left behind a legacy of hundreds if not thousands of descendants. On Saturday a about four dozen of them gathered in the cemetery to dedicate a new monument, a totem they and their descendants can visit for the next century or two.

"If you get them all together, you'd have to have a fairground," said Ellen Smith of Hagerstown, a great-great-great-granddaughter of the Harnes. Last year a hundred or so letters were sent out to Harne descendants asking for donations to restore the old gravestone, which is incorporated into the new monument.

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Those relatives, some from as far away as Alaska, kicked in $3,645 for the project, Smith said. The result, standing between the Holzapfel and Startzman monuments, reminded Smith of the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were inscribed, with the weathered, reassembled headstone mounted in the new granite base.

"I was really heartened by the response I got" for the tombstone restoration, said Ed Harne III of Issue, Md.

"We don't know as much as we like to about Overton and Susannah," he said in his remarks to the family. He estimated, however, that the couple has 1,500 or so living descendants.

"Overton and Susannah, you have not been forgotten and we stand beside you today," the Rev. Paul Harne said before the semicircle of descendants.

Overton Harne was born in 1780, the son of John Harne III, a Revolutionary War veteran, according to a family history. Overton married Susannah Forest, the daughter of a circuit preacher and descendant of Jamestown, Va., settlers, in 1807. The same year the first of their eight children was born.

Horatio Harne, one of the couple's seven sons, served in the Maryland House of Delegates, Smith said.

Overton Harne was a lieutenant in Capt. George Washington Magee's Company of the 20th Regiment and took part in the defense of Baltimore from July 22, 1814 until January 1815. The company occupied entrenchments in what is now Patterson Park and would have been in view of the British Navy's bombardment of Fort McHenry on the night of Sept. 13-14, 1814.

Overton Harne's obituary listed him as the "Oldest Printer in Maryland," when he shed this mortal coil at the age of 92 years, three months and 28 days. But the list of occupations he practiced was quite long - newspaper editor, soldier, teacher, constable, deputy sheriff and junior judge of the District Court. In 1820, as a deputy sheriff, he was credited with the arrest of two slaves who murdered their master's wife, according to the family history.

Smith said the Harnes owned property on Virginia Avenue and might have lived there during the Civil War when this area was a crossroads from Union and Confederate campaigns. Paul Harne said the family has yet been unable to confirm whether the Virginia Avenue Church of God he pastors sits on the same site.

This family, like many others in Maryland, was also split in its loyalties during the Civil War, Paul Harne said. One descendant fought for the Union while another named his son after Robert E. Lee.

"I think it's cool I have famous ancestors," said Leah Bushman of Hagerstown, one of the youngest descendants. She is a great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of the Harnes, Paul Harne said.

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