Ellen Cook, Sandy Leonard, Mary Wagner and Johanna Livesay gasped when Regina Pinto described Henry Senter, her ancestor and a patriot of the American Revolution. Senter was 16 when he fought in the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, helping to coat the structure with lard so that British forces slipped and could be gunned down easily.
“You’ll have to tell that story at one of our meetings,” Wagner said while cutting a piece of apple cake. Cook, who invited her fellow members of the Jerusalem Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution to her Wantagh home for breakfast last week, rattled off surnames of her revolutionary relatives — Conklin, Nickel, McGee — before Leonard jokingly said, “Where’s the key to turn her off?” while stirring her tea.
“It was always talked about in my family — the history,” said Cook, who has been a member of the DAR for 57 years. “People don’t realize how much the war affected Long Island.”
That’s where the DAR comes in, Leonard explained. It was founded in 1890 in the Strathmore Arms boarding house in Washington, D.C. by Mary Smith Lockwood, who published the story of patriot Hannah White Arnett in The Washington Post after the Sons of the American Revolution refused to allow women to join their group; Eugenia Washington, a great-grandniece of George Washington; Ellen Hardin Walworth; and Mary Desha. The society now has more than 3,000 chapters around the world.
Since 1968, leaders of the Jerusalem Chapter have encouraged women from Wantagh, Seaford, Levittown and surrounding communities to discover their own family history and preserve it by sharing stories with neighbors and friends.
Bringing history to the community
Helen Strang, a genealogist, established the DAR’s Jerusalem chapter. Cook said the group was named to honor the first settlers who came from New England to the Town of Hempstead in 1643. A year later, Captain John Seaman and Robert Jackson settled in the Wantagh-Seaford area, giving it a biblical name because it had a large grazing area for cattle to the north as well as access to the Great South Bay.
Leonard, who lives in Levittown, has been the regent of the Jerusalem Chapter for 13 years. She is a descendent of Thomas Wills, was a captain in the 8th Virginia Regiment during the war.
Joining the DAR has become a Leonard family tradition. All four of her daughters are members, and her seven granddaughters all plan to join the local chapter.
“I don’t want my family to lose the lineage,” Leonard said. “I think this is a wonderful, wonderful country. We need to keep instilling in our young people what their forefathers sacrificed for them.”
Like Leonard, Wagner, of Wantagh, said that she joined the DAR in 1998 “after much harassment from my dear friend Ellen [Cook].” She thought the organization would give her the opportunity to share her love of her country and teaching with the community.