CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine –– For Stephen Lyons, it started with bits of family history passed to him from his parents. A story about a father and his seven sons who all served in the same war. The Revolutionary War, the war that gave birth to this country.
Lyons, whose passion for history was forged during the time he spent as a U.S. Marine, wanted to know more about these service members, two of whom were his direct ancestors.
“I felt a sense of responsibility to honor them and their memory,” said Lyons, 55, of Cape Elizabeth.
While researching his family’s genealogy, Lyons discovered an article written more than 100 years ago by William Osborn. The article detailed the Revolutionary War service of George Osborn Sr., Lyons’ fifth great-grandfather, and his seven sons, including Michael Osborn, William’s brother and Lyons’ fourth great-grandfather. Lyons built on that article with his own research.
Lyons said he was amazed that one family could have such a large presence in the same war. He wanted to memorialize them, not just for himself but because of what they represented.
“If everyone did their genealogy the same way I did, they might find some of the same things,” he said. “This isn’t about me at all.”
On Tuesday, at Fort Williams Park overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, near the spot where the British Navy invaded nearly 240 years ago, Lyons got his chance.
With help from members of the Maine National Guard, the U.S. Marine Corps and representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, Lyons presided over a brief ceremony that detailed the services of his ancestors:
- George Osborn Sr., who entered service just two days after the first shots were fired in Lexington, Mass., on April 19, 1775.
- George Osborn Jr., the eldest son who followed his father into battle at age 22 and fought in the Battle of Saratoga, a pivotal turning point in the war.
- Peleg Osborn, who served from 1777, when he was 14 years old, until 1781 and later spent time aboard the frigate Alliance, which captured a British merchant ship from Jamaica.
- Michael Osborn, who was 18 when he enlisted in the Massachusetts militia and later served as a Marine in the Massachusetts Navy.
- Hugh Osborn, who served three years as a teenager and later became a Marine like his brothers.
- Thomas Osborn, who enlisted on April 21, 1775, with his father and fought directly under Gen. George Washington in five separate battles.
- William Osborn, who enlisted as a Marine with several of his brothers in December 1781 and died at sea aboard the frigate Alliance.
- John Osborn, known as Boy John, who was just 11 when he was assigned to his first ship in the Massachusetts Navy in 1779.
After Lyons detailed the service history of each man, a folded flag for each of the eight was presented to one of their living descendants, all of whom were either Lyons’ brothers or cousins.
In closing Tuesday’s ceremony, Lyons borrowed from President Ronald Reagan, who said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Lyons also said that honoring the sacrifice of his ancestors, and others like them, is the foundation on which future generations thrive.
“This isn’t about me at all,” he said. “I’m no hero. I’m just a messenger.”