Ashbel Rowley served two weeks in the Army during a war probably best known for inspiring the song that became our national anthem.
But that was enough in 1855, when Congress loosened service time requirements for pension land grants to War of 1812 veterans, to get him 160 acres of rich land in Illinois for free. So at age 63, the farmer and carpenter moved to a homestead near what is now Kaneville with his wife and several children and lived there until he died in 1864.
Rowley is the only known War of 1812 veteran buried in the Sugar Grove Township Cemetery. On Thursday, in time for the June 18 bicentennial of the start of the war, he received another gift from the government: a granite veterans headstone, listing his rank and in which company he served. It came thanks to the efforts of his great-great-great-grandson, Mike Rowley of Iowa.
Rowley installed the headstone Thursday with the help of his son, Tim; Chuck Steck of Oswego; and Scott Steck of Chicago.
It stands at the east end of Rowley's original, horizontal gravestone, a marble one from which sun, snow, wind and rain have nearly erased the inscription.
Why did Mike Rowley bother?
"I just think he was a common man. He volunteered when somebody asked him to step up, and that's enough for me," said Rowley, a vaccination salesman and genealogy buff.
He has traced the Rowley family roots back to the arrival of the Mayflower. Members of the family have served during every U.S. war, he said.
Ashbel Rowley didn't live in Illinois when he served in the War of 1812. Born in 1793 in Nassau County, N.Y., he lived there until moving to Illinois.
He enlisted and became a private in Capt. Sherwood's Company, Yale's Battalion, New York Militia.
According to Mike Rowley, his service consisted of a 75-mile march to report for duty and the 75-mile walk back home. He saw no combat.
Ashbel Rowley married and had nine children. Some settled in DeKalb County near Waterman. Another, Enoch, moved to Illinois with him. Enoch was Mike Rowley's ancestor. One of Enoch's sons then moved to Iowa. (And on another branch of his family tree, Mike Rowley and the Stecks share a distant relative, buried in a Steck family cemetery in Pennsylvania.)
After placing the headstone Thursday, Mike Rowley changed into a replica 1813 dress uniform and posed for pictures. Rowley belongs to the General Society of the War of 1812 and its Iowa chapter. There are at least 438 War of 1812 veterans buried in Iowa, he said.
He admitted he is not much of an expert on the three-year war between Great Britain and the United States. It started when Great Britain, at war with France, blocked French ports and demanded that U.S. cargo ships pay a fee at British ports before continuing on to France, according to the Library of Congress website.
Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" after being detained on a British ship one night as it bombed Fort McHenry in Baltimore. First lady Dolley Madison was revered for grabbing a portrait of President George Washington on her way out the door when the British seized Washington, D.C., and burned down the White House.
Commodore Oliver Perry defeated the British navy in an epic battle on Lake Erie. Johnny Horton had a hit song in 1959 with "The Battle of New Orleans," about Gen. Andrew Jackson's victory in Louisiana. It is sometimes called the second War for Independence.
"It is sort of a forgotten war," Rowley said.