The St. Peter’s History Committee is pleased to offer insights into the history of our church and churchyard so we learn about the people who came before us and brought us to where we are today. This article was submitted by Libby Browne.
In the fall of 2014, I was watching “Finding Your Roots,” the PBS series hosted and created by eminent scholar Henry Louis Gates in which he investigates the ancestry of a variety of people, mostly celebrities. On this occasion he had film-maker Ken Burns as one of his three subject guests. He had discovered that Ken Burns had a direct ancestor in the Colonial/American Revolutionary period named Gerardus Clarkson from New York, but showed a document signed by Clarkson relating to Pennsylvania Hospital. I nearly jumped out of my seat because I recognized Clarkson’s name as being buried in St. Peter’s Churchyard!
The University of Pennsylvania Archives website gives the following information about his life:
Gerardus Clarkson was born in 1737 in New York City, the son of Matthew Clarkson and Cornelia Depeyster. He was a student in the Academy of Philadelphia from 1751 to 1753, and later became a physician. Gerardus Clarkson, M.D. was elected in 1780 as a trustee of the University of the State of Pennsylvania and served until his death in 1790.
He was also active in the American Revolution as a surgeon, a founder and first treasurer of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and an advocate for more modern medicine. He was a vestryman of the United Churches of Christ Church & St. Peter’s.
Not only was I intrigued about this revelation, but I also knew I had a connection to Ken Burns. Tricia Lawlor, the daughter-in-law of my friend and fellow Cathedral Village resident, Helen White, is one of his editors at Florentine Films, his film-making company in New Hampshire. So I took a picture of Clarkson’s grave marker, in the section just to the south of the church building a few rows in from the walkway to the parking lot. Thanks to technology, I sent it from my phone to Helen, who sent it to Tricia, who sent it on to Burns, who promptly replied, “How sweet!” I invited him to come have a look, and when my daughter Katrina met him recently they spoke about this discovery and he said he’d really like to come see it. So who knows, maybe he will …someday. But even if he doesn’t, it’s an intriguing connection and glimpse into the life of a churchyard occupant.