The Col. Benjamin Cleveland Chapter, SAR, seated in Cleveland, TN, and named for the city’s namesake, was organized by Stanley A. Evans in 2003. The chapter was chartered and installed on 9 December 2003 by TN Society State President Paul Jordan and National Society Past President General (PG) Larry McClanahan. The founding president was Stanley A. Evans with a chapter membership of 29 regular members.
The chapter’s first interface with the community started with the chapter deciding at the first meeting in January, 2004, to partner with the Museum Center at 5ive Points in their upcoming “Patriots and Heroes: Veterans of the Ocoee Region” exhibit. President Evans was able to borrow from the National Society museum, three long rifles that were used in the Revolutionary War, a 6-pound naval cannonball, a fragment of Martha Washington’s wedding dress and other period pieces for the exhibit.
About that time the chapter secretary, Doug Carpenter, asked President Stan Evans, “Why can’t Tennessee have Patriot’s Day on April 19th, like several other states do?” Evans replied “Why can‘t it?” So Carpenter worked with the local State Senator and State Representatives on this effort, and the first year Governor Bredesen signed a resolution, passed by the TN House and Senate, to have “Patriots Day on April 19th in Tennessee”. But it was only for 2005! This was done four times, and the fourth time in March 2008, when Gov. Bredesen signed the resolution, it now meant that “it was permanent, that April 19th would be honored as Patriots Day in Tennessee forever!” As a result, each April the TN Society, Sons of the American Revolution is invited into the State Senate chamber in Nashville. The State President usually gives a stirring speech accompanied by the State Color Guard.
The young chapter quickly got more involved with the local community activities, including volunteering twice a year to work at the Nancy Ward gravesite; trimming, planting trees and shrubs, mulching and whatever was needed by the TN Park Service. During the first year the chapter presented Law Enforcement Commendation Medals to Sheriff Dan Gilley and Cleveland Police Chief, Wes Snyder; both later becoming chapter members. In September, the chapter presented the Fire/Safety Commendation Medal to then Cleveland Fire Chief, Bob Gaylor. And before the first year was over, the chapter performed its first Revolutionary War Grave Dedication, in the Snow Hill area. The Revolutionary War Patriot’s name was James Davis, who fought during the War with the NC militia. About 30 members of the Davis family attended this ceremony. Also assisting the chapter at the grave dedication were the TNSSAR Color Guard and Tennessee Society State President, the local Civil Air Patrol unit and the local American Legion Firing Squad and Bugler, who fired a 21-gun salute and played “Taps”.
As the chapter matured, it continued to interface with the local community. The local History Library, with director Barbara Fagen, was a big support to the chapter in helping work the genealogies of potential members, helping the chapter grow in membership. The chapter donated a 3-book set of the DAR Patriot Index to the library, and later on donated the SAR Patriot Index CD and the SAR Revolutionary War Graves CD as well.
For the next several years the chapter continued varied community efforts, several being the honoring of the Blue Star Mothers, the presenting of several Heroism Medals, being a major participant working with the Cherokee visitors from the Western Band, participating in grave dedications and Revolutionary War celebrations in Tennessee and surrounding states, conducting a local Revolutionary War Grave Dedication for Patriot Joseph Lusk at the Hannah farm in Bradley County, having a float with a large cannon in the Christmas Parade, being probably the first chapter in the entire National Society to present the EMS Commendation Medal, judging 4-H History Poster Contests, having chapter Color Guard posting the Colors in local Veterans Day and Memorial Days events, participating in youth contests such as CAR essay contest, National oration contest, JROTC awards and Eagle Scouts awards.
Other events present themselves, such as the commemoration of the 225th Anniversary of the Last Land Battle in the Revolutionary War, on Lookout Mountain. The chapter had seven members involved in the Color Guard unit at the presentation of a large bronze plaque and a larger number present. Another event was in 2008, when the daughter and granddaughter of Stephen O. Addison, the author of the biography of Col. Benjamin Cleveland, “Profile of a Patriot”, gave about 85 unsold books to the chapter. The chapter promised them that they would give one of these books to each school library in Bradley County and, at the same time, would give living history programs to every class available. Over a period of several months, these books were presented to each school library, and the living history programs were sometimes presented to as many as three or four available classes at a single school. A total of 44 separate living history programs were given during this period.
In December 2008, the Wreaths Across America program was initiated among several patriotic organizations nationwide, including the Sons of the American Revolution. The Col. Benjamin Cleveland Chapter members took the lead in Tennessee, selling wreaths and being part of the first formal Wreaths Across America program at the Chattanooga National Cemetery, participating in the color guard, the formal wreath laying and as speakers, which has continued each year. The chapter continues to participate in many similar patriotic programs as they appear.
A significant project had been undertaken from 2007 to 2013 by the Col. Benjamin Cleveland Chapter, which was the creation of a life-size bronze statue of Col. Benjamin Cleveland, which was recently placed in the new First Street Square Park. Initially, a committee was formed, that researched all the details involved and located a local sculptor, Josh Coleman, who was selected for this project. Several years of fund-raising followed to raise approximately $40,000 to fund the project. In the summer of 2012, the committee had raised all but a few thousand dollars. Being close to the goal, a contract was drawn up and signed by the chairman of the committee and the sculptor. So the work had finally started on the initial phase of the statue. The work on the statue continued on through various phases, until March 2013, when it was near completion. A raised base for the statue was then built by the City of Cleveland and finished off with stacked stone with two bronze plaques. The unveiling ceremony on April 19, 2013 had a large attendance of well over 200, with several past and present National and State
The Col. Benjamin Cleveland Chapter, at 10 years old, was definitely off to a great start. At the National Congress in Winston-Salem in 2011, the Col. Benjamin Cleveland Chapter was awarded the President General’s Chapter Activities Award as the BEST chapter in the National Society in our size-group! Also, at the National Congress in Phoenix in 2012, with the chapter in a larger size-group (over 100), it received the President General’s Chapter Activities Award again as the Best Chapter in this size group!!
Since our 10th anniversary, the chapter has had many other major accomplishments. This chapter is the only one in the State Society that honors deceased relatives of members by working the Memorial Membership program. The first Memorial Member was Paul B. Huff, World War II Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, and uncle of chapter member David May. Since Huff was inducted on August 11, 2013, the chapter has inducted the following seven new Memorial Members; Thomas C. Brock, Robert H. May, Lawrence F. (Scrubby) McDaris, Jesse A. Bullard, Robert H. Easterly, Jefferson D. Morelock, Jr. and Clarke C. Stamper. James F. Bullard, whose papers are awaiting approval, will be the ninth Memorial Member. These Memorial Members served in world wars from the Spanish-American War, to World War I and World War II.
The varied activities, with which the chapter has been recently involved, include judging the 4-H Poster Contest; the putting on of a Living History program in Continental and militia dress for fourth graders at Blythe-Bowers School; cunducting three grave dedications for Revolutionary War soldiers in one year. The first was for Joseph Lane at the Old Lee Cemetery. The other two were both conducted in one day, the first for John Sutton at 11:00 AM in the Concord Baptist Church Cemetery in Meigs County, and the second for Joseph Atchley at 2:00 PM in the Pisgah Baptist Church Cemetery, also in Meigs County.
In late December of 2014, members of the Col. Benjamin Cleveland Chapter were invited to give a Living History presentation to the local Sea Cadet unit at Signal Mountain. Three members were each in different attire; Continental, militia and colonial planter. Compatriot Jack Murphy, World War II Marine veteran of the South Pacific, held the cadets spellbound as if they were in a trance, hearing someone relate live stories, which for them , from a far distant war.
Now, in Tennessee, when someone mentions the Sons of the American Revolution, they instantly think of the colorful Color Guard uniforms which they have seen members wearing, all across the state. The Col. Benjamin Cleveland Chapter now has about 13 members who, in addition to local chapter events, participate with the TN Society State Color Guard and with the newly organized Tanasi River Brigade, which is the regional color guard, commanded by chapter member, John A. Clines. The Col. Benjamin Cleveland Chapter has continued to support these Color Guard efforts, and generously made funds available to purchase flags, flagpoles, bases and other items necessary for them to carry out their mission.
In March 2015, Col. Benjamin Cleveland’s own Compatriot Claude Hardison, as State President of the Tennessee Society, held his State Convention here in Cleveland, TN. It was a great success! National President General Lindsey Brock attended and was active in all events. On Friday afternoon, leading into the convention, PG Brock with President Hardison and members of the Col. Benjamin Cleveland Chapter along with members of John Sevier Chapter in Chattanooga, installed Charles Coolidge, World War II Medal of Honor recipient, as a new member and presented him with a War Service Medal, accompanied by a “special” certificate. The ceremony was conducted in Compatriot Coolidge’s office in Chattanooga.
Saturday afternoon, as part of the State Convention, a special grave marking was conducted in Niota, TN for Harry T. Burn, who was President General of the National Society, SAR in 1965. Burn was also the one who cast the infamous deciding vote for Women’s Suffrage. This grave dedication had several hundred participants attending, including a large Combined Color Guard, scores of TN Society State officers and officers from other state societies. Also present were members and friends of the Burn family. Chapter member and State Representative Kevin Brooks and other state and local officials were in attendance, including the Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Beth Harwell, who gave an excellent, well-received talk.
During the President’s banquet on Saturday night, numerous honors and awards were presented. A one-time special event, which has always been conducted at a National Congress, was conducted by PG Lindsey Brock at this banquet. Compatriot Ray Clapsadle, from Memphis, who was in bad health, was awarded the highest award that the National Society can give, the Minuteman Medal, by PG Lindsey Brock. All Minuteman Medal holders including chapter member Stan Evans, paraded under an arch of Color Guardsmen’s swords as part of the ceremony. This was most impressive!
The Col. Benjamin Cleveland Chapter has been declared by the past several TN Society SAR Presidents, as being the BEST chapter in Tennessee! The chapter has had the largest membership of all SAR chapters in Tennessee for the past five years! Presently the chapter membership stands at 210, having recently inducted 10 members in at one monthly meeting. A huge increase from the 29 members at its inception. With this track record who knows what the future will hold for this chapter!