St. Mark’s and DAR dedicate markers at graves of founding patriot and formerly enslaved person

St. Mark's Episcopal Church, New Canaan, CT
Posted May 18, 2023

On Saturday, May 6, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, New Canaan, together with the Hannah Benedict Carter Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), dedicated two commemorative markers in St. Mark’s West Road Cemetery.

One marker commemorates Captain Stephen Betts, a founder and first Warden of the worshiping community that became St. Mark’s, and a Revolutionary War hero and patriot. The other marker commemorates Jesse Betts, a man who was an enslaved member of Captain Betts’ household and is buried alongside the Betts family in West Road Cemetery. With these markers St. Mark’s and the DAR recognize both the extraordinary contributions of Captain Betts to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and the Revolutionary War and his lamentable enslavement of Jesse Betts and others. The markers also bring new attention to the contributions of Jesse Betts and other enslaved members of the Betts household to the community.

Feather Blessing: Darlene Troge, Tribal Elder, Shinnecock Indian Nation, and CTDAR Membership Ambassador of Indigenous Heritage performs a Feather Blessing

The service included a feather blessing by DAR member Darlene Troge, Tribal Elder, Shinnecock Indian Nation, and CTDAR Membership Ambassador of Indigenous Heritage, in recognition of the indigenous peoples who first inhabited these lands.

Connecticut DAR State Regent and St. Mark’s parishioner Lisa Melland initiated the research on Captain Betts in the summer of 2020, and discovered his role as a slaveholder. That fall, the Episcopal Church in Connecticut (ECCT), St. Mark’s diocese, passed a resolution at its Annual Convention that “each parish … shall take steps to discover their historic complicity in racism through research of parish registers and archives.” At St. Mark’s this historical research and racial reconciliation work was already underway.

St. Mark’s Rector, the Reverend Peter Walsh said, “The whole process of coming to know the fullness of our history has been illuminating and sacred. In our partnership with the DAR, we have learned more about the particulars of the lives of Captain Stephen Betts and Jesse Betts, and we are grateful to be able to acknowledge the tribal peoples who inhabited the land where the cemetery now rests. To come to know them as real people is to bring them alive, and to bring them alive is to honor and love them as people of God. The commemoration day was so much more than we ever could have hoped for or imagined. It was holy. Christians believe in what we call the communion of saints, that great collective of souls that transcends time and space. On that dedication day I sensed that all the people of the Betts household and the tribal peoples were there in the power of the Spirit to join our prayerful commemoration, dedication, and remembrance.”

In a presentation to ECCT, Melland said of Captain Betts, “What I found out astounded me. I had never encountered such a prolific contributor to the American Revolution except for perhaps a very high-ranking officer like General George Washington. You just don’t see these stats—he fought in so many battles, signed a loyalty oath at Valley Forge, fought at Redoubt #10 at Yorktown.”

About the research, she says: “Any research I do has to adhere to the DAR’s exacting standards. It relies on primary source documents or secondary scholarly source materials…census records, legible gravestone photos, birth and death records, pension records, approved pension testimony” dating back to the 1700s to 1800s. A video The Story of Stephen and Jesse Betts was produced by the DAR.

In 2021 Melland chaired the Racial History Task Force at St. Mark’s with the Reverend Dr. Justin Crisp. The group produced a four-part presentation focused on the era 1760-1880. This is the first in a series entitled Stories of God, Stories of Race, and Stories of St. Mark’s, an historical exploration of the parish’s participation in racial justice and injustice.

Crisp spoke at the dedication about the difficulties humans have in holding two divergent ideas together at one time, and the societal propensity to see people and events as all good or all bad. “Christians have been the champions of going against the grain of this psychic and spiritual impulse: to acknowledge, as Martin Luther did, that we are simul justus et peccator — at once justified and sinners; neither solely good nor solely bad, but both at the same time” he said, concluding “Good though our ambitions are, our purposes here this morning are destined to be imperfect, and I suspect future generations will know them to be so in ways we cannot predict — for we and our communities today are made of the same crooked timber as Jesse’s and Stephen’s. But we commend them and ourselves to history, and more importantly to God, the only perfect Judge, as efforts (imperfect but genuine) to remember in the way the Psalmist says the Lord does: ‘Remember me according to your love, O Lord; and for the sake of your goodness.’May we and our world increasingly do the same.”

About St. Mark’s Episcopal Church:
St. Mark’s is a vibrant and growing Episcopal Church. St. Mark’s mission is to go and make disciples who live a deeper life in Christ, a more holy communion with one another, and a greater love for the world. All are welcome. The church is located at 111 Oenoke Ridge, New Canaan, CT and online at:,

About Hannah Benedict Carter Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution
The Hannah Benedict Carter Chapter is the New Canaan chapter of NSDAR. The DAR, founded in 1890 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., is a non-profit, non-political volunteer women’s service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America’s future through better education for children. As one of the most inclusive genealogical societies in the country, DAR boasts 190,000 members in 3,000 chapters across the United States and internationally. Any woman 18 years or older-regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background-who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution, is eligible for membership.

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Contact: Jill Sautkulis
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
111 Oenoke Ridge
New Canaan, CT 06840