816 North

Bringing the American Revolution closer to home

James Crowley’s tombstone at Crowley Cemetery.
James Crowley’s tombstone at Crowley Cemetery. Photo provided

How will you spend Independence Day? Will you be giving much thought to the reason for celebrating the holiday? Hopefully you will take time to reflect on the boldness of our forefathers and the life sacrifices which they made so we can be here today celebrating. For many, it may be just considered a vacation day from work. Perhaps the occasion is too distant in time and place? Sometimes, history is more fun and interesting when it is closer to home. Allow me to help you make a closer connection to your Fourth of July.

Many of the early settlers in this area had fathers who fought in the War of 1812 and grandfathers who fought in the American Revolution. It was rare that a Revolutionary War veteran settled in this area. Records show there are only 19 buried in Clay County. These patriots bravely fought to gain our independence from Britain. In winning our freedom they helped set up the opportunity for us to purchase the Louisiana Territory from France. The opening of this new territory enabled continued westward expansion into the area where we now live.

Each year we celebrate our independence with spectacular fireworks displays and family gatherings. For the past 4 1/2 decades, one of our more prominent celebrations has taken place in Clay County at Worlds of Fun.

Here is a little-known fact that I hope will better connect you to Independence Day: The area where Worlds of Fun shoots off fireworks was the farmland of one of our Clay County Revolutionary War veterans, James Crowley. Isn’t it interesting that one of the biggest Independence Day celebrations in the metropolitan area takes place on land that was first owned by a Revolutionary War veteran? There may not be a more fitting site.

James Crowley was born in 1764 in Henry County, Va. He served three tours in the Virginia Militia and Mounted Volunteers. He saw the surrender of Lord Charles Cornwallis and the British Army at Yorktown. He brought his family to Missouri in 1816 along with his brother John Crowley and his family. They came to this area around 1820 before Missouri’s statehood. After the Land Grant office was established in Lexington, Mo., James and John applied for Government Land Patients in Clay County. A large portion of the Worlds of Fun complex was built on land that was originally owned by the two brothers.

James’ father Samuel also served in the Revolutionary War and has the distinction of being the first patriot soldier fatality of the war. He was killed by Chief Cornstalk’s Shawnees on the morning of Oct. 10, 1774, just prior to the Battle of Point Pleasant. He and another scout encountered an Indian war party about two miles from the camp of the Virginia Volunteers. Samuel was killed and the other scout made it back to alarm the soldiers. In 1908, Congress passed a bill to fund a monument recognizing Point Pleasant as the first battle of the war and Samuel Crowley as its first fatality.

It is believed that James Crowley died in 1844. In 1914, a tombstone was placed in the Crowley Cemetery in his honor by a local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. This cemetery was originally part of John Crowley’s farm. Today it is located on the northern edge of Worlds of Fun. During our National Bicentennial celebration in 1976, the Clay County Historical Society placed a marker at the cemetery recognizing it as a Historic Landmark and in commemoration of Crowley’s Revolutionary War service. Although it is now believed that he was actually buried on his son’s farm in eastern Clay County, James Crowley’s service to our country is still worthy of celebration.

James Crowley would no doubt be honored to know that America’s celebration takes place each year on his old farm.

Keith Nelson is an eigth generation grandson of Samuel Crowley. His seventh generation grandmother, Mary (Crowley) Kimsey was the sister of James and John. Nelson and his wife, Dana, have lived a half a mile west of Worlds of Fun for the past 45 years.