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Relatives of Revolutionary War hero reunite for grave marking ceremony

By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

MIDDLETOWN -- In describing how he's trying to get his 11-year-old son interested in history, Dan Tullos unknowingly depicted the transformation Tom Chrisman went through not too long ago.

Tullos, his son, Ian, and Chrisman were among about 100 people at Long Meadow Farm Saturday for a grave marking ceremony honoring Maj. Isaac Hite, a Revolutionary War hero who built his own estate at Belle Grove Plantation. The ceremony was a part of the Hite Family Reunion, which takes place every three years.

Tullos, of Searcy, Ark., has attended reunions since 1982, six years after they first started. But now, it's more about getting his son interested and feeling a link to history.

"History is somewhat academic," Tullos said. "There are so many facts, and you wonder, 'Why did I have to learn about that?' But if there's a connection, you can say, 'I've heard about that, I've seen that.'"

For most of his life, Chrisman, of Dunwoody, Ga., never felt such a connection. Out of nowhere three years ago, another Tom Chrisman, who was from Santa Fe, N.M., tracked Chrisman down, informing him that he had Virginia roots, specifically pertaining to Jost Hite, Isaac Hite's grandfather who was born at Long Meadow.

"Since that one phone call, my life has not been the same," Chrisman said.

He now cannot get enough of his heritage, and jokes that he would have slept less in class and not gotten a "D" in American history had he known his link to the past -- Isaac Hite. Among Hite's accomplishments, he helped draw up the Articles of Capitulation for the British surrender.

"That's a pretty big deal," Chrisman said. "For some reason, I just thought I grew out of the ground in Ohio in a cornfield."

The ceremony Saturday lasted only about 30 minutes, but it included comments from all of the necessary parties involved in making the event happen -- the Hite Family Association, Belle Grove and the Col. James Wood Jr. chapter of the Virginia Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. Chrisman is a member of the association and Sons of the American Revolution.

Middletown Mayor Mark Brown also spoke, mentioning how some pieces of history, and the families behind them, disappear and are forgotten.

"Not this family," he said. "Not the Hites."

The reunions have been known to attract as many as 175 people from all over the country, Tullos said. He said it was a commitment to family that made the reunion weekend as popular as it is.

Isaac Hite married Nelly Conway Madison, the sister of future President James Madison, who spent his honeymoon at Belle Grove. Nelly Madison, as well as Hite's second wife, Ann Tunstall Maury, are among those buried at the Long Meadow cemetery.

Hite died in 1836 at the age of 78.

During the grave marking ceremony, Tullos, the vice president of the family association, received a certificate and thanked the crowd for attending. The work, though, just like uncovering history, is not finished -- the Hite descendants and Belle Grove are trying to raise money to restore the entire cemetery.

Chrisman, for one, seems as if he will continue to give his full support.

"I'm not the man I was three years ago," he said after the ceremony, "and I hope it doesn't end."

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