Carl Whitehall has used common sense to dismiss John Switzer’s tale of Roger Vanderburg’s tragic death as the “pre-urban legend” it is. No Captain Roger Vanderburg ever existed, the story is a 19th C. example of plagiarism, and columnist Switzer has swallowed a fantastical fiction made out of whole cloth. In addition to common sense, a little research would also have sufficed to dismiss the story out of hand.
The origin of the tale goes back to a fictional story (“Lost Sir Massingberd”) written by James Payn (1830-1898) and first published in Chamber’s Journal, a Scottish literary magazine, in 1864. Some years later the story immigrated to the United States and was embellished by a J. F. Clark, in a letter to the Piqua Miami County Democrat newspaper. As Payn relates in his autobiography,“Some Literary Recollections,” published in 1884, this plagiarized version was reprinted in the Philadelphia Ledger. Although clearly amused, Payn cared enough to quote the entire letter in his autobiography.
To underscore the lack of evidence, no Roger Vanderburg(h) served in the American Revolution as Captain or at any other rank, nor is he mentioned anywhere in George Washington’s papers.
It just underscores the old adage,“Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers”—at least not in the Piqua Miami County Democrat, the Philadelphia Ledger, or the Columbus Dispatch.