History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Campaign of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne
and The Expedition of Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger.
by William L. Stone.
Albany, NY, Joel Munsell. 1877.
ALEXANDER BRYAN, THE SCOUT.
" Bryan was a shrewd and somewhat of an eccentric character; and the events of his life, if generally known, would undoubtedly place his name among the patriots of his time and furnish a deserved monument to his memory." The hint which Dr. Steel thus throws out was acted upon by his grandson, John Alexander Bryan, who, a few years since, erected to his memory a monument in Greenridge cemetery, bearing this inscription :
" In memory of Alexander Bryan. Died April 9th, 1825, aged 92 years. The first permanent settler, and the first to keep a public-house, here, for visitors. An unpaid patriot, who, alone and at great peril, gave the first and only information of Burgoyne's intended advance on Stillwater, which led to timely preparations for the battle of .September 19th - followed by the memorable victory of October 7th, 1777."
Alexander Bryan was born in 1733. He was a native of Connecticut, and emigrated to New York early in life, fixing his residence in Dutchess county, where he married Martha Tallmadge, a sister of Senator Tallmadge's father. Some years afterward he removed to the town of Half-Moon, Saratoga county, where he kept an inn about two miles north of Waterford, on what was then the great road between the northern and southern frontiers. Here he continued to reside during the war of the American Revolution ; and his house, naturally, was frequently the resort of the partisans of the contending powers-towards whom he conducted himself so discretely that he was molested by neither, but was confided in by both. His patriotism, however, was well known to the committee of safety of Stillwater, who through him were enabled to thwart many machinations of the tories.
When General Gates took command of the northern army, he applied to the committee to furnish him with a suitable person who might act as a scout, and by penetrating within the enemy's lines report their strength and intended movements. Bryan was at once selected " as the best qualified to undertake the hazardous enterprise." Nor was the choice of the committee ill advised. Bryan was a person endowed with great physical powers of endurance; well acquainted with the country ; shrewd, discreet, and reticent, gifted with a fine address and presence , and, considering the meagre educational advantages of the time, possessed of much more than ordinary intelligence. By pursuing a circuitous route, he arrived unmolested at the camp of the enemy, which, at this time, was situated in the vicinity of Fort Edward. He tarried in the neighborhood until he obtained the required, information, and was convinced that preparations were making for an immediate advance. Then, on the 15th of September, in the early gray of the autumn morning, he started with the tidings. He had not proceeded many miles before he discovered that he was hotly pursued by two troopers, from whom, after an exciting chase, he adroitly managed to escape, and arrived safely at the head -quarters of General Gates late in the following night. The intelligence he communicated, of the crossing of the Hudson by Burgoyne, with the evident intention on the part of that general to surprise the American army at Stillwater, was of the greatest importance, and led immediately to the preparations which resulted in the sanguinary engagement of the 19th of September. It is handed down as a tradition in the Bryan family, that Gates was in such haste to profit by this information-on which, from his knowledge of Bryan, he implicitly relied - that he forgot either to reward or thank his faithful scout ; and, what is worse, he never mentioned the exploit in any of his despatches.' This circumstance is thus alluded to by Dr. Steel : " The numerous and essential' services which Bryan thus rendered to his country continued for a long time to excite the admiration and gratitude or his few remaining associates, to whom alone they were known, and by whom their importance could only be properly estimated ; and it is to be regretted that to the day of his death they remained unacknowledged and unrewarded by any token or profession of gratitude by his country."
Mr. Bryan left five sons, Daniel, Jehial, Robert, John, and Alexander, and two daughters, all of whom are now dead. None of these, except Daniel, ever made any effort to have the services of their father acknowledged
1 Gates seemed to have a habit or forgetting to mention in his despatches those to whom he was indebted for his successes. Arnold, for instance, who did such signal service in the action of October 7th, was never alluded to by him.
and rewarded by the United States government. We have seen a letter from Daniel, accurately written, in 1853, at the age of eighty-two, in a clear, bold hand, in which he speaks of an application made in his behalf, as the only surviving legal representative (by the Hon. John M. Parker, M.C., from that district), for an appropriation to pay the services of his father in the Burgoyne campaign. The application failed because, as it is supposed, no witnesses could be found except those who had heard the facts traditionally, which was not deemed to be within the rules laid down by congress in such cases. For these reasons it is the more fitting that we should here permanently record and give prominence to the patriotic deeds of this early settler of Saratoga.
While, however, Bryan was the chief scout upon whom Gates relied, and who, as has been seen, was the first to furnish intelligence, yet the American general had others in his employ. John Strover (the father of the present George Strover of Schuylerville, N. Y.), had also the command of a party of scouts well acquainted with the country. " He was present," says General Bullard, " at the execution of Thomas Lovelace, a malignant tory, who was hung upon an oak tree, about thirty rods south of where George Strover now resides. At that date the gravel ridge extended east as far as where the canal now is, and the oak tree stood upon the east point of the gravel ridge near where the store house of the Victory company now stands. When the Waterford and Whitehall turnpike was constructed through there, about 1813, the stump of the old oak was removed by the excavation. John Strover had frequently informed his son George that Lovelace was buried in a standing posture, near the tree. When the excavation took place, George stood by and saw the bones, yet in a standing posture, removed from the very spot which had been pointed out by his father. During the campaign Burgoyne employed Lovelace and other Tories as spies, and they were generally secreted in the woods between here and Saratoga lake. One day Capt. Dunham, then residing near the lake, in company with Daniel Spike and a colored man, was scouring the woods, and while crossing upon a tree which had fallen over the brook east of the Wagman farm, discovered five guns stacked in the hiding place of the spies. With a sudden rush, Dunham and his associates seized the guns and captured all five of the spies, bound and brought them Into the American camp. We have not been able to give the date of the arrest or execution of Lovelace, but think it was after the close of Burgoyne's campaign. Gen. Stark was then at Schuylerville and presided at the court martial before which he was tried. With a vindictive Tory element in their midst, and the Indians on the borders, but little progress was made in permanently settling this county, until after peace was declared.
and crushing as was the defeat at Saratoga, the war was not yet ended, and
the struggle continued for five years longer. Nor did this locality escape
the trials and hardships of those times which tried men's souls. The march
and counter march of this hostile army with its barbarous allies, had completely
desolated the whole region hereabouts. This county had been richly laden with
the golden harvest and domestic animals for the use of the husbandman. As
a specimen, the farm of James Brisbin had sufficient wheat and cattle to have
paid the purchase price, but it was all taken and consumed by Burgoyne's army
without compensation, notwithstanding the fair promises made in his proclamation
of July 10, before stated. We should except a single cow, which escaped from
her captors, returned home and was afterwards secreted and saved. After the
surrender, the farmers gradually returned to their rural homes, erected new
log houses, and began again to till the soil. But little progress, however,
was made, until the close of the war, as this valley lay in the track of the
Indians and Tories, who had fled to Canada, and made repeated raids into this
Copyright © 1998, -- 2003. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.