Alexander Bryan .


"You must not think

That we are made of stuff so flat and dull

That we can let our beard be shook with danger,

And think it pastime." – Hamlet .


DR. JOHN H. STEEL, in his Analysis of the Mineral Springs of Saratoga , gives an extended notice of Alexander Bryan, from which we learn that "he must be considered the first permanent settler here after the close of the war." He located himself near the High Rock Spring in 1787, buying of Gideon Morgan the land previously owned by the son of Samuel Norton, and building a large log-house which he opened for the accommodation of visitors. There were persons living when Dr. Steel wrote, who "remembered, with peculiar pleasure, the clean apartments and comfortable accommodations afforded by the proprietor of this humble mansion." "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 9 th , 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 19 th – followed by the memorable victory of October 7 th , 1777."

Dr. Steel, in the work above mentioned, gives many particulars of the undertaking thus briefly referred to; and we have in our possession several letters and papers from which a thrilling narrative might be written.

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 discreetly 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 15 th 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 headquarters 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 19 th 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. {Gates seemed to have a habit of 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 7 th , was never alluded to by him.} 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 of his few remaining associates, to whom alone they were known, and by whom their importance could only properly be 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, {Of these, Daniel became a farmer in Barton, Tioga Co., N.Y.; Robert became a merchant in New Orleans; Jehial, a farmer near Detroit; John, a farmer and merchant in Saratoga, where he built the stone house and store on the corner of Front and Rock Streets, in the "Upper Village" – supposed to be the identical spot where his father’s house stood – and still owned in the family; and Alexander, Jr., became a merchant in Mobile. Our old bachelor townsman and follower of Nimrod, Robert Bryan, is the son of John; and John A. Bryan, of New York City, is the son of Alexander, Jr. These last two are, we believe, the only remaining grandsons.} 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 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 being 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 for 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.

Bryan continued to reside at the Springs for more than thirty years, or until age had rendered him incompetent for active life. He then retired to Carlisle, in the County of Schoharie, N.Y., where he died. Dr. Steel concludes his account of him with this further tribute to his worth: :He possessed a strong constitution, a sound and vigorous mind, and a benevolent and kind disposition. The poor, and miserable, and unfortunate were always the objects of his care, his kindness, and his charity."



Transcribed from the original text and html prepared by Bill Carr, last updated 2/8/00.

Please provide me with any feedback you may have or any supplementary information concerning the contents.

Back to Saratoga County GenWeb

Copyright ©1999,2000 Bill Carr and Heritage Hunters of Saratoga County

All Rights Reserved.