An American spy buried in Charleston
An American double agent in the Revolutionary War who gave his name to a popular restaurant in Saratoga Springs is buried in the Montgomery County town of Charleston.
According to a 1925 newspaper article by Cornelius F. Van Horne, the grave of Alexander Bryan is in Charleston among five other graves not far from the Schoharie County line. Van Horne was historian of the town of Glen.
Born in Connecticut in 1733, Bryan operated an inn near Waterford during the American Revolution and entertained both sides in the conflict, although his sympathies were with the revolutionaries. American General Horatio Gates commissioned Bryan as a spy.
Bryan learned of the British plan to cross the Hudson River at Stillwater and attack the Americans there in September 1777. Bryan was discovered to be a spy but escaped and reported the enemy plans to Gen. Gates. Because of Bryan’s intelligence, the Americans were able to prepare for victory in the Battle of Saratoga. Gates failed to reward Bryan for his espionage work, not even mentioning Bryan’s exploits in his dispatches.
After the war in 1787, Bryan bought an inn in Saratoga across from the High Rock Spring. He is regarded as the first permanent resident of Saratoga Springs and his inn was the only hotel there until 1801. Bryan’s son built a stone house on the site of his father’s inn and that building and subsequent additions have become today’s Olde Bryan Inn, a popular restaurant.
Van Horne said Bryan was a caring but eccentric character, “The poor, the miserable and the unfortunate were always the objects of his care, his kindness and his charity. But his eccentricities often involved him in difficulties with his more opulent neighbors, and at times disturbed the tranquility of his most intimate friends.”
Bryan lived at Saratoga Springs for more than 30 years. He retired to Carlisle, Schoharie County, where he died at age 92 in 1825. While Bryan’s gravesite is in Charleston, there is a memorial to him in the Greenridge Cemetery in Saratoga Springs, erected by his grandson, a New York City lawyer, in the 1860s.
Bryan is buried in Charleston near property that was once a farm owned by another Revolutionary War hero, Capt. Thomas Machin. A civil engineer, Machin fought for the cause from the Boston Tea Party to the siege of Yorktown. Machin, who died in 1816, was originally buried at his Charleston farm but in 1905 his remains were moved to the village cemetery in Carlisle.
Another figure from the Revolution, William McConkey, is buried near Route 30A in Charleston. McConkey owned a ferry on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania and it was on McConkey’s boat that Gen. George Washington crossed the Delaware to strike at British forces in New Jersey the day after Christmas, 1776.
McConkey was granted land after the Revolution in Charleston. There is a historic marker visible from the highway near McConkey’s grave, according to Chuck D’Imperio’s book, “Great Graves of Upstate New York.”
Nelson Greene wrote a three-volume history, “The Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West, 1614-1925,” a companion volume of biographies and many other local history pieces.
Greene was born in Little Falls. His father, Horace Greene, moved to Fort Plain in 1876 and owned the Mohawk Valley Register newspaper.
Nelson contributed articles on local history to his father’s newspaper. He also studied art in New York City and later was editor of the Fort Plain Standard newspaper. He toured the country doing advance publicity for aviatrix Amelia Earhart in the 1930s; Earhart was doing publicity work for Beech-Nut, then in Canajoharie. Greene died at age 86 in 1955.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.