NYHIST-L Archives

July 1998


Options: Use Proportional Font
Show Text Part by Default
Show All Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Phil Lord <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
A LISTSERV list for discussions pertaining to New York State history." <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 20 Jul 1998 09:42:22 -0400
text/plain (54 lines)
I consulted our files of original State Historic Marker application materials and found two sets of documents, both dated August 19, 1927. The first related to the "Spy Island" marker; the other to  a "Silas Towne" marker. There are letters and other materials attached to each.

The sources cited for the "Spy Island" marker consist only of "County History of Oswego County, page 265." 

This suggests that reference to the late-19th century county history will shed some light on the story.

There is also a note as follows: "Mrs. Luddington forwarded to your office a fairly complete statement of this affair as known in Mexico and recorded in Oswego County history, page 265." It is also noted that "Possibly Mrs. Frank Munson and Mrs. Adelbert Stone may be able to add to statements."

This suggests that the old Town Historian files from the 1920s may contain additional materials relating to this story. You should contact Ms. Barbara Dix, Oswego County Historian, for additional information. I have copied this message to her.

It is apparent from the other documents that at the time, Mrs. Luddington was the Town Historian for the Town of Mexico. The application for this marker was prepared and submitted by Harriet E. Stevens, of Oswego.

In one of the attached letters, dated August 24, 1927, an unsigned letter to Mrs. Stevens, the writer notes: "I have not seen much of the controversy that has taken place in the Syracuse papers with reference to the history of 'Silas Towne' but would like to see any clippings on this subject if you have any." The letter suggests that someone has raised a question regarding the authenticity of the story.

This suggests that the archive of the Syracuse paper(s) of this period will reveal additional background on the story. Ms. Stevens responds that the news items have been written "for the sake of filling space" and indicates that "there can be no question as to the authenticity of Silas Towne."

Attached to this file is an undated photocopy of an undated newspaper clipping titled "Towne, Revolutionary Spy, Sounded Oriskany Alarm". It does not appear to provide any primary source auntentification, but is more a summary of the story. It does, however, provide some of the more recent (early 20th century) history of the sites involves, the monuments and markers. If this is of interest, let me know. I believe this is the documentation referred to from Mrs. Luddington by Mrs. Stevens.

The other file relates to the "Silas Towne" marker. This paper provides additional primary source details, including "Oswego County histories and records of Silas Towne which have been preserved since his death in 1806" . It also states that "the papers of Silas Towne were left in possession of Phineas Davis family, and a monument to his memory erected in 1871..."

Additional sources are cited as being "Hon. Geo. A. Davis, attorney, Albany, NY and Effie A. Berry, Regent, Silas Towne Chapt. DAR, Mexico, NY". It appears form the files that Davis was a descendent. 

This file was prepared and submitted by "Mrs. (F.G.) Jessie I. Luddington, Fulton, NY, Aug. 15, 1927".

So it appears that there was, in the 1920s, a fairly rich body of documentation, existing in various places in Oswego County. Whether you will find much of this still around is a question for a researcher to pursue, and I suggest starting with the County Historian's Office.

I would be interested in the results of anything you find, as further documentation for our marker files.

I also believe there are publications and documents relating to spies in revolutionary New York and other sources for testimony that might relate to Silas Towne's service. I will leave it for the archivists and librarians to respond to that question. 

Philip Lord, Jr.
Historical Survey
New York State Museum
[log in to unmask]

>>> Greg Ketcham <[log in to unmask]> 07/17 9:34 AM >>>

In the state historical marker survey can be found a marker for Silas Towne
(near Mexico, Oswego Co.). The marker refers to "Spy Island", a small
island off Mexico Point where Towne is buried. I have been on the island,
and there is an obelisk that marks his grave. I seem to recall that the
inscription refers to Towne spying on St. Leger's invasion force of 1777.

Question: does anyone know of any proof that Towne did indeed perform this
mission, and report it to...who?

Greg Ketcham