As I was leaving Mexico Point Park which lies twenty miles east of the City of Oswego, New York, on a peninsula along the Lake Ontario shore over the weekend, I noticed a sign pointing to a trail leading off into the woods. The sign said the trail would take one to Spy Island. I could not pass up the chance to find out the story behind such a location.
The forest trail afforded a cool walk as the trees have fully unfurled their leaves soaking up the sunshine and producing food while releasing life giving oxygen. I walked past small glades dotted in yellow, red, pink and blue wildflowers. After ducking under a fallen tree and going across a man-made walkway between a marsh on the left and the Little Salmon River’s outlet to Lake Ontario on the right, I arrived on Spy Island. A short climb brought me to the top of a clearing in the mature woods and the reason for the island’s name.
The grave site of Silas Towne is protected by metal tubing and marked with a fifteen foot limestone shaft. A New York State Education historical marker informs people curious enough of follow the trail of Mr. Towne’s daring exploit during the American Revolutionary War.
After Silas overheard the plans from this location of British Brigadier General Barry St. Leger to move on Fort Stanwix near Albany, he braved the fifty miles (80 km) of wilderness to warn the rebels. The British were defeated in the Battle of Oriskany on August 6, 1777. This put a stop to the British plan to squeeze General Washington’s army who were stationed on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River at the time.
Silas continued to spy for the American army taking on assignments along the St. Lawrence River and reporting back on any British and French activity along the northern New York water border. After the war, he returned to the Mexico Point area and settled. Thirty years later and dying at the age of 51, he told a friend to bury him on the island which he was in 1806.
Towne was mostly forgotten except in local folklore until July 4, 1871 when the limestone shaft was dedicated to the “memory of Silas Towne, an officer under Washington.” Today, due to the stone being limestone, it is hard to read the dedication with erosion from rain and lichen and mosses breaking away at the stone. It is a quiet place just as I imagine it was the night the tall, lithe Silas slipped away from the British to become a part of history.
Fittingly, on this Memorial Day weekend, someone had placed a new American flag in honor of Silas Towne’s service to a very young United States of America during a time when heros came from unexpected directions. As I looked upon Mr. Towne’s grave, I gave thanks to him and to all the patriots of the Revolutionary War who fought for the freedoms I enjoy 235 years later.