Still many unanswered questions about Route 5 roadside grave

IN MEMORY OF A SOLDIER
OF THE WAR OF 1812
BURIED HERE 1814
MY BRAVE LAD HE SLEEPS
IN HIS FADED COAT OF BLUE
IN HIS LONELY GRAVE UNKNOWN
LIES THE HEART THAT BEATS SO TRUE
ERECTED 1924

   Over the years the roadside grave along Route 5 between Caledonia and Avon has been the topic of much speculation and even several newspaper stories. It isn’t a beautiful monument, only a roughly hewn boulder erected in 1924 and inscribed with four verses from the poem, "The Faded Coat of Blue" written by Caledonia poet John H. MacNaughton.

   Yet, this primitive grave is the focus of much attention, perhaps because it is so old, or because there are still so many unanswered questions surrounding the death of the young soldier who is said to be buried there.

   Caledonia Historian Judith S. Adams has a collection of newspaper articles that have been written over the years about the grave, allowing her to piece together enough information to satisfy one’s basic intuitions.

   Recently, however, Adams was given what appears to be an original newspaper article, dated July 16, 1885, that provides a few new details and fills in some of the gaps in the story that haven’t been told before.

   But first, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the story behind the Route 5 roadside grave, here it is.

   The story tells that in 1814 a troop of American soldiers on their way from Buffalo to Sacket’s Harbor during the War of 1812 camped overnight at the Route 5 location. The soldiers had just received their pay. After a merry time around the campfire, the soldiers went to sleep, rose the next morning and continued on in their journey. All except two of the soldiers, who may have enjoyed a little too much merriment, and were "left behind to recuperate."

   Later that afternoon a woman living on a farm nearby claims to have heard a gunshot coming from the direction of the camp. Later that evening, a member of her family investigated and found the dead body of a soldier, party concealed by bushes, lying near the still smoldering campfire. There was a bullet hole in the dead man’s temple. (This detail has not appeared in any other account of the incident, it is only mentioned in the 1885 article).

   "All of the surroundings showed plainly that the man had been murdered and robbed," the news story reads. Word was sent to the commanding officer who upon roll call, noticed that two of his soldiers were missing, Alexander and Comfit. The dead man was Private Alexander.

   The story then leaves a gap in the details but says only that Comfit was captured, "and as he had nearly twice the amount of his own pay on his person, he was held as Alexander’s murderer." Comfit was tried, convicted and hung. Alexander was buried at the roadside.

   A second interesting chapter to the story follows with the report of a unique blue flowering stalk that erupted at the site of the man’s grave, a variety not common to this area. The flower, called the Blue Gentian, is said to be commonly found in areas where soldiers’ bodies are buried, and only along the Atlantic coast. The Blue Gentian no longer blooms at the gravesite, but the story still intrigues all those who read of it.

   Mistakenly, many of the old news stories about the grave, call it that of an "unknown soldier of 1812." In a story published by the Daughters of the American Revolution, dated January 1928, Elizabeth G. Whittemore writes, "It is part of our history how, though once it was just a very interesting story, an unusual story, which led to the erection of a boulder at the grave of an unknown soldier of the War of 1812."

   Similarly, in a 1924 Rochester newspaper story it was reported that a boulder was erected at the site in honor of an "unknown soldier of the War of 1812."

   In later news articles the names of the buried soldier, Private John Alexander, and his alleged murderer, private William Comfit, were listed.

   It is easy to see that many questions still plaque history buffs. "Where was Comfit tried, convicted and hung?" "Why were the two soldiers allowed to stay behind the rest of the camp?" "How was it that the Blue Gentian began to grow in the area of the soldier’s grave?"

   These questions and more may never be entirely answered, but the 1885 news article has added one small piece of information to the puzzle. Who knows? Perhaps more information will eventually surface about the death of Private James Alexander, soldier of the War of 1812 and his murderer, Private William Comfit.

 

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The roadside boulder on Rt. 5 between Caledonia and Avon, marks the grave of Private James Alexander, a soldier in the War of 1812, allegedly murdered at the site by one of his comrades, Private William Comfit.

click on photo below for a closer look ...

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