The story of how two War of 1812 soldiers came to be buried side-by-side on Onondaga Hill

The War of 1812, sometimes referred to by historians as “the second War for Independence” between the United States and Great Britain, broke out in June, 1812, after more than two decades of a simmering cauldron of tensions between the two nations finally boiled over.

Upset by years of continued British attacks on American shipping and trade, as well as England’s persistent military presence on the frontier and a wide-spread perception that they were supporting Native American resistance to further expansion of the young republic, President Madison signed the declaration of war on June 18, 1812.

Though continental in scope, a great deal of the fighting took place in and around the Great Lakes. Therefore, this state was an arena for battle and Central New York supplied men and materials to the struggle that shook off the last vestiges of British threats to the country, both real and imagined.

Much like the war itself, which is overlooked or simply forgotten by much of the public, hundreds of motorists traverse the West Seneca Turnpike daily wholly unaware that two veterans of the war are buried on a bluff, roughly across the street from Community General Hospital.

Onondaga County was not actually the site of any battles during the War of 1812, but the Seneca Turnpike was an important thoroughfare in that era, as it connected to the Great Canandaigua Road from the west and the Cherry-Valley Turnpike in Manlius that headed back towards the Capital Region.

“British Prisoners on Seneca Turnpike, 1814” By George Kasson Knapp. Note the old Onondaga Arsenal on the right. It overlooks the turnpike from the hill just up the road from John Gridley’s house, which still stands today. Courtesy of the Onondaga Historical AssociationCourtesy of the Onondaga Histori

As a testament to the region’s strategic importance in the defense of New York’s frontier, the legislature passed an act in 1808 to deposit arms and munitions at Onondaga. In 1812, the Onondaga Arsenal was completed on the hill east of Onondaga Hollow.

Thus, over the course of the war, which technically ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814 (Andrew Jackson’s historic victory at New Orleans took place a month later) British and American troops and their respective allies marched through the region often on their journeys from the Great Lakes to Albany and Canada.

Two hundred and seven years ago, on October 10, 1814, the 1st U.S. Light Artillery was passing through Onondaga Hollow. During the unit’s encampment in the village green near the old Onondaga Arsenal, a solider and native of Virginia, Captain Benjamin Branch, fell ill. His brothers-in-arms laid his body to rest just up and off the road, marking his grave with a stone.

The following April, Captain Henry Crouch was headed home to his family near Rochester after a long absence and harrowing personal odyssey.

Crouch was captured by the British at Fort Erie in September of 1814 and sent back to Halifax as a prisoner of war. Upon his release in the spring, he made his way home along the same route he was marched as a prisoner, which brought him back through Onondaga.

The Onondaga Arsenal, 1878. The arsenal was abandoned after 1815. It as used for a time during the Civil War. Today the building is little more than a pile of rubble. Courtesy of the Onondaga Historical AssociationCourtesy of the Onondaga Histori

According to reports, Crouch died of small pox during his sojourn in Marcellus. The locals buried him in the most appropriate location they could think of, near his fellow American officer, Captain Branch, just up the road from the town green.

Thus, these two men from vastly different places and backgrounds who gave their lives in the service of this young, fledgling nation, have spent over two centuries resting side-by-side, mostly forgotten, just like the war in which they fought.