The Correct Spelling of Bemus

Historian William Stone addresses the issue of the correct spelling of Bemus Heights in his 1893 book called Ballads and Poems relating to the Burgoyne Campaign.

“Probably no question in connection with Burgoyne’s campaign has given rise to so much discussion as that concerning the spelling of the name of that old settler who kept a tavern on the river road from Schuylerville to Albany, and from whom the Heights near him took their name.

By Burgoyne’s chief engineer, in his maps of the two actions (September 19th and October 7th, 1777), and by different historians the name has been spelled in as many ways as there have been writers on our Revolutionary history—Bemis, Bremis, Braemus, Behmus, Behmis, Bemese and Beemis being the most common.

By a letter, however, which I received some years since from that distinguished antiquarian and local historian, Mr. B. B. Burt, of Oswego, N. Y., I am finally enabled to settle this much-mooted point. Mr. Burt’s Letter.


April 22, 1881

Mr. W. L. Stone. “Dear Sir: Rev. Samuel H. Adams, a gentleman and a scholar, spent a few days with me the last week, and I learned from him that he was a descendant of the Bemus from whom the Heights of Revolutionary fame were named ; and inasmuch as I knew that the name had been used and spelled in different ways, I asked him to note what he knew about it on the next page. I send you his statement.

Truly yours, 

B. B. Burt.

Rev. Samuel H. Adams’s Statement. ” My grandmother and her brothers, who were the children of the Mr. Bemus from whom the Heights were named, always spelled their name Bemus, and she was quite disturbed that the error of Bemis should so commonly and was for many years the oldest person in Saratoga County. [Was this Crawford the one mentioned in Mr. Ruling’s ‘Reminiscences of Saratoga Fifty Years Ago —W.L.S.]

Her brother moved to Chautauqua County, and Bemus Point, on Chautauqua Lake, was named from him. All his descendants in that county spell the name Bemus, and will on no account spell it otherwise. Another, Matthew Pendergrass Bemus was a member of the New York Assembly from 1868 to 1872 inclusive April 18, 1881

Stone goes on conflict on Bemus vs Bemus goes on today. Most of the histories and events at the National Historical Park use Bemus. The 77th New York Regiment from the Civil War used Bemis as in the Bemis Heights Regiment.There is one definitive source for place names and that is the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) which is the Federal and national standard for geographic nomenclature. The U.S. Geological Survey developed the GNIS in support of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names as the official repository of domestic geographic names data, the official vehicle for geographic names use by all departments of the Federal Government, and the source for applying geographic names to Federal electronic and printed products. This official source says the location is Bemis Heights. The website is am going to be more sensitive is my writing as I was not aware that this was such a conflict.

Every year, thousands of people visit Saratoga County, New York, to learn about the events in 1777. When visiting the area around the battle and siege field, the Visitor Center at Saratoga National Historical Park strives to tell the story of the battles in a variety of ways. The park website is at

The Schuylerville Public Library and all the libraries in the region have a number of books on the Battles of Saratoga.  One of the more popular and well written books is Richard M Ketchum’s Saratoga: Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War. (1997) New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 978-0-8050-6123-9. OCLC 41397623 (Ketchum uses Bemis.).

Saratoga is known for being the turning point of the American Revolution. In 1777 −− the second year of America’s War for Independence −− the British sought to quell the rebellion with a single decisive military campaign. The British plan depended on using an invading army to divide the colonies along a natural corridor of rivers and lakes stretching from Canada to New York City. The Americans’ determined resistance at Saratoga, coupled with British strategic blunders, resulted in a stunning defeat and surrender for a British army. This timely victory reversed American military fortunes, boosted patriot morale, and gained them international recognition and support, including military assistance. That is why studying the Battles of Saratoga is integral to a good understanding of the American freedoms.

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