American Revolution - Militiamen Capture British Spy | Tarrytown Westchester County New York
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American Revolution - Militiamen Capture British Spy


Westchester County

American Revolution - Militiamen Capture British Spy


American Revolution - Militiamen Capture British Spy

The capture of British Major John André by three Westchester citizens is one of the most notable events in the history of Westchester County. André was a spy in league with Benedict Arnold in a scheme to sabotage American forces during the Revolutionary War. Events transpired as follows:

    "One evening in September of 1780, Major André and Gen. Arnold planned a clandestine meeting. The meeting lasted until dawn of the next morning. By then, it was determined to be too risky to take André back to his ship, the Vulture, which was setting sail for British headquarters in New York City.

    "The next day the Americans fired upon the Vulture from Croton Point, forcing it to leave without André. Benedict Arnold gave André a horse and recommended that André travel to Tarrytown, a neutral territory. André was riding south on the eastside of the Hudson River when he encountered John Paulding with David Williams and Isaac Van Wart. Paulding, who had recently escaped from a British prison in New York City, was wearing a Hessian coat.

    "It was September 23, 1780, when André approached the group thinking they were allies. The three militiamen questioned André and became suspicious. Upon further investigation they found plans to West Point hidden in André's boot. Major André was carrying papers describing the fortification of West Point, given to him by Benedict Arnold.

    "André attempted to bribe the militiamen with large sums of money and goods. Although the three militiamen were farmers of modest means, they refused the large monetary bribes offered by Major John André, and brought him to Army headquarters. André was tried and convicted as a spy and hanged in Tappan, New York on October 2, 1780. Benedict Arnold escaped to England."

The actions of these three patriots thwarted a plot between Major John André and General Benedict Arnold in which Arnold had planned to surrender West Point to the British.

When George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, was told of these events, he personally recommended that the militiamen are rewarded. On October 7, 1780, General George Washington, wrote to the President of Congress “to communicate the names of the three persons who captured Major André, and who refused to release him, notwithstanding the most earnest importunities and assurances of a liberal reward on his part.” Washington said that the service of John Paulding, David Williams, and Isaac Van Wart, “merits our warmest esteem; and I beg leave to add, that I think the public will do well to make them a handsome gratuity. They have prevented in all probability our suffering one of the severest strokes that could have been meditated against us."

The United States Congress passed a resolution on November 3, 1780, commending the three captors. In gratitude for having captured André, “whereby the dangerous and traitorous conspiracy of Benedict Arnold was brought to light, the insidious designs of the enemy baffled, and the United States rescued from impending danger,” they were awarded a silver medal and an annual £200 pension ("two hundred dollars in specie or an equivalent in the current money of these States") for the rest of their lives. In addition, the New York legislature voted to give each of them farmland valued at £500.

Their Patriotism is remembered
Throughout their lifetimes, John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart, and David Williams, were highly commemorated. In addition to being awarded federal pensions and valuable farms; streets in Westchester County were named for each of the men, statues have been erected, and the state of Ohio has named 3 counties after each of the honored militiamen that captured Major André.

In 1853, near Patriot's Park, a monument was erected to honor the three heroic militiamen. At a later dedication, the monument was increased and a bronze stature of John Paulding was added. There is a dedication in stone on the south side of the monument which reads:

    "On this spot the 23rd day of September, 1780, the spy, Major John André, Adjutant General of the British Army, was captured by John Paulding, David Williams, and Isaac Van Wart, all natives of this county. History has told the rest.

    "The people of Westchester County have erected this Monument, as well to commemorate a great Event, as to testify their high estimation of that Integrity and Patriotism which, rejecting every temptation, rescued the United States from most imminent peril by baffling the arts of a Spy and the plots of a Traitor. Dedicated October 7, 1853."
    On the north side of the block an inscription reads:

    "Their conduct merits our warmest esteem. They have prevented, in all probability, our suffering one of the severest strokes that could have been meditated against us" written by George Washington.

Benedict Arnold, From Patriot to Traitor by Dell, Pamela. 2005, Publisher-Compass Point Books
Collections of the Clements Library, and the Goldstar Collection Spy Letters of the American Revolution
History of Westchester County: New York, including Morrisania, Kings Bridge, and West Farms, by John Thomas Scharf, Publisher L. E. Preston & co., 1886 Original from the New York Public Library.

Historic Sites in Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown

  • Visit Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate in Sleepy Hollow.

  • Visit Lyndhurst in Tarrytown.

  • Visit Patriots Park in Tarrytown.

  • Visit the Old Dutch Church at Sleepy Hollow.

  • Visit Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse. Learn how families protected ships and boats on the Hudson River.

  • Visit Historic Sunnyside Washington Irving's home at Sunnyside
  • Children's Attractions in Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown

  • Enjoy Family Fun Day at Lyndhurst Historic Site in Tarrytown.

  • Visit Patriots Park and learn about the history of the American Revolution - John André.

  • Visit Historic Philipsburg Manor Historic Site for kids.

  • Visit Historic Sunnyside, Washington Irving's home in Tarrytown, offering games and activities for kids.

  • Celebrate Halloween in Sleepy Hollow.

  • Celebrate The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

  • Spooky fun things to do on Halloween include a Tour the Old Dutch Church & Burying Ground

    • Visit the Old Dutch Church & Burying Ground and find places mentioned in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow where "The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head. It is said by some to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War, and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk hurrying along in the gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind. His haunts are not confined to the valley, but extend at times to the adjacent roads, and especially to the vicinity of a church at no great distance. Indeed, certain of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in collecting and collating the floating facts concerning this spectre, allege that the body of the trooper having been buried in the churchyard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head, and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak."
      "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving

    Location: Tarrytown

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