Westchester County, New York and the Revolutionary War: Benedict Arnold’s Treason is Exposed (1780)



Major John André, aide to General Henry Clinton, was thwarted in Tarrytown transporting intelligence meant to secure West Point for the British.

Arnold’s scheming still had to play itself out, and his treason would soon see its denouement in Westchester County. Recently named commander at West Point, Arnold was offering to sell the vital post—and the 2,000 American troops defending it—to the British for 20,000 pounds.  

To close the deal, Clinton sent his aide, Major John André, to meet Arnold on the western shores of the Hudson. Traveling on the British warship, Vulture, Major André arrived at the place of rendezvous and conferred with Arnold through the night in a cove along the river bank, just south of Haverstraw. The two men agreed to arrange a quick British takeover of West Point, and Arnold handed André documents that revealed the fort’s defenses and vulnerabilities.

It was André’s task to bring the documents back to New York. But the task would not be easy, for the Vulture was no longer available. The warship had been driven off by American cannon fire from Teller’s Point (present-day Croton Point Park). In the Vulture’s absence, André would have to travel a dangerous route, first crossing to the Westchester side of the Hudson and then moving south through the County, past several American posts. He would travel under the bogus name of "John Anderson" and would carry a note with Arnold’s signature, instructing American troops to allow John Anderson to pass.

Despite the dangers of the journey, André almost made it to safety. For the first part of his trip, he was aided by a few locals who believed General Arnold to be a loyal Patriot and wanted to help the general’s friend, John Anderson. André crossed the Hudson to Westchester and made his way on horseback towards British lines, heading east from Peekskill on present-day Crompond Avenue, then south along the roads we now call Hanover Street in Yorktown, and Hardscrabble Road in Chappaqua and Pleasantville. Finally, he turned west, traveling on roads that have become Routes 117 and 448. Soon after he reached the river road (Broadway), however, his passage through Westchester was interrupted. 

As he headed south along Broadway into Tarrytown, André was stopped by three Westchester militiamen—John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart, and David Williams. They were deeply suspicious of the nervous horseman and ordered him to dismount and undress. When they discovered incriminating documents in his sock, they understood that they were dealing with a spy. A short time later, Washington himself would have the documents in his hand. Arnold managed to evade arrest and escape to New York, but the unfortunate André was tried as a spy by a military court and sentenced to death. He was hanged on October 2, 1780, at Tappan, in Rockland County, nine days after his capture in Tarrytown.  

 

 

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