Tracing Major John André’s Steps Along the Hudson: A Video Tour

If you draw a 150-mile radius around New York City, you’ll find so many locations relevant to the American Revolution that it’s almost overwhelming. There are nearly endless day trips to be had (for those fortunate enough to have a motor vehicle), which is especially welcome during this time when real long-distance travel is for the most part off the table.

Within that 150-mile radius you just drew you’ll find Haverstraw, New York, where a very famous event took place in a very secluded location. Here, obscured by the trees along the shore of the Hudson, Benedict Arnold met with his liaison John André to discuss the handing over of West Point to the British. What followed was a series of events that likely changed the course of history.

“Arnold persuades André to conceal the papers in his boot.” (Library of Congress)

Retracing Maj. John André’s steps as he walked from Haverstraw, carrying on his person incredibly incriminating documents, I found myself connecting strongly with the flurry of emotions that must have been swirling around Arnold and André. Can you imagine how stressful it must have been for Arnold, waiting with bated breath as his plot to betray the cause of the American Revolution unfolded? Or the apprehension with which André must have walked through such dangerous territory, where a chance encounter with friend or foe could mean the difference between life and death. (Not to mention carrying the heavy burden of the British Empire’s advantage in the war on his shoulders.)

How fascinating is it to think that the entire fate of the American Revolution was, for a short span of a few days, hanging very much in the balance as one man walked back to British lines, like a slow-moving relay race carrying a torch that could mean a turning point in the war. And it all came down to fifteen miles—and the honor of three militiamen.

It’s a gripping story; it’s one that reminds us of the perils of war, the randomness of history, and the timelessness of human emotion.

Notes for future Andre trail followers:

•The sign for the Treason House is on the west side of US Route 9W right next to the driveway of a Ford dealership.
•The monument in Tarrytown is in honor of the three captors, not of André. The statue on top is meant to depict one of the men, most likely John Paulding.

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Tracing Major John André’s Steps Along the Hudson: A Video Tour

If you draw a 150-mile radius around New York City, you’ll find...
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38 Comments

  • Andre is one of the war’s most interesting characters. It’s rewarding to think about this portion of his life as a more visual story. Very well done. You have a new fans in our household.

  • I have also found this story fascinating, but from a different perspective; I always admired Arnold as a daring and brilliant military commander as well as being a passionate believer in the cause up until his ill-fated tenure as Military Commander of Philadelphia in 1778. That such a passionate, hot-headed, and seemingly short-tempered person could feel so slighted and change his allegiance makes for such a tragic story. Your video was very interesting and well-done – congratulations, and thank you. I would recommend both Nathaniel Philbrick’s “Valiant Ambition” and Willard Sterne Randall’s “Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor” for more on Arnold.

    • Arnold had exhausted his finances and saw not only that he was not going to be repaid by the Continental Congress, but in fact his reputation and honor would be sullied from the various scandals in his wake, not to mention the various schemes he undertook while governor of Philadelphia. Few of the soldiers that fought in the Revolutionary War were ever paid for their sacrifice. Our most capable general and boldest leader, yet, in the end Arnold remains an enigma. …

    • Don’t agree with your recommendation of Randall’s book on Arnold. Many inaccurate claims and info including inclusion of the clearly inaccurate account of the Natanis speech. This was first presented by a fiction writer in nineteenth century predicting the fall of Arnold. Other biographies byRandall (Ethan Allen) have been critically reviewed due to misinformation.

      In my opinion the best book on Arnold is the biography by James Kirby Martin

  • Well done Bridget, that’s a very engaging take on the dramatic climax of Arnold’s plot to betray West Point. Even as a Brit, I’m impressed to see that, even after 240 years, the various sites where the key events occurred are still commemorated with freshly painted markers. As your film shows, ‘Treason Country’ is also a very scenic region, and not least in late September when the leaves turn.

    • Absolutely wonderful presentation. I grew up in what is now called Sleepy Hollow. Previously it was North Tarrytown. I went to Sleepy Hollow High School.
      I walked past the memorial to Paulding, William’s and Van Wert every day. I have researched the route that took Major Andre across the Hudson to Old Tappen where he was tried and executed. This brings back many memories .

  • Outstanding video—well researched and presented. Kenneth Roberts’ novel Rabble in Arms is about Benedict Arnold in the Canadian operation, Quebec Expedition . Arnold was a highly effective general In Canada, Lake Champlain, and Saratoga. As you noted he was slighted and under appreciated for his courage and bold generalship.

  • Well done Bridget, that’s a very engaging take on the dramatic climax of Arnold’s plot to betray West Point. As a Brit, I’m impressed to see that, even after 240 years, the various sites where the key events occurred are still commemorated with freshly painted markers. As your film shows, ‘Treason Country’ is also a very scenic region, and not least in late September when the leaves start to ‘Turn’.

    • Great job! I grew up in Tappan, NY and was fascinated by the Andre’ story. When I was in England I made a special trip to Westminster Abby to see his gravesite and memorial. Imagine my disappointment when I was told by the docent that that section was closed. He saw my face and said follow me! We went to the memorial and when I sheepishly asked if I could take a picture for my family which was forbidden, he said go ahead. It was a great historical moment.

      • Dirck,
        If you still have the photo of Andre’s monument at Westminster Abbey, can you share it with us?
        I can’t say that I know how you might post that photo but perhaps it could be copied and pasted into your response … or perhaps the webmaster can offer a suggestion.
        RV

    • Well done encapsulation of André’s demise. As you mentioned a couple of times, there is so much more to the historical backstory, but there was only so much you could carry out of the rabbit hole.

      Being born and raised in Tappan, NY, it was disheartening to see how the show TURN depicted his hanging as on a flat piece of land along the Hudson. He was hanged in Tappan on what is now called André Hill.

      One could produce an entire video series on André’s final days in Tappan. From the time he was delivered to Tappan, site of Washington’s head-quarters, under Benjamin Talmadge’s guard, André’s imprisonment in a rear room in The ’76 House, the trial in front of 13 Continental Generals convened by Washington in the old Dutch Reformed Church, Hamilton’s futile correspondence with Sir Henry Clinton to attempt the exchange of André for Arnold to which you referenced, and his hanging in his regimental red officer’s uniform delivered to him from British headquarters less than 15 miles south in New York City, the role of our hamlet should be a large red pin in any map of Revolutionary War history. I wish you had mentioned Tappan.

      Mrs. Peggy Shippen Arnold, whose role is well told in the book The Traitor’s Wife and in TURN, Hamilton, and Talmadge were at the site of André’s hanging but Washington chose to stay in his headquarters home about a mile away. It has been estimated that as many as 3,000 people lined the road leading to André Hill and the hanging site that day.

  • What fun, Bridget – thanks so much. We too met Major Andre first in TURN, and as I have done more and more research, here he is again and again; he is obviously a much admired and much involved fellow. If history were only taught using more of the actual stories, perhaps we would be more engaged in our past at a much younger age. Since I had family from Long Island, I was particularly interested in Setauket and its residents’ participation in the spying trade as well as the program’s attempts to show what life “was really like” in those days. I also have had the privilege of indexing some of the documents from Washington’s camp near West Point – from preparations to welcome the French to the quartermaster reports of what was consumed at such gatherings. Thanks again! pv

  • Very well done.

    A few points:

    Four years earlier, Captain Nathan Hale, Tallmadge’s Yale classmate, had been captured wearing civilian clothes within compromising papers in his stockings.
    He was hanged the next day.

    Arnold’s motives were entirely financial, as his correspondence with Clinton and André makes clear. See, Van Doren, The Secret History of the American Revolution.

    Thanks again for a great video.

  • Well done Bridget. Isn’t history wonderful? Its the story of why people act as they do, not the memorization of places and dates. I live in the LoHud Valley and have always been fascinated by the story of Major Andre. Thanks for also pointing out the brilliance of Benedict Arnold. Like many capable leaders, was slighted, outmanouvered and passed over by arguably less capable men. In a moment of temper he threw it all away. One question though. How did the Major get back to the East Side of the Hudson to walk south and be captured in Tarrytown? Sadly for this gentleman, he became a casualty of war. From what I’ve read, the 3 “honorable” men who captured him were not men of great character either. Possibly “highwaymen” looking to prey on travelers. My next trip across the TZ Bridge I’m checking out the Tappan sights

  • Bridget, Thank you for the Andre travelogue! As a student of Benedict Arnold I have visited some of the sites you presented but realize there are many I haven’t. I do hope you continue your BA/Andre research and read some of the many biographies. As previously mentioned Carl Van Doren’s “Secret History of the American Revolution” is a classic and worth a read. I found Arnold’s life after the treason to be interesting and worth more scholarship. Oh, let’s not forget Sgt. John Champe who was sent to capture Arnold after the treason. Again, your video was thoroughly enjoyable and well done.

  • I am happy to see someone from the younger generation take an interest in the history of their own county, and be excited to learn about it.

  • Bridget, like you, the show TURN led me to be captivated by events involving Andre and Arnold. You are remarkable in your confident narrative of such an important event, capturing beautifully the bottom line: the British lost an extraordinary man and likely the War, but gained only regret with their acquisition of Arnold. Please bring us more stories.

  • I find it hard to understand references to Arnold’s military expertise let alone any praise for his character. His activities in Canada and on the lakes speak to tactical leadership based on geographic knowledge but not any sense of military strategy. As to character, reading his correspondence to Andre and recognizing his willingness to assist the British in capturing Washington and giving up the soldiers in his command to the enemy says it all. Andre, however, while misguided and ill advised, was loyal to his ethics.

    Nice piece Bridget.

  • Professional job, Bridget on an important and historical part of our heritage here in The Hudson Valley Area, “ The birth place of our Nation”. Be Healthy and Safe..

  • Very well done. Thank you for the tour and thorough narration. We really enjoyed Turn. Such a great series that stays with you.

  • Great job! I would love to see those places. I live in Alabama & am a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I had the opportunity to go to the re-enactment of Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware in 2016 on Christmas Day. Best biography of Arnold is “Valiant Ambition” by Nathaniel Philbrick. I, too, love “Turn”. Thank you for caring about American Revolutionary War history.
    Don’t forget about Nathan Hale when sympathizing for John Andre. He knew the rules.

  • Good to see this well done video!

    FYI, there is a driving tour guide of Arnold’s and Andre’s Trail in “the Bicentennial Guide to the American Revolution”, volume 1, by Sol Stember that covers what Bridget did and more.

    The tour was written in the 1970s, so some of the driving directions are dated. I have taken in several times over the years, and it is still pretty accurate.

  • Pretty well done but one key point needs correction – Andre’, Hett-Smith and his slave all rode horses in their trek toward White Plains; they did not walk. Hett-Smith, et al, parted ways with Andre’ at the Underhill House in Yorktown Heights and Andre’ was on his own thereafter with poor directions. Also, there is much discussion about whether his capture was simply bad luck since his captors were members of the 1st Westchester Militia [who manned the King’s Ferry barge]. See Tallmadge’s Memoirs.
    I recommend Dr. James Kirby Martin’s biography of Arnold, “Benedict Arnold Revolutionary Hero; An American Warrior Reconsidered” – currently it is the gold standard. May I also suggest “Major John Andre’; A Gallant in Spy’s Clothing” by Robert McConnell Hatch.

  • Very well done video. I, too, watched the series Turn, and found the story of Andre and Arnold to be particularly interesting. I think it’s a travesty that Arnold did not have a more immediate punishment, but his treachery brought him nothing but failure in the long run. Thanks again for posting the video.

  • Okay, you can pity Arnold. And mourn the loss of the gentleman John Andre. But Andre is not a hero. The patriot heroes of the story were the three militiamen who did a great job of capturing British Major Andre. Let’s remember that is not just high-ranking officers who are heroic; ordinary militiamen were just as much heroes.
    According to https://www.americanheritage.com/three-forgotten-heroes
    “David Williams was the oldest at twenty-five. John Paulding, acknowledged as their leader, was twenty-two. Isaac Van Wert was the youngest— hardly twenty years of age. Only Paulding could read, for all three lacked formal education. When fighting began in the American Revolution, they were hardly more than boys living on farms in Westchester County, New York.
    … Paulding, Williams, and Van Wert were not regularly enlisted soldiers in the Continental Army. Instead they were members of the New York state militia, interspersing short terms of service with spells of work on nearby Westchester County farms.
    … André … showed them the safeconduct pass made out by Arnold. But the pass failed to convince the militiamen. Consequently they ordered André into a nearby thicket, stripped and searched him, and discovered the hidden papers.
    … André’s captors took their prize to a Continental Army outpost a few miles distant. There they told their story to Lieutenant Colonel John Jameson, the commander, and turned their prisoner and his papers over to him. Thus Paulding, Williams, and Van Wert started the chain of events that revealed the conspiracy to betray West Point.
    … [General Washington wrote that] they must have been “men of great virtue,” for he had been told that they had refused to release their captive even though offered a large sum of money. Had Washington let it go at this, only a few would have heard of John Paulding, Isaac Van Wert, and David Williams. But eleven days later Washington sent their names to Congress and suggested that “the public will do well to make them a handsome gratuity.”
    … Congress responded to Washington’s suggestion within a month by voting each of the men a life pension of two hundred dollars in specie. In addition Congress ordered that silver medallions memorializing the capture be struck. Washington presented these medallions to the three heroes in a ceremony at Verplanck’s Point witnessed by selected units of the Continental Army. At the same ceremony Paulding, Williams, and Van Wert were given copies of a resolution conveying the thanks of Congress “for their fidelity and the eminent service they had rendered their country.” Afterward Washington entertained the three at dinner in his tent. Unwilling to be outdone by Congress, the New York state legislature rewarded each with two hundred acres of farm land. And, in accordance with customs of the New York militia, they were allowed to keep André’s watch, horse, saddle, and bridle.
    … Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s brilliant aide-de-camp, also helped bring Paulding, Williams, and Van Wert to public attention. In one of his letters to Elizabeth Schuyler, his fiancée, Hamilton enclosed a copy of an account of the conspiracy. In it he contrasted Arnold’s “base conduct” with that of the “three simple peasants” who, “leaning only on their virtue and an honest sense of duty,” had indignantly refused André’s offer of money in exchange for his release. Hamilton’s written recital of the dramatic events helped make the three captors well known, for a number of influential people read his account soon after he wrote it. It appeared later in several magazines and newspapers, including Hamilton’s own New York Evening Post.
    … André’s captors lived on quietly in New York for more than a generation after the Revolution. All three continued to farm, and each held a commission in the militia for a number of years.
    … Arnold’s treason disclosed that the Tree of Liberty bore one bad apple. But the example of the three honest yeomen demonstrated that the trunk of the tree was sturdy and sound. John Paulding, Isaac Van Wert, and David Williams were remembered. Americans loved the story of the way in which the three simple farmers confounded the artful spy. The story seemed an epitome of what Americans for more than a century believed their Revolution to have been—a victory of American honesty and simplicity over British artifice and sophistication.”

    • I didn’t know this! Very interesting. I wonder if the watch, sadle and bridle ever made it back to John’s family, or into a museum somewhere.

  • I think Benedict Arnold’s expertise was his leadership and his ability to inspire men. The fact of his failure at Quebec was due to a lack of knowledge of the terrain and how far he would have to travel (he was possibly mislead and ill-used by Tory spies). The fact that two-thirds of his original force made it to the walls of Quebec say something for him.

    Although the invasion was a fiasco, he accomplished something in his retreat by building the first Continental navy on Lake Champlain thereby delaying the British pursuit and invasion of colonies. He personally led the tiny fleet into the path of a much larger force and engaged them in battle. I think all of his ships were sunk, but the British chose to retreat to winter quarters till the spring. By then, Washington had built his army and the invasion route was covered.

    But Arnold’s true mettle shown forth during the 18 days battle of Saratoga where he rode forth — against orders — swinging his saber about his head, leading the assault at Bemis’ Heights, one of the decisive victories of the Revolutionary War.

  • Very nicely done. I enjoy seeing the actual locations and your commentary was spot on, factual yet personal. Keep it up! Don’t feel sorry for Benedict Arnold…he took a wrong “Turn” (get it?) and chose his fate. I think the British, if they could go back, would make that trade now! Be well.

  • I think Andre was truly a hero. He risked his life to cross into enemy territory, alone, for a cause he believed in, then accepted his fate in a manner we remember two hundred forty years later. Arnold wanted a payoff; Andre merely did his duty to the king. The three militia men did not risk anything; they were just there when he rode by.

  • I totally agree with you Jim. Arnold’s leadership was second to none. Not only did he find difficult terrain going to Quebec he had weather problems and the desertion of 1/3 of his forces. Also boats made of green wood all ofwhich ultimately were destroyed by what he encountered. Food also wiped out by boats leaking or crashing. Inadequate ammunition and weapons lost on the way. Who else could have led the expedition to Quebec with all those problems? In the assault on Quebec On New Years Eve Arnold was wounded early on and the leading commander BG Richard Montgomery was killed. No Wonder the assault failed. No one could have made it work successfully.

  • Very enjoyable history. I’ve read much on this story. This is the first time I have heard that Andre’s plea of not being a spy because he felt he was a prisoner of war and thus had a right to attempt an escape in disguise. It is an interesting position. It is true that he ventured behind American lines dressed in his British uniform. That his attempt to return to British territory was twarthed and so he tried to return dressed in disguise. I think that he could have tried to return to British lines dressed in his British uniform or he could have elected to hide until a later time. He was part of a plot against American, he was not captured, as in a battle, so I do not think he was a prisoner of war.
    Thanks for taking the time to create and publish this story and hopefully to enlighten people to these events.

  • I enjoyed this video, as I live very near to Tappan, but have never visited! I recommend the book: Valiant Ambition; Author Nathanial Philbrick, for an in depth biography of Benedict Arnold.

  • When I first learned of Jean Andre, back in 8th grade American History while living in Ohio, our teacher told us that we could always remember the names of the militiamen who captured him. All we had to do was look at a map of Ohio. Three of the four counties in Northwest Ohio, bordering on Indiana, are named for them – Williams, Paulding, and Van Wert counties.

  • Thank you for bringing this historic route and story to life in the present day. It is interesting to read all comments, including Andre’s attempt to bribe the 3 captors, because it matches a family story about an ancestor, whose name was Consider Law. The story says that he was one of Andre’s guards while held before trial, and thank you for including the “76 House” in the trail story, as I imagine it was the site in question. Consider has been honored in that family for not accepting Andre’s offer to him. If any of Andre’s captors had consented to the bribes, history might well have been different again.

  • My aunt by marriage Mary Paulding was to my knowledge the last direct descendant of John Paulding. She had the medal of valor awarded by Washington which was given to a museum on her passing.
    Mary Paulding passed along the family lore that Andre was wearing a Hessian jacket which fooled Andre when he was stopped. He offered money to be released. The three stripped Andre and found the secrets in his boots.
    As history would justly have it both Paulding and Andre were memorialized as heroes…Paulding with a statue in Tarrytown and Andre with a memorial in Westminster Abbey. Arnold’s bones lie in a paupers grave in London.

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