Major André’s Captors Revisited: Separating Myth from Historical Reality

The War Years (1775-1783)

July 12, 2022
by Victor J. DiSanto Also by this Author


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For more than 200 years, people have debated the character and motives of the three men who captured Major John André on September 23, 1780, frequently misidentifying them as Skinners. The military service of David Williams, John Paulding, and Isaac Van Wart as well as the records of five of their comrades during the American Revolution, separate this folklore from historical reality. All these men belonged to families who farmed as tenants on Phillipse Manor before the war. In the voluminous literature about Benedict Arnold and John André in which Paulding, Williams, and Van Wart play a bit part, the other members of their patrol are seldom mentioned. No one has tried to juxtapose the reminisces of these men with existing military records.[1]

Most likely six men left North Salem for Tarrytown on September 22, 1780—John Yerkes, James Romer, John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart, Isaac See, and Abraham Williams. In South Salem they asked David Williams to join them. At Davis’ Hill in Tarrytown they separated, leaving four to the hill while Paulding, Van Wart, and David Williams stationed themselves one-half mile away at Clark’s Kill. After capturing André, David Williams, Paulding, and Van Wart reunited with their comrades on the hill and summoned John Dean. The eight men escorted André to Col. John Jameson at the nearest continental army outpost in North Castle.[2]

Were André’s captors citizen soldiers or mercenaries? During this era New York State had three categories of military service: The New York Continental Line, which served in the Continental Army, state regiments called Levies, and the militia.[3] There were also various ad hoc militia regiments, also called “Levies,” that were drawn for short term Continental Service. This shorter service could be for months, weeks, or even just a few days. It would be incorrect and unjust to assume that the militia in the lower Hudson Valley belonged to the mercenary force we now label as Skinners.[4] An examination of their miliary service will illuminate.

Private David Williams

David Williams (October 21, 1754–August 2, 1831) was born on Phillipse Manor in Tarrytown where his father farmed as a tenant.[5] He spent his youth on his father’s farm until the American Revolution erupted.On June 27, 1775, ten days after the Battle of Bunker Hill, Congress approved an invasion of Canada and instructed New York State to raise 3000 men.[6]

One week after the call for volunteers went out and the day after George Washington took command at the siege of Boston, Williams enlisted on July 4 at the age of twenty and served in Capt. Ambrose Pierce’s Company of the 4th Regiment of the New York Line.[7] John Dean did the same.

Muster rolls indicate that Williams soldiered at Fort Ticonderoga until October 10 before being deployed to Canada.[8] The patriot force under Gen. Richard Montgomery successfully besieged Fort St. John and then captured Montreal on November 13. The 4th Regiment mainly served in a support role because they were never fully outfitted. Williams stated that he was at the Siege of Fort St. John and afterward onboard flat-bottomed boats to carry provisions. According to David’s sister Sara, after serving at St. John and Montreal, David went to Quebec with Montgomery’s force.[9]

Williams’ enlistment ended on December 31, 1775. He would not have been welcomed back to Philipse Manor after his tour in the Continental Army by Frederick Philipse III, a staunch loyalist, who was still in control this early in the war. Williams most likely initially stayed north of the Croton River after returning to the lower Hudson Valley.[10]

Williams mentioned that he reenlisted in the Spring of 1776 and spent time in different militia units until January 1, 1780.[11] He is listed as a member of the 1st Regiment Westchester Militia, the 4th Regiment Westchester Militia, and the Dutchess County Militia 6th Regiment. Several officers and enlisted men from the 1st Westchester Militia are listed as members of the Dutchess County Militia 6th Regiment commanded by Colonel Graham including Williams, James Romer, John Dean, and John Paulding—four of the eight men who turned André over to the Continental Army; Morris’s may have been a levy regiment. Payroll records indicated that David received pay in May 1785 for one year’s service during the Revolutionary War in Hamman’s Regiment of Militia (the 1st Westchester Militia); the dates of service are not noted.[12]

Documents in the National Archives show that Williams was a full-time soldier for most of 1778 in Col. Morris Grahams Regiment of Levies, stationed in the neutral ground in Westchester County.[13] This was a nine-month tour of duty that ended on January 1, 1779. John Dean and James Romer also served in this unit. Williams spoke about some of his experiences as a soldier during this period, first as a member of Capt. Sybert Acker’s company, when he captured some Loyalist militia in Tarrytown, and secondly as a member of Capt. Daniel Williams company when he participated in a three-day raid on horseback during a snowstorm to Morrisania. The Americans captured several Loyalist militia leaders. Many of the soldiers, including David Williams, suffered from frostbite, leaving them unfit for duty. David Williams retired to his Uncle Martinus Van Wart’s house nearby to recuperate. Loyalist troops tracked the Americans back to Joseph Youngs’ house in Mount Pleasant and on December 24 captured Captain Williams, Youngs, and some other patriots, burnt one of Youngs’ barns and stole some cattle. David Williams described this event as occurring in 1779 but there is ample evidence that is happened in 1778.[14]

Williams moved into Northern Westchester after his feet healed, out of the neutral zone and behind American lines, and found work on the farm of Joseph Benedict, Esq., in South Salem, working for his board as a hand.[15] The Benedicts were ardent Whigs in the Salem and Danbury areas. Williams had served with Benedict’s son Ambrose and several Benedict cousins in the 4th Regiment of the New York Line. Joseph Benedict, David’s employer and future father-in-law, had been a Justice of the Peace and served in the Militia Exempts. His sons Joseph Jr. and Lewis belonged to the 4th Regiment Westchester Militia. On September 21, 1780, Lewis, a member of Maj. Nathaniel Delavan’s Dragoons, helped track the Tories that killed a farmer named Pelham in Pound Ridge. Lewis captured a British soldier who accompanied the raiding party.[16] Pelham’s murder led David Williams and his comrades to embark on their famous patrol.

The following day, September 22, six men from the 1st Westchester Militia approached Williams at Joseph Benedict’s farm and invited him to a patrol in Tarrytown to avenge Pelham’s death and recover his stolen property. This led to the capture of Major John André the next day by Williams, Van Wart, and Paulding, for which Congress awarded them the Fidelity Medallion and a lifetime pension of $200.00 annually. [17] New York State awarded them each a confiscated farm. John Paulding and David Williams testified at the military trial of Joshua Smith shortly after the execution of André by hanging.

Williams married Joseph Benedict’s daughter Nancy on January 9, 1782, and remained in South Salem after the war. In 1789 he bought 140 acres from his father-in-law after receiving his back pay from the federal government. He remained there until 1805 when he moved with his wife and their son David Jr. to Broome, Schoharie County. He passed away August 2, 1831, at the age of seventy-six.[18] During the Centennial of the American Revolution in 1876 New York State dedicated a monument to David Williams at the Old Stone Fort in Schoharie and he and Nancy were later reinterred there.

Private John Paulding

John Paulding (October 16, 1758–February 18, 1818) was born on October 16, 1758 on Philipse Manor by Tarrytown. He grew to be over six feet tall and very strong. Enemy forces plundered his father’s farm and harassed his mother during the war.[19]

Paulding served in the 1st Regiment Westchester Militia, the 3rd Regiment Westchester County Militia, and the Dutchess County Militia 6th Regiment.[20] The militia put him on active duty on July 18, 1776 for six days when the British ships of war Phoenix and Rose sailed to the Tappan Zee, a natural widening in the Hudson River.[21] Paulding recalled that enemy forces captured him at White Plains and confined him in the Sugar House.[22] Payroll records indicated that Paulding served under Capt. Richard Sackett in September and October 1777 in Henry Ludington’s Regiment of the Dutchess County Militia.[23] This tour of duty most likely was in a levy unit of 500 Westchester and Dutchess county patriots commanded by Colonel Ludington and formed in August 1777 to patrol the lines of the neutral ground for a period of four months.[24] Payroll Records indicate that Paulding served in Capt. John Drake’s company in Colonel Grahams Regiment of the Dutchess County Militia in 1778.[25] The enemy also captured Paulding near Tarrytown in 1780 and imprisoned him in the North Dutch Church in Manhattan. Paulding escaped from British prisons both times, the second time only four days before the capture of André.

Enemy forces captured Paulding a third time shortly before the war ended, bayonetting him in the leg in the process, and he ended the war in a British prison hospital.[26] A John Paulding Jr. is listed on Colonel Hamman’s list of vouchers for prisoners for the 1st Westchester Militia and received eight pounds for his time in captivity.[27]

Paulding died in 1818 and was buried in the cemetery of Old Saint Peter’s Church in Van Cortlandtville, Cortlandt Manor. Paulding’s grave is marked by a large marble monument. During his lifetime Paulding married three times and fathered nineteen children.

Private Isaac Van Wart

Isaac Van Wart (October 25, 1762–May 23, 1828) served in the 1st Regiment Westchester Militia and the 3rd Regiment Westchester County Militia. Payroll records exist for service done in Lt. Cornelius Van Tassell’s company in 1778, and Capt. John Orser’s company in 1779 and 1780.[28] Van Wart and David Williams were first cousins. At twenty years of age, Van Wart was the youngest of the trio that captured André. In 1828 Van Wart died in Elmsford and was buried in the cemetery of the Old Dutch Reformed Church, on what is today Route 9. A marble and granite monument was erected at his grave on June 11, 1829. Van Wart married Rachel Storm and continued to farm in Greenburgh after the war, becoming an elder deacon in the Dutch Reformed Church.

Private John Yerks Jr.

John Yerks Jr. was born in 1758, and in March 1776 enlisted in Capt. William Dutcher’s Company in the 1st Regiment, Westchester Militia for nine months. He was sent to what is now the Bronx to help build Fort Independence. From there he was sent to Dobbs Ferry and during the Battle of White Plains to Peekskill. He finished his enlistment at Dobbs Ferry. In March 1777 he enlisted in Capt. Sybert Acker’s company in the 1st Westchester Militia for three months. In 1779 he enlisted in Capt. Gilbert Dean’s company of Rangers and was stationed in the neutral ground. In July he was wounded in the thigh in a skirmish with the enemy at Tuckahoe. In May 1779 he reenlisted for a year in Capt. Jesse Baker’s company of the 1st Westchester Militia and was stationed at Phillipsburgh and Bedford. He reenlisted and was a member of Captain Baker’s Company when André was captured.[29]

Corporal Isaac See

Isaac See was a member of the 1st Regiment, Westchester Militia and had served in Capt. Gilbert Dean’s company of Rangers in 1777, Capt. Daniel Martling’s company in 1779 and 1780, and lastly as a corporal in Capt. Jesse Baker’s Company.[30]

Private James Romer

James Romer (1764–1807) belonged to the 1st Westchester Militia, the Dutchess County Militia 6th Regiment[31] and Capt. Sybert Acker’s Company in Col. Morris Graham’s Regiment of Levies during 1778. This was a nine-month tour in the neutral ground.[32]

Private Abraham Williams

Abraham Williams, born in 1764, was the youngest of the patrol at only sixteen. Like the others he belonged to the 1st Westchester Militia. Standing five feet five inches, with light hair and a light complexion, Williams was born on Cortlandt Manor and farmed for a living. He was in Lt. Cornelius Van Tassell’s company in 1778 and in the companies of Capt. George Comb, Capt. Daniel Martling, and Capt. Jonas Orsor in the 1st Westchester Militia during the war. In May 1781 Williams volunteered for or was drafted into Col. Albert Pawling’s Regiment of Levies, Capt. Richard Sackett’s company.[33] Pawling’s Levies guarded forts in Orange and Ulster County from 1779-1781.[34] He received a land grant for this service.[35]

Sergeant John Dean

John Dean (September 15, 1755–April 4, 1817)enlisted on July 4, 1775 at the age of nineteen and served in Capt. Ambrose Pierce’s company of the 4th Regiment of the New York Line. On July 6, 1775 his older brother William enlisted in the same company. Dean was at Fort Ticonderoga until October 10.[36] He was sent to the siege of Fort Saint John in Canada.[37] He became sick, and the Army discharged him on November 2, 1775 at Fort George (by Lake George) due to illness.[38]

John Dean is listed as a member of the 1st Regiment Westchester Militia, the Dutchess County Militia 6th Regiment, Capt. Gilbert Deans company of Rangers in 1777, and Colonel Graham’s Regiment of Levies during 1778. This was a nine-month tour in the neutral ground. He served in as quartermaster sergeant in Graham’s Levies in 1778, and afterwards as a sergeant in Capt. Jesse Baker’s company. He is listed on the rolls of Westchester County Militia.[39] On July 9, 1790 New York State granted Dean 600 acres in the Town of Brutus, Montgomery County.[40]


To summarize, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the eight men who captured John André saw extensive military service for the Patriot cause. There are no contemporary accounts of André’s capture describing David Williams and/or any of his comrades as Skinners although the term existed and was used commonly during the American Revolution. General Washington characterized the captors as militia in his initial report to Congress, André referred to them as volunteers in his letter of confession to Washington, Alexander Hamilton identified them as militia men in private correspondence, and Congress called them volunteer militia of the State of New York.[41] All eight of the men who turned over André are listed in the rolls the 1st Westchester Militia; five of them—David Williams, Abraham Williams, James Romer, John Paulding and John Dean—served in Levies, and two—David Williams and John Dean—in the Continental Line. Dean had risen to the rank of quartermaster sergeant in the Levies, the second highest rank a noncommissioned officer could achieve. All eight men belonged to families who farmed as tenants on Philipse Manor and put themselves at risk by siding with the Patriots.

David Williams and his compatriots were volunteers who chose to fight for the American cause. The road to liberty from Great Britain was filled with untold dangers and formidable obstacles. The Westchester Militia faced a better trained and outfitted foe and raids by the enemy—British and German regulars as well as Tory Cowboys and Skinners—on Westchester farms that had been part of their lives for years. The men on the patrol had spent years in a war zone and risked their lives for the American goals of liberty and independence. The citizen soldiers of the Westchester militia acted as the first line of defense against British forces in the neutral zone.

The three men responsible for foiling Benedict Arnold’s plot are largely forgotten or maligned. I grew up in the lower Hudson Valley. Every American schoolchild learns the story of Arnold’s treason and there are historical markers relating to André’s captivity, transport, and execution in the lower Hudson Valley, but ironically, I had never heard of David Williams, Isaac Van Wart, or John Paulding until I moved to Schoharie County, about 125 miles northwest of Westchester. As the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution approaches we should try to revisit the story of André’s captors in a fair manner that will do them justice.


[1]Richard C. Brown. “Three Forgotten Heroes,” American Heritage, Volume 26, Issue 5, August 1975; Rand Mirante, “Justice, Mercy, and Treason: John Marshall’s and Mercy Otis Warren’s Treatment of Benedict Arnold,” Journal of the American Revolution, October 28, 2021; Robert E. Cray, “Major John Andre and the Three Captors: Class Dynamics and the Revolutionary Memory Wars in the Early Republic, 1780-1831,” Journal of the Early Republic, Volume 17, Number 3, Autumn, 1997, 371-397; John Evangelist Walsh, The Execution of Major Andre, (New York: Palgrave, 2001); John Knight, “The Death and Resurrection of Major John Andre, Journal of the American Revolution, August 14, 2018.

[2]Statement of Samuel Youngs, dated June 1, 1837 in Pension Application of Mary Dean, widow of John Dean, pension application W. 16555, dated June 8, 1837; David Williams, “Major John Andre,” The Ulster Sentinel, Kingston, June 20, 1827, reprinted from The New York Times; “The affidavit of John Yerks,” November 12, 1845, Tarrytown Monument Committee and Raymond Marcius Denison, Souvenir of the Revolutionary Soldiers Monument dedication at Tarrytown, NY, October 19, 1894 (New York: Rogers & Sherwood, 1894)169-70; Jeptha Root Simms, The Frontiersman of New York(Albany, NY: George C. Riggs, 1882), 701-713.

[3]James A. Roberts, New York in the Revolution as Colony and State (Albany: Weed Parsons Printing Company, 1897), vi-vii.

[4]Lincoln Diamont, Yankee Doodle Days (Fleishmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 1996), 116-117.

[5]National Archives, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the Revolutionary War (Compiled Service Records), Pension Application of Nancy Benedict Williams, widow of David Williams, 1842.

[6]Marko Zlatich, Peter F. Copeland, General Washington’s Army 1: 1775-1778 (London: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 1994), 6; Robert K. Wright, Jr., The Continental Army (Washington, DC: Center for Military History, 2006), 40-43.

[7]“Colonel James Holmes Fourth New York Regiment,”

[8]David Willliams, 4th New York Regiment, (Revolutionary War), David Williams, Captain Ambrose Horton’s Company, 4th Regiment, Private, Card Number 35504257, Compiled Service Records.

[9]Simms, Frontiersman, 701. Affidavit of Sara Mead, January 5, 1841 in National Archives, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the Revolutionary War, Pension Application of Nancy Benedict Williams, widow of David Williams, 1842.

[10]Ibid., 705.

[11]Ibid., 701.

[12]National Archives. David Williams, Hamman’s Regiment, First Westchester Militia. Receipt Received by David Williams on May 4, 1785 of Captain Daniel Martling, the sum of L 31-16-5 for one year’s service done in Lieutenant Colonel James Hammans Regiment of Militia.

[13]David Williams, Col. Morris Grahams Regiment of Levies, June 1, 1778—September 18, Captain Sybert Ackers Company, and September 18, 1778—January 1, 1779 Captain Daniel Williams Company, Compiled Service Records.

[14]Simms, Frontiersman, 701-702. Captain Williams was in captivity until March 1780. His capture and the strategic location of Youngs’ house was significant enough to be mentioned in a letter from Israel Putnam to George Washington. Israel Putnam to George Washington, January 24, 1779,

[15]Simms, Frontiersman, 701-13.

[16]National Archives, Ambrose Benedict, Captain Daniel Mills Company in the 4th Regiment of the New York Forces under Command of Colonel James Holmes; Henry Marvin Benedict and Erastus Cornelius Benedict, The Genealogy of the Benedicts in America (Albany: Joel Munsell, Albany, NY, 1870), 61-99.

[17]Simms, Frontiersman, 702, 710.

[18]Marcius D. Raymond, “David Williams and the Capture of Andre: A paper read before the Tarrytown Historical Society, January 15, 1903,”pages not numbered; Theodore Langdon Van Norden, South Salem Soldiers and Sailors (South Salem: Lancaster Press, 1927), 57-58.

[19]Souvenir of the Revolutionary Soldiers Monument,158-159.

[20]James A. Roberts, New York in the Revolution as Colony and State (Albany: Weed Parsons Printing Company, 1897), 147, 226; NYS Comptroller Payment and Land Bounty Rights, New York State Comptroller’s Office Revolutionary War Accounts and Claims.

[21]National Archives. “A pay Roll of the Officers, Non Commissioned Officers & Privates of Capt Glode Requa’s Company of Militia belonging to Col. Joseph Drake’s Regiment stationed at

the North River to guard the Shore while the Ships of War were in the River.”

[22]Egbert Benson, Vindication of the Captors of Major Andre (New York: Kirk and Mercein, 1817). John Paulding’s affidavit dated May 6, 1817, is reprinted on 21-23.

[23]Roberts, New York in the Revolution, 152; John Paulding, Captain Richard Sackett’s Company, Colonel Henry Luddington’s Company, Company Pay Roll, September and October 1777, Compiled Service Records.

[24]John Lockwood Romer, Historical Sketches of the Romer, Van Tassell, and Allied Families, and Tales of the Neutral Ground (Buffalo, NY: W.C. Kay Publishing Company, 1917), 55.

[25]John Paulding, Captain John Drake’s Company, Colonel Morris Graham’s Regiment, Company Pay Rolls, June and July 1778 and August and September 1778, Compiled Service Records.

[26]Otto Hufeland, Westchester County During the Revolution (White Plains: Westchester County Historical Society, 1926), 348-362, 433; Walsh, The Execution of Major Andre, 153-54.

[27]John Paulding, Colonel Hamman’s Regiment, Compiled Service Records. Documents regarding this pay transaction are undated.

[28]Roberts, New York in the Revolution, 226; Isaac Van Wart, Receipt Rolls, Colonel Hamman’s Regiment, New York Militia, Compiled Service Records; NYS Comptroller Payment and Land Bounty Rights, New York State Comptroller’s Office Revolutionary War Accounts and Claims.

[29]John Yerks, pension application dated September 3, 1832, 6-10, Compiled Service Records; affidavit of John Yerks, November 12, 1845, Souvenir of the Revolutionary Soldiers Monument, 169-70.

[30]Roberts, New York in the Revolution, 226; National Archives, Revolutionary War Records, Isaac See, Capt. Gilbert Dean’s Company in Col. James Hamman’s Regiment done at different times for service from the 20th of March to August 1, 1777; Receipt received from Capt. Daniel Martling for military service in James Hamman’s Regiment in 1779 and 1780; Receipt received from Capt. J Baker for military service in Hamman’s Regiment during the Revolutionary War, December 15, 1784.

[31]Roberts, New York in the Revolution, 147, 226.

[32]Roberts, New York in the Revolution, 226; National Archives, Revolutionary War Records, James Romer, Payroll, in Capt. Sybert Acker’s company in Graham’s Regiment of New York Militia.

[33]Roberts, New York in the Revolution, 226; Revolutionary Service Records, National Archives, Abraham Williams, Hamman’s Regiment of Militia; Abraham Williams, Muster roll of the men received from the County of Westchester, State of New York, by Captain Richard Sackett, Revolutionary War; and Abraham Williams, Albert Pawling’s Regiment, Private, Capt. Richard Sackett’s Company, Col. Albert Pawling’s Regiment, State of New York Comptroller’s Office, certified that Abraham Williams served in the Levies and Militia service in 1781.


[35]NYS Comptroller Payment and Land Bounty Rights, New York State Comptroller’s Office Revolutionary War Accounts and Claims (

[36]Roberts, New York in the Revolution, 34; 4th New York Regiment (Revolutionary War), John Deen, Capt. Ambrose Horton’s Company, 4th Regiment, Private, Company Muster Rolls June 28-October 10, 1775, Fort Ticonderoga, October 10, 1775, enlisted July 4, 1775, Compiled Service Records. Deans’s name is misspelled Deen. William Dean is listed as “on command” on muster rolls, indicating that he was serving elsewhere; he may have been sick and hospitalized as it has been reported he died of illness during his term of service.

[37]Pension Application of Mary Dean, widow of John Dean, pension application W. 16555, dated June 8, 1837.

[38]Souvenir of the Revolutionary Soldiers Monument, 64.

[39]Roberts, New York in the Revolution, 145, 225; John Dean, Private, Hamman’s Regiment, New York Militia Capt. Gilbert Dean’s company, March 20 August 20, 1777, Compiled Service Records; John Dean, quartermaster sergeant, Capt. John Bell’s company in the detachment of New York Militia in the service of the United States commanded by Col. Morris Graham. Payroll June and July 1778, Capt. William Pearce’s company August 1—September 18, 1778; Receipt roll, paid by Capt. Jesse Baker December 18, 1784; statement of Samuel Youngs, dated June 1, 1837 in Pension Application of Mary Dean, widow of John Dean, pension application W. 16555, dated June 8, 1837; NYS Comptroller Payment and Land Bounty Rights, New York State Comptroller’s Office Revolutionary War Accounts and Claims.

[40]Land Grant, New York State to John Dean, July 9, 1790, Lot Number Twenty-six containing 600 acres, Town of Brutus, Montgomery County. This is now Conquest, Cayuga County.

[41]George Washington to the President of Congress, September 26, 1780, in Benson, Vindication, 27-29; John André to Washington, September 24, 1780, ibid., 32-34; Alexander Hamilton to John Laurens, October 11, 1780,; Order of Congress, November 30, 1780 in Benson, Vindication, 58-60.


  • Excellent article Victor. Very helpful by providing good research on the men who captured Maj. John Andre. There has been so much of the myths about those men spread by various authors in various publications. It is refreshing to see the actual history of these men spelled out with references. I had been misled for many years and had never seen the details you have provided. Thanks for your research which is sorely needed to correct the longstanding myths.

  • Being Skinners or not, look again at that painting. They have his boots off while one of the group is barefoot, not uncommon back then. Most interesting is his watch and chain being “confiscated”. Makes one wonder. While being held prisoner by the Americans in Tappan, NY, Washington wanted to know if he had any unique pre-trial requests. He asked for his stolen watch to be returned, and it was.
    More interesting were the words of CT. Congressman Benjamin Tallmadge, the organizer of Washington’s successful Culper Spy Ring, the “Secret Six”, when this group requested an increase in their pension award for their actions. Talmadge himself made it clear that in his opinion, these were clearly “Highway Men”, working “both sides of the war to their advantage.” Request — DENIED !

    1. The painting was done in 1845 and is not relevant to historical reality. The other issues that you raise are subjects for another article. But briefly:

      It was the military custom on both sides during the AR to confiscate the possessions of captured enemy soldiers as prize. Washington approved this policy after the Battle of Trenton, in which Talmadge participated, writing that all plunder from the Hessians were to be split evenly between officers and enlisted men. Paulding freely admitted in an affidavit that they retained Andre’s watch. saddle, bridle, and horse as prize in accordance with the customs of NYS militia, sold these items and split the money evenly between the 7 in the original party.

      Talmadge’s opinion in 1817 is in direct contrast to the opinions of Hamilton and Washington, who met with the captors after Andre’s capture, and investigated the entire matter.

    2. Thanks for bringing up Talmage! I remember his opposition to the pension increase, and his first person knowledge of these men after he took over custody of Andre. Question – Do you have a citation for the Talmage quote? Big thanks

      1. Brian Kilmeade’s “Washington;s secret Six the Culper Spy Ring” pg 211, the post war days of Benjamin Tallmadge. Hope this helps……

    3. The request was denied, but not because of the statement by Tallmadge regarding his elite attitude which maligned the Captors. The pension increase requested by Paulding was denied because congress deemed it unfair to increase the pensions of these veterans given that many other veterans still had not been compensated nor received any pensions.

      It still surprises me how many people think of Tallmadge as a reliable judge of character given that he took credit for the bravery exhibited by the Cukper operatives, and the blind admiration of the gallant Andre (the enemy spy opportunist that was known for sweet-talking to gain what he wanted).

    4. Washington never met with Andre
      Washington made it clear in a letter to Colonel James dated September 25, 1780 that because Andre assumed a false identity and was captured out of uniform he forfeited the rights and privileges of an ordinary prisoner of war. GW’s exact words “I would not wish Mr André to be treated with insult, but he does not appear to stand upon the footing of a common prisoner of War and therefore he is not entitled to the usual indulgencies they receive.”
      Andre wrote two letters to Washington while in captivity. He never complained that he was robbed by the captors.
      Andre wrote one letter to Sir Henry Clinton while in captivity. He never complained that he was robbed by the captors.
      The captors were allowed to keep Andre’s watch as prize.

    5. Tallmadge essentially fell in love with John Andre in the brief time they were together. Andre was an, intelligent, and artistic smooth-talker and he had climbed to prominent position in the British Military quickly. In short, he was exactly what Tallmadge wanted for himself. Tallmadge and most of the American officer corps were educated “elites” that foresaw that the US was going to be run by a strong centralized government of gentlemen. Paulding and company on the other hand were mere peasant farmers who fought for a country that was to be run by the people. The hard-working, largely agrarian, people. Tallmadge did indeed object to the Pension increase. His comments which he made and then never repeated for the rest of his life caused an uproar. The Pension increase was denied, but not because of Tallmadge’s mischaracterization of the Captors, but because there were a vast number of veterans that NEVER got a pension or proper compensation yet served heroically. It was seen to be an affront to those vets to increase the payment to Paulding who had enjoyed regular payments for years. For the record, the watch was A) not stolen. It was confiscated under New York law at the time and awarded to the captors along with horse tackle, etc. The watch was sold and the money divided amongst all of the captors. (That watch and 2 of the Fidelity Medals were stolen from the NY History Museum in the 1970s) The Captors were Patriots that sacrificed the offers of great personal reward in order to benefit the country. Tallmadge was an elite that was most often looking out for his own interests and rank.

  • Excellent article. Isaac Van Wart was a 1st cousin of my 5x great-grandfather Jacob Van Wart. 2. Issac’s father Martinas (Martin) Van Wart was baptized on June 26, 1733 at Tarrytown Reformed Chrch, married in 1752 Rachel Williams, and died d before November 3, 1784. He was also involved in the 1780 fight at Young’s House: “That Martinus Van Wart … was a Patriot Soldier and did some service, is evidenced by the following taken from an account of the action at Youngs’ House which has been published: “It appears that Captain Roberts with his Company was stationed at Martinus Van Wart’s, who lived about a mile west of the Upper Cross Roads, and near the Saw Mill River. He had moved at command to the support of Colonel Thompson at Youngs’ House, and held the right of the line. A noted Tory who was with the British advance, it is said singled him out, and so he was early shot down. Martinus Van Wart and some of his Patriot neighbors, hearing the firing came up, and did some skirmishing on the flanks of the red coats, and as soon as the enemy had finished the work of destruction and had retired, they came upon the scene to minister to the wounded and bury the dead. They found Capt. Roberts lying where he had fallen on the snow, inhumanly robbed of whatever he had of value on his person, and fearfully wounded. They got a sled and a bed, and putting him upon it took him home to Mr. Van Wart’s, where he died that night.”

    Isaac Van Wart (“the Captor”) was baptized on April 25, 1758 Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow He married Rachel Storm on 13 April 1778 at Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow. He died 23 May 1828 in 69th year. He is buried in the buried Old Greenburgh Presby Ch, Elmsford, Westchester County, where his tombstone reads “On his tombstone: “Here rests the mortal remains of Isaac VanWart, an Elder of the Greenburgh Church, who died on the 23rd day of May 1828, in the 69th year of his age. On the 23rd of September 1780 Isaac VanWart accompanied by John Paulding and David Williams, all farmers of the County of Westchester, intercepted Major Andre on his return from the American line in the character of a Spy; and notwithstanding the large bribe offered them for his release, Nobly disdaining to sacrifice their Country for Gold, secured and carried him to the Commanding Officer of the district whereby the dangerous and traitorous conspiracy Arnold was brought to light, the insidious designs of the Enemy baffled, the American Army saved and our beloved Country, now free and independent, rescued from most imminent peril.”

    Isaac used his bounty for capturing Major Andre to purchase property in Cortlandt Manor from the Commissioners of Forfeitures. He sold that property and purchased the Young’s Farm, where the battle referred to above had been fought. Isaac Van Wart built a armhouse near the foundations of the Young’s house which had been burned in 1780. His house still existed in 1952, but was lost among the many additions to the main building of the Blythedale Home on Knollwood Road, north of the Four Corners intersection with County House Road and east of the main gate to Grasslands Hospital. The Young’s farm was in the possession of the Van Warts from 1780 until 1868.

    1. Thank you. Good information. I worked at Blythdale Childrens Hospital from 1978-80 as a Recreation Therapist. I knew Youngs’ House had been there but not Isaac’s. Isaac also has a cousin named Isaac Van Wart who was an officer and had a distinguished military record during the AR.

      I did a presentation in May in Somers and met a descendant of Isaac Van Wart.

  • David Williams, Isaac Van Wart, and John Paulding all have counties named after them in Northwest Ohio (although the county named for Van Wart is spelled “Van Wert County”).

  • We learned about Williams, Paulding and Van Wert in Ohio history class because three counties in Northwest Ohio are named after them.

  • The first sentence in the 6 paragraph about David Williams reads “Documents in the National Archives show that Williams was a full-time soldier for most of 1778 in Col. Morris Grahams Regiment of Levies, stationed in the neutral ground in Westchester and Dutchess Counties.” My original draft listed just the neutral ground in Westchester County. The JAR added Dutchess County, which is incorrect. The neutral ground’s northern boundary was the Croton River in Northern Westchester County. I found no evidence that David served in Dutchess County in 1778. Vic

  • Just to clarify: neither Skinners nor Cowboys were a “mercenary force.”

    In the Neutral Ground between armies around New York, “Cowboys” was period slang for Loyalist stragglers and deserters who turned to plundering civilians, often with violence. (It also was used more benignly to refer DeLancey’s Westchester Refugees.) “Skinners” were the Whig version of the aforementioned violent plunderers. Both sides hated these outlaws. I have not come across any period record calling Andre’s captors Skinners. However, his captors were, in their own testimony, after plunder that day.

    John Yerks at age 87 was interviewed twice in 1845 by the oral historian John McDonald and gives a detailed account. He describes gathering all the men, planning the ambush, and the aftermath. “All seven of us were serving either as volunteers or as eight months’ men, or in the militia.” …”We were at Salem, every other week off duty, and it was on one of those alternate weeks that we applied to Captain Baker and our other commanding officers for leave to go down near Tarrytown, in order to take from the Refugees and Cow Boys cattle and plunder they might be conducting below, and to work for pocket money. Our officers had full knowledge and approved of our enterprise…”

    Thus, the men were after plunder, but not from civilians. They split into two groups, all seven agreeing to share anything they captured.

    Yerks continued, “It was about ten or eleven A.M. when [Andre] was taken, and his captors very soon afterwards joined us four at our station when we all immediately proceeded with the prisoner and his horse to Jacob Romer’s, where we partook of some refreshment, Andre refusing to eat or drink anything, and seeming unwilling to talk and desirous of being alone. We staid here but a short time and then hurried forwards to Mile Square where we delivered our prisoner, his papers &c to the commanding officer there, Lieut. Colonel Jamieson.

    “The proceeds of Andre’s horse and watch and the moneys found upon him were shared equally between the seven, but when the medals and pensions were given by Congress it caused many heart burnings and complaints, the four thinking they deserved as much reward as the three, and always believing that Paulding and the two others misrepresented the affair to Congress and the public authority. I and all the descendants of the four think to this day that they were ill-treated and feel bitterly about it. The four and their friends always thought that they were entitled equally with the three to farms, medals, and pensions, which they believed also they would have obtained, had the case been fairly put before the Congress. We (the four) never forgave this.”

    John Yerks interview, “McDonald Papers, 1844-1850,” manuscript, Westchester County Historical Society, Elmsford, NY, 144-147, 281-283.

    1. Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977.
      Article 47 [ Link ] — Mercenaries

      1. A mercenary shall not have the right to be a combatant or a prisoner of war.

      2. A mercenary is any person who:

      (a) is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;

      (b) does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;

      (c) is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;

      (d) is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;

      (e) is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and

      (f) has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.

      1. Definition of Plunder: 1. steal goods from (a place or person), typically using force and in a time of war or civil disorder:
        1. the violent and dishonest acquisition of property:

        So “Plunder” implies an illegal action. Their patrol was not illegal. It was legal in accordance with NYS law.

        1. Off duty militia and civilians were allowed to seize contraband from the enemy and retain it as prize according to NYS law.

  • In the 5th paragraph my draft had read: “Several officers and enlisted men from the First Westchester Militia are listed as members of the Dutchess County Militia 6th Regiment commanded by Colonel Morris Graham including Williams, James Romer, John Dean, and John Paulding – four of the eight men who turned Andre over to Colonel John Jameson of the Continental Army. (It may have been a levy unit.)”

    They had edited it and I think their version is confusing.

  • While these important historical milestones are well studied, there are other pieces of history in this area that have fallen victim to error and speculation. A perfect example is found in the study of the Cowboys and the Skinners, vigilante-like bands of militia with questionable loyalty who raided Westchester County. These guerilla forces harassed the local citizens and stole from both loyalists and patriots indiscriminately. While it was well known that the Cowboys were British marauders, it was largely believed for years that the Skinners were American marauders, but as a close analysis of history shows, this was a misconception that would not go away.

    The Cowboys were a British light horse battalion under the command of Colonel James De Lancey. Their name came from American soldiers and farmers, as they often rounded up cattle for the British in their raids.

    The Skinners were given their name because they were raised by Brigadier General Cortlandt Skinner. Therefore, the Skinners could not have been responsible for the capture of Major Andre, unless they had switched sides for profit or recognition. While the Skinners were in fact American loyalist volunteers from New Jersey, they did not affiliate themselves with the Patriot cause. But where did this myth of origin as patriots come from and why has it been so persistent?

    Blame our old “tale teller” Parson Weems, who loved the story so much he started adding 5 pages in all his George Washington books, editions stretching into the early 20thc kept the lovable story alive.

    For the past 200 years, many historians have fallen victim to this alluring misconception of Skinners as marauding patriots without making a thorough investigation into the source of this information. Andrè, being told that the Cow-boys were more numerous on the Tarrytown road, took that direction, contrary to the advice of Smith and others, for these marauders were his friends, and from them he had nothing to fear.

    According to Benson Lossing (1850): On the morning when Andrè crossed Pine’s Bridge, a little band of seven volunteers went out near Tarrytown to prevent cattle being driven to New York, and to arrest any suspicious characters who might travel that way. Paulding procured a permit from the officer commanding there, at the same time persuading his friend, Isaac Van Wart, to accompany them. On their way toward Tarrytown they were joined by David Williams. Benson traveled some 8,000 miles as a self-trained historian/ill to produce the first hand accounts in his FIELD BOOK of THE REVOLUTION
    and then his later edition NATHANIEL HALE & JOHN ANDRE

    They slept in a hay barrack at Pleasantville that night, and the next morning early they arrived near Tarrytown. Four of the party agreed to watch the road from a hill above, while Paulding, Van Wart, and David Williams were to lie concealed in the bushes by the stream near the post-road. Such was the position of the parties when Andrè approached. Oh, BTW, they admitted to playing cards while on bush patrol!

    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. Each had his own gun, but none of the three wore a complete, recognizable uniform.

    The day Andre was arrested, the WAR had gone on for 5 years. None of these guys had seen a day of service. Only one of the bunch could read, he had a faded Hessian military coat that had somehow
    come into possession, causing Andre to believe he was in the mist of British forces. Dropping his guard Andre to mistake the three for British partisans such as he was told by Smith would be there.

    So who were these men that history/myth has thrust into the American story. According to Hamilton
    (to girlfriend)…. 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 .

  • For the record, the slang term “skinners” regarding anyone in Westchester, has absolutely nothing to do with Brigadier General Cortland Skinner or the New Jersey Volunteers, a Provincial unit. The only usage the general’s name had with those under his command had was occasional reference to “Skinner’s Brigade” (it was originally a six battalion corps) or even rarer as “Skinner’s Greens,” a reference to their early-war uniform color. The terms “Cowboy” and “Skinner” were not commonly used at the time, certainly not in any official way. Those under Colonel James DeLancey were officially the Westchester County Militia, and typically referred to as “Refugees,” an acknowledgement that a number of the corps came from elsewhere.

    1. Dr. James Thacher used the term skinner to describe banditti who superficially aligned themselves with the whigs/patrots in a journal entry in the fall of 1780

    2. In a letter from Lt. Colonel John Jameson to General George Washington dated 27 September 1780 Jameson uses the term ” Delanceys Cow boys.”

  • “Cowboy” and “Skinner” were slang terms for plunderers. Neither referred to any sort of military group, but rather to small bands of 2-5 robbers who preyed on civilians. “Skinner,” particularly, seems to have been very local to the Westchester County Neutral Ground and its environs. As slang, neither term would appear in any official documents.

    However, “Cow Boy” appears to have been in general use by Whigs for Loyalist plunderers around New York during the war. The first mention I’ve found in print is 1783, when “one Norton, late of Long Island (said to be of the class of people called Cow Boys)” attacked Mr. Elisha Brown of Northhampton and beat him to death. [Pennsylvania Evening Post, 8/18/1783]

    The next burst of use in print came in 1817, when, in a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Benjamin Tallmadge actually accused André’s captors of being “Cow Boys.” (No mention of Skinners.) The editorial reaction around the country was one of dismay. The widely published insinuation that the captors were plunderers may have been why, as detailed in my comment above, John Yerks some years later was careful to admit that yes, he and the other captors were after plunder, but they had their officers’ permission — that is, they were not rogue actors and criminals.

    In 1839, Washington Irving wrote of the “Cow Boys” and “Skinners” of Westchester County, under the pen name Diedrich Knickerbocker (stories later collected as the Chronicle of Woolfort’s Roost.) However, it seems clear that these two slang epithets were by then well known. A year earlier a gentleman had offered a toast at a 4th of July celebration to: “Westchester County in the Revolutionary Times”:

    “Her patriots wise, her soldiers brave,
    Her daughters true and fair;
    Her soil full many a hero’s grave
    Who breathed the patriot’s prayer.

    “She had ‘Tories’ too, old England’s slaves,
    But the very worst sinners —
    More wicked than all other knaves,
    Were her ‘Cow-Boys’ and ‘Skinners!’
    [Hudson River Chronicle, 7/10/1838]

    Both slang terms are used regularly in the McDonald Papers, oral histories taken in Westchester County in the 1840s.

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