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.
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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. John Dean did the same.
Muster rolls indicate that Williams soldiered at Fort Ticonderoga until October 10 before being deployed to Canada. 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.
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.
Williams mentioned that he reenlisted in the Spring of 1776 and spent time in different militia units until January 1, 1780. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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.  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. 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.
Paulding served in the 1st Regiment Westchester Militia, the 3rd Regiment Westchester County Militia, and the Dutchess County Militia 6th Regiment. 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. Paulding recalled that enemy forces captured him at White Plains and confined him in the Sugar House. 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. 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. Payroll Records indicate that Paulding served in Capt. John Drake’s company in Colonel Grahams Regiment of the Dutchess County Militia in 1778. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
Private James Romer
James Romer (1764–1807) belonged to the 1st Westchester Militia, the Dutchess County Militia 6th Regiment 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.
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. Pawling’s Levies guarded forts in Orange and Ulster County from 1779-1781. He received a land grant for this service.
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. He was sent to the siege of Fort Saint John in Canada. He became sick, and the Army discharged him on November 2, 1775 at Fort George (by Lake George) due to illness.
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. On July 9, 1790 New York State granted Dean 600 acres in the Town of Brutus, Montgomery County.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Colonel James Holmes Fourth New York Regiment,” www.fortticonderoga.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Holmes-4th-NY.pdf.
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.
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.
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.
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, founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-19-02-0064.
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.
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.
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.
the North River to guard the Shore while the Ships of War were in the River.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
NYS Comptroller Payment and Land Bounty Rights, New York State Comptroller’s Office Revolutionary War Accounts and Claims (nysed.gov).
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.
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.
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, founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-02-02-0896; Order of Congress, November 30, 1780 in Benson, Vindication, 58-60.