David Williams was one of the three New York State Militiamen who captured Major John André on September 23, 1780. In June 1780, Williams left his father’s farm in Tarrytown, crossed the Croton River, and moved out of the neutral zone between British and American forces into the northern part of Westchester County. By this time in the Revolutionary War, according to an eyewitness account left by Samuel Youngs, due to the plundering parties of British and Tories, “almost all the stock was driven back into the country for safety, when the Militia also had to retire over the Croton River.” Williams sought work as a farm hand, stating in an interview in 1830, “I was then obliged to take what employment I could meet with for my support, chopping, grubbing, and all such work—living about 20 miles from my house and family.” He did not receive wages for his labor but instead worked for his board or a meal, which was often nothing more than a cornmeal pancake called a johnnycake. He eventually boarded at Joseph Benedict’s farm in Salem, a town in the northeastern corner of Westchester which bordered Connecticut to the east and Dutchess County to the north.
Salem during the American Revolution included today’s Town of North Salem, as well as the hamlets of South Salem, Waccabuc, Vista, and the eastern part of Cross River, all now within the boundaries of the Town of Lewisboro. Even though the 2nd Light Dragoons had a camp in lower Salem, a Loyalist corps called DeLancey’s Refugees remained a threat to the populace. In December 1780 New York state assemblyman Philip Pell wrote that Westchester County was “altogether open to the ravages of DeLancey’s thieves . . . Salem in the upper part of the County is now the frontier, and it is in the power of DeLancey to destroy that place when he pleases. The people of Westchester think themselves given up to ruin, are discouraged and worn out.”
Despite this grim situation, Williams, five-feet-eight inches tall with dark brown hair and blue eyes, courted and eventually won the heart of a local woman, Nancy Benedict, and they were married on January 9, 1782. Nancy was said to be a woman of superior education for the time, who was constantly engaged in teaching reading and writing to those less fortunate than herself. During the Battle of White Plains on October 28, 1776, Nancy mounted her horse and with other horsewomen rode to White Plains. Women could not serve in the army or militia, but they could help by cooking for and carrying water to the troops and tending to the sick and wounded.
Through his union with Nancy, David married into a family with extensive military service to the rebel cause. So, who exactly were the Benedicts? The first Benedict to arrive in the new world, Thomas Benedict, born in 1617, left England in 1637, with his stepsister Mary Bridgham. They arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony where they married. Thomas and Mary moved to Long Island and then settled in Danbury, Connecticut, raising five sons and four daughters. By the time the American Revolution broke out, their descendants were scattered throughout New York and New England. Descendants of their second son John could be found in Salem.
Joseph Benedict, Esq. (July 29, 1708–November 6, 1793), a grandson of John and the father of Nancy, married three times and fathered twenty-three children, most of whom did not live to adulthood. Joseph had been a Justice of the Peace and the Benedicts were known as ardent Whigs in the Salem area who supported independence. His third wife, Lydia, bore him three children, Lewis (June 25, 1754–July 21, 1827), Ambrose (born ca. 1756), and Nancy (January 28 1857–August 5 1844). The family resided in what is today the hamlet of Waccabuc.
Nancy’s brother Ambrose, standing five-foot-three with dark eyes and brown hair, volunteered for the Canadian campaign early in the war, enlisting at the age of nineteen in the 4th Regiment of the New York Line on July 16, 1775. He served with his future brother-in-law Williams at Fort Ticonderoga. He became ill, was hospitalized, and then discharged on November 28, 1775. Ambrose eventually regained his health and reenlisted in April 1778 for the duration of the war. Assigned to the 5th Regiment of the New York Line, Ambrose spent the first six months of his five-year tour in Westchester County, rotating between camps at Peekskill and White Plains, before being deployed to the Schoharie and Mohawk Valleys in upstate New York for eight months, from November 1778 to June 1779 when mixed force of loyalists, Mohawks, and Senecas under Walter Butler and Joseph Brant terrorized the New York frontier. Ambrose most likely participated in the Sullivan Campaign during the rest of 1779. He spent 1780 at camps in New Jersey and then was sent back to Fort Herkimer in the Mohawk Valley for the first six months of 1781 before going south during the Yorktown campaign.
The New York Line was consolidated in January 1781 and the 5th New York was merged into the 2nd New York. Ambrose spent the remainder of the war in New Jersey. The United States awarded Ambrose a land grant of 600 acres in Homer, New York in 1790 for his military service. He married and moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut but eventually relocated to upstate New York. At the age of sixty-three Ambrose applied for a pension, stating that due to “rheumatic and other complaints” he was only healthy enough to devote himself to his farm about one quarter of the time needed to operate it properly. He was living in White Creek, Washington County, at the time. On June 13, 1818, the United States awarded Ambrose a pension of $8.00 a month commencing in April of that year. Ambrose’s brother Lewis belonged to the 4th Regiment Westchester Militia and was a member of Maj. Nathaniel Delavan’s Dragoons.
The highest-ranking soldier of the Salem Benedicts was Joseph Benedict’s first cousin (one generation removed) who was also named Joseph Benedict (1730–1785) and also resided in what is today the hamlet of Waccabuc. The United States commissioned this Joseph Benedict a captain on June 28, 1775 and he served as a company commander of the Second Company, 4th Regiment of the New York Line. His company saw duty at Fort Ticonderoga before being deployed on October 10 on the invasion of Canada under Gen. Richard Montgomery. After serving in the Continental Army, he served as a justice of the peace from 1778 to his death in 1785 and was a member of the New York State Assembly in 1778 and 1779. In 1780 New York State commissioned him a lieutenant colonel and he commanded a regiment of Associated Exempts in the 4th Westchester County Militia. The Associated Exempts were a unique class of militia who had formerly held civil or military commissions and men who were between the ages of fifty and sixty. Associated Exempts could only be activated in time of invasion.
Salem residents enlisting in Captain Benedict’s company in 1775 who served on the Canadian campaign at Ticonderoga and Fort St. Johns included his son Nathan (1753–1803), cousin Benjamin Benedict (1755–1832), and second cousin Peter Benedict 2nd (1753–1830). Nathan enlisted as a private on July 29, 1775 and after his tour in the Continental Army ended served in the 4th Westchester Militia. Benjamin Benedict signed on as a fifer on July 29, 1775 and returned to Salem after his enlistment expired December 31, 1775, where he served as a minuteman in the militia. In November 1776 the militia activated Benjamin as a sergeant in Thomas Thomas’s Regiment until January 1777 at Fort Independence, Peekskill. In April 1777 New York State called Benjamin into active duty during the invasion of Danbury, Connecticut. New York commissioned Benjamin an ensign in May 1780 and he guarded Major André for a portion of that famous officer’s captivity. Peter Benedict Jr. entered Yale College in 1774 to begin a classical education. He dropped out of Yale to enlist on August 14, 1775 as a sergeant and served in Canada. He returned to Salem in early 1776; in February Congress commissioned him a lieutenant in the Continental Army and he served in the New York campaign. Afterwards he was a member of Lt. Col. Joseph Benedict’s Associated Militia Exempts, as was his father Peter Sr.
Joseph Benedict Jr. (1750–1842), a son of Lieutenant Colonel Benedict, did not see duty in the Continental Army but did serve in the 4th Westchester Militia and the New York State Troops known as Levies; he eventually earned a commission. Five hundred men from the Westchester and Dutchess County Militia started arriving in Manhattan on February 15, 1776 and started building a fort at Horn’s Hook in preparation for the immanent struggle against the British. Joseph Jr. enlisted as a private in the militia in December 1775 under Capt. Ebenezer Slanson in Drake’s Regiment; the militia promoted him to sergeant, and he served three months in New York City. As the British amassed troops on Staten Island during the summer of 1776, New York State decided to select a portion of the militia to serve as full-time state soldiers in order to bolster its defense and field a more effective fighting force than the militia could provide. On July 16, 1776, at the Convention of the State of New York in White Plains, New York resolved that: “one-fourth of the militia of the Counties of Westchester, Dutchess, Ulster, and Orange, be forthwith drawn out for the Defense of the Liberties, Property, Wives, and Children of the good people of this State.” The convention appointed Col. Thomas Thomas to command a regiment of Levies from Westchester until December 31. At this time Joseph Jr. enlisted as a sergeant in the company of Nathan Delavan commanded by Colonel Thomas for six months. Colonel Thomas’s Levies saw action at the Battle of Long Island and in the New York campaign. Joseph Jr. was activated for militia service at in 1777 when the British raided Danbury, again in 1778, and once more in 1779. New York State commissioned him as a 1st lieutenant on June 27. 1778, and he was assigned to Capt. Ephram Lockwood’s Company, continuing to serve in 4th Westchester Militia. Enoch Benedict (1755–1833), another son of Lieutenant Colonel Benedict, received a commission as an ensign in the New York State Militia on June 25, 1778. His brother Timothy (1762–1830), also served in the 4th Westchester Militia as did his cousins Caleb Benedict, Isaac Benedict, and Jacob Benedict.
David Williams married into a family of distinguished and committed patriots. After he contributed to the capture of John André, his celebrity status facilitated his transition from a tenant farmer’s son to a landowner. New York State granted Williams a confiscated farm in Eastchester in the southern part of Westchester County in June 1783 as a reward for capturing André. He seems to have sold it, remaining in Salem after the war and registering a cattle mark in 1784. After receiving his back pay from the federal government in 1789 he bought 140 acres from his father-in-law in the area of today’s Waccabuc and eventually held political office. He was first elected Fence Viewer for the Town of Salem in 1790 and was responsible for adjudicating boundary disputes between neighbors. He held an honorary commission in the New York State Militia and enjoyed being addressed as “Major.” Although Williams is frequently identified as illiterate at the time of André’s capture, he learned to read and write, and signed for militia back pay in 1785. He was fond of reading and owned a substantial library at the time of his death. He remained in Salem until 1805 when he, Nancy and their son David Jr. moved to Broome in Schoharie County. In 1829, the American sculptor John Henry Isaac Browere made a life mask of Williams which is in the collection of the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown, along with life masks of John Paulding and Isaac Van Wart, the other captors of André. Although the capture of André became a popular topic of many artists, no portrait of Williams exists.
In November of 1830 Williams was invited to New York City to celebrate the French Revolution that occurred in July of that year. It was also the fiftieth anniversary of André’s capture. In an ornate parade, Williams rode in a special carriage with Enoch Crosby at the head of a group of Revolutionary War veterans. A group of school children presented him with a silver cup engraved “gratitude of posterity.” Another group of children presented him with a silver headed cane carved from a chevaux-de-frise used near West Point. The cane and cup are on display at the Old Stone Fort in Schoharie. On the trip back to his home, Williams stopped in Albany, spoke at a theater about the capture of André, and was introduced to Gov. Enos T. Throop. Eight months later, Williams died on August 2, 1831, at the age of seventy-six, in Broome, Schoharie County. He was buried with military honors. Nancy Benedict Williams lived to be eighty-seven and died in 1844. Eleven years after David died Congress transferred his pension to Nancy with back pay—$2,200. In 1877 they were reinterred at the David Williams monument at the Old Stone Fort in Schoharie. According to Nancy’s pension application, Williams relied on his pension for support in his later years and died with “nothing but his good name.”
Victor J. DiSanto, “Major Andre’s Captors Revisited: Separating Myth from Historical Reality,” The Journal of the American Revolution, July 12, 2022.
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.
Newspaper interview with David Williams, 1830, reprinted in Year of the Patriots: The Commemoration of the Three Captors of the British Spy(Tri-Village Bicentennial: Irvington, North Tarrytown, Tarrytown, 1980), pages are not numbered, and the name of the newspaper is not identified.
Albany Advertiser, interview with David Williams, January 1817, reprinted in Jeptha Root Simms, The Frontiersman of New York, Vol. II (Albany: George C. Riggs, Publisher, 1883), 702.
Simms, The Frontiersman of New York, 701-713; Henry Marvin Benedict and Erastus Cornelius Benedict, The Genealogy of the Benedicts in America(Albany: Joel Munsell, Albany, NY, 1870) 61-62; National Archives, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the Revolutionary War, Pension Application of Nancy Benedict Williams, widow of David Williams, Pension Number: W. 18,439, 1842; Sy Shepard, Patriot vs. Loyalist(New York: Osprey Publishing, 2022), 34.
Benedict and Benedict, The Genealogy of the Benedicts, 1-24.
Ambrose Benedict, Captain Daniel Mills Company in the 4thRegiment of the New York Forces under Command of Colonel James Holmes, National Archives.
“Ambrose Benedick,” Company Muster Rolls, Capt. John Johnson’s Company of Foot in the 5th New York Regiment commanded by Col. Lewis Duboys, and Major Samuel Logans Company in the 5th New York Battalion commanded by Col. Lewis Duboys, National Archives; “Ambris Benedick,” 2nd New York Regiment (Continental Army)Capt. Henry Vandenburgh’s Company in the 2nd New York Regiment commanded by Col. Phillip Cortlandt, National Archives; Ambrose Benedict Pension Number S. 45274; Benedict and Benedict, The Genealogy of the Benedicts, 80; New York Secretary of State, The balloting book, and other documents relating to military bounty lands, in the State of New York(Albany: Packard & VanBenthyuysen, 1825), 90 and 133; New York State Archives, Land Grant from the State of New York to Ambrose Benedict, July 8, 1790, Book 6, Page 336.
Benedict and Benedict, The Genealogy of the Benedicts, 79; James A. Roberts, New York in the Revolution as Colony and State(Albany: Weed Parsons Printing Company, 1897),235; Nathan Benedict, Crane’s Regiment of Militia, card number 37282379, National Archives.
Benedict and Benedict, The Genealogy of the Benedicts, 68-69; Joseph Bennadict, Captain, Capt. Joseph Bennedict’s Company in the 4th Regiment of New York Forces under the Command of Colonel James Holmes, National Archives; Roberts, New York in the Revolution, vii.
Nathan Bennedict, Captain Joseph Bennedict’s Company in the 4th Regiment of New York Forces under the Command of Colonel James Holmes, National Archives; Benedict and Benedict, The Genealogy of the Benedicts, 99; Roberts, New York in the Revolution, 235.
Benjamin Bennedict, Drummer and Fifer, Captain Joseph Bennedict’s Company in the 4th Regiment of New York Forces under the Command of Col. James Holmes, National Archives; Benedict and Benedict, The Genealogy of the Benedicts, 73; Pension Application of Elizabeth Bennedict, widow of Benjamin Benedict, Pension W. 16502, January 21, 1837, Payroll Records, Benjamin Benedict, Thomas’s Regiment, New York Militia, Revolutionary War, National Archives; Payroll Records, Benjamin Benadict, Thadeus Crane’s Regiment of Militia, Captain Daniel Pardee’s Company, National Archives.
Peter Bennadict, Sergeant, Capt. Joseph Bennedict’s Company in the 4th Regiment of New York Forces under the Command of Col. James Holmes, National Archives; Benedict and Benedict, The Genealogy of the Benedicts, 60, 89; Pension Application of Peter Bennedict 2nd. W.17271, March 1819, National Archives; Roberts, New York in the Revolution, 239.
Barnet Schecter, The Battle for New York: the city at the Heart of the American Revolution(New York: Walker & Co., 2002), 80.
Benedict and Benedict, The Genealogy of the Benedicts, 98-99.
Pension Application of Joseph Benedict, Revolutionary War, S. 23535, May 27, 1832, National Archives.
Thomas Thomas (c.1744–1824), colonel of the 2nd Regiment of Westchester County Militia, was appointed by the New York convention on 16 July 1776 to command a regiment of militia levies to be raised in that county for active service under Gen. George Clinton until the end of December. Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety, and Council of Safety of the State of New-York, 1775–1776–1777(Albany: Thurlow Weed, 1842), 1:525–26, 528.
Pension Application of Joseph Benedict, Revolutionary War, S. 23535, May 27, 1832, National Archives.
David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing(New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2004), 385-388.
Pension Application of Joseph Benedict, Revolutionary War, S. 23535, May 27, 1832, National Archives; Payroll Receipt for Joseph Benedict Jr., Crane’s Regiment of Militia, for 1779, 1780, and 1781, National Archives.
Benedict and Benedict, The Genealogy of the Benedicts, 99-100; Roberts, New York in the Revolution, 235.
Marcius D. Raymond, “David Williams and the Capture of Andre: A paper read before the Tarrytown Historical Society, January 15, 1903,” pages are not numbered; Theodore Langdon Van Norden, South Salem Soldiers and Sailors(South Salem: Lancaster Press, 1927), 57-58; Simms,The Frontiersman of New York, 711; David Williams, Hamman’s Regiment, First Westchester Militia, Receipt Received by David Williams on May 4, 1785 of Capt. Daniel Martling, National Archives; Charles Henry Hart, Browere’s Life Masks of Great Americans(Doubleday and McClure Company, 1899), 34-35.
Simms, Frontiersman of New York, 711-712; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the Revolutionary War, Pension Application of Nancy Benedict Williams, widow of David Williams, Pension Number: W. 18,439, 1842, National Archives; Albany Argus, December 22, 1830.