The Fidelity Medallion awarded to Isaac Van Wart has been donated to the New York State Museum in Albany by the estate of Rae Faith Van Wart Robinson, late of Westchester County and a direct descendant of Van Wart, in accordance with Robinson’s stated wishes. Ms. Robinson passed away on October 19, 2020 at the age of ninety-five in White Plains.
The Fidelity Medallion is also known as the André Capture Medallion and Congress ordered it to be procured on November 3, 1780 for three privates in the New York State Militia—Van Wart, John Paulding, and David Williams. Two years after the capture of Major John André, George Washington presented the Fidelity Medallion to the trio in a ceremony at Verplanck’s Point, in Westchester County, in September 1782. Afterwards, Washington hosted the three militiamen at a celebratory dinner.
The Fidelity Medallion measures 55mm x 41mm. The obverse of the medallion is inscribed “Fidelity,” and the field is embossed with two branches, one of laurel, the other of palm, united by a ribbon; the reverse, has the motto “Amor Patriæ Vincit,“ which means, “The love of country conquers.” The recipient’s name was engraved between two branches of a fleur- de-lis, united by a ribbon.
The Fidelity Medallion is considered the oldest military decoration in United States history. Although Congress had authorized four gold medals and two silver medals prior to the Fidelity Medallion—gold to Washington in 1776, Horatio Gates in 1777, Anthony Wayne and Henry Lee in 1779, and silver to Chevalier de Fleury and John Stewart in 1779—the Fidelity Medallion was the first to be made and presented, making it the oldest. Thus, the first American military decoration did not go to an officer in the Continental Army but to three privates in the New York State militia, who were the only ones ever to receive it. Since it was never issued again, it became regarded as a commemorative medal.
Van Wart’s medal is expected to be on periodic display at the New York State Museum and perhaps at other sites. Devin Lander, New York State Historian, thanked Ms. Robinson for her generous contribution posthumously, stating “As we approach the 250th celebration of the Revolutionary War, we are especially grateful to Rae Faith Van Wart Robinson for sharing her family heirloom with all the people of New York State.” “This medal is a tangible connection to one of the many important events that occurred in Westchester County during the Revolutionary War,” said Constance Kehoe, president of Revolutionary Westchester 250. “Despite the fact that Westchester was quite literally torn apart by the war, tenant farmers like Van Wart, Paulding, and Williams picked up their muskets and fought for their new country and, by extension, us. Theirs is one of many stories that Revolutionary Westchester 250 will be highlighting throughout the 250th Commemoration.”
Paulding’s medal was thought to be lost until it was discovered in 1892 in a warehouse in Tarrytown owned by the Vanderbilt family and returned to Paulding’s descendants. It had been stored there since 1866 by a great granddaughter of Paulding’s older brother William. How John Paulding’s medal ended up with that branch of the Paulding family is a mystery because John Paulding had nineteen children and many direct descendants of his own.
Williams’ medal remained in the custody of his descendants until Paulding’s and Williams’ medals were donated to the New York Historical Society by their respective families and displayed until they were stolen from a locked exhibit showcase in 1976.
Notwithstanding the significance of André’s capture, the Fidelity Medallion would never have been awarded and the names of Paulding, Williams, and Van Wart would have gone unrecorded by history if not for Washington. Paulding, Van Wart and Williams, along with five of their companions, delivered André, then masquerading under the pseudonym of John Anderson, to Lt. Col. John Jameson on September 23, 1780 at a Continental post at North Castle, and then went on their way. In his initial letter to Washington, Jameson did not mention their names, writing that “Inclosed you’ll receive a parcel of Papers taken from a certain John Anderson who has a pass signed by General Arnold as may be seen The papers were found under the feet of his Stockings he offered the Men that took him one hundred Guineas and as many goods as they wou’d please to ask.” The following day André addressed a letter to Washington in which he revealed his name and rank. It was Washington who did not let the story of the unnamed militiamen go untold. In his first report about Andrè’s capture to Congress on September 26, Washington wrote:
I do not know the party that took Major Andrè; but it is said, that it consisted only of a few militia, who acted in such a manner upon the occasion as does them the highest honor and proves them to be men of great virtue. They were offered, I am informed, a large sum of money for his release, and as many goods as they would demand, but without any effect. Their conduct gives them a just claim to the thanks of their country, and I also hope they will be otherwise rewarded. As soon as I know their names I shall take pleasure in transmitting them to Congress. 
Thus the Continental Army ordered the three captors of André across the Hudson to Tappan. A problem arose at first because Jameson could only find Paulding, writing to Washington on September 27, “This will be delivered [to] you by John Paulding one of the Young Men that took Major André and who nobly refused any sum of Money that he should demanded, The other two Young Men that were in Company with him are not yet found as soon as they arrive they shall be sent on.”
Jameson successfully tracked down Williams and Van Wart and they joined Paulding at Tappan a few days later. The celebrity status of the rustic militiamen began to develop as they made the rounds. A Continental soldier wrote in his diary on September 30, “The three heroes who took Mr. Andrie yesterday came to the Army and were conversed with by many.”
Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s brilliant aide-de-camp who acted as André’s attorney during his trial at Tappan, would help the trio’s fame and legend grow by writing a letter to Lt. Col. John Laurens contrasting Arnold’s ethics with those of the captors. He explained that André
tempted them with the offer of his watch, his horse and any sum of money they should name. They rejected his offers with indignation; and the gold, that could seduce a man high in the esteem and confidence of his country, who had the remembrance of past exploits; the motives of present reputation and future glory to ⟨cloak⟩ his integrity, had no charm for three simple peasants, leaning only on their virtue and an honest sense of their duty. While Arnold is handed down with execration to future times, posterity will repeat with reverence the names of Van Wert, Paulding and Williams!
Satisfied that all was in order, Washington introduced the captors to Congress on October 7:
I have now the pleasure to communica[te] the names of the Three persons who captured Major André and who refused to release him notwithstanding the most earnest importunities and assurances of a liberal reward on his part. Their conduct merits our warmest esteem and I beg leave to add, that, I think, the public will do well to make them a handsome gratuity. They have prevented in all probability our suffering one of the severest strokes that could have been meditated against us. Their names are John Paulding—David Williams and Isaac Van Wart.
Congress responded to Washington’s recommendation in less than a month by ordering that the Fidelity medallion be struck to memorialize the capture and granting each captor a generous military pension. An elated Maj. Gen. The Marquis de Lafayette, who served on the board of general officers that tried André at Tappan, wrote to Benjamin Franklin in France: “I cannot resist the opportunity of Copying to you the following Resolve of Congress relative to the three Virtuous young Men, Paulding, Williams, and Van Wert, each of whom have also been presented with a Farm from the State of New York.”
A historic marker at Verplanck’s Point celebrates the location where Washington presented Paulding, Williams, and Van Wart their Fidelity Medallions, stating: “Post Hannock House . . . Washington Presented Medals to Captors of Major André here in 1782.” Like Jameson’s letter of September 23, it does not even mention their names.
Resolution of Congress, November 3. 1780
Whereas, Congress have received information that John Paulding, David Williams, and Isaac Van Wart, three young volunteer militiamen of the State of New York, did, on the 23d day of September last, intercept Major John André, adjutant-general of the British Army, on his return from the American lines, in the character of a spy; and, notwithstanding the large bribes offered them for his release, nobly disdaining to sacrifice their country for the sake of gold, secured and conveyed him to the commanding officer of the district, whereby the dangerous and traitorous conspiracy of Benedict Arnold was brought to light, the insidious designs of the enemy baffled, and the United States rescued from impending danger:
Resolved, That Congress have a high sense of the virtuous and patriotic conduct of the said John Paulding, David Williams, and Isaac Van Wart. In testimony whereof,
Ordered, That each of them receive annually, out of the public treasury, 200 dollars in specie, or an equivalent in the current money of these States, during life; and that the Board of War procure for each of them a silver medal, on one side of which shall be a shield with this inscription: “Fidelity,” and on the other the following motto: “Vincit amor patriæ,” and forward them to the commander-in-chief, who is requested to present the same, with a copy of this resolution, and the thanks of Congress for their fidelity, and the eminent service they have rendered their country.
Electronic Newsletter, Revolutionary Westchester 250, June 30, 2023, www.rw250.org/news-events. Van Wart’s name was often spelled Van Wert in letters and documents. The family uses Van Wart.
Rae Robinson Obituary, www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/lohud/name/rae-robinson-obituary?id=15652191.
Affidavit of John Paulding, May 6, 1817, in Egbert Benson, Vindication of the Captors of Major André (New York: Kirk and Mercein, 1817), 21-23. Richard C. Brown, “Three Forgotten Heroes,” American Heritage, Volume 26, Issue 5 (August 1975), www.americanheritage.com/three-forgotten-heroes.
Frank Foster, United States Army Medals, Badges, and Insignia(Fountain Inn, SC: Medals of America Press, 2011), 95; Gary Shattuck, “Seven Gold Medals of America’s Revolutionary Congress,” Journal of the American Revolution, April 7, 2015, allthingsliberty.com/2015/04/7-gold-medals-of-americas-revolutionary-congress/; Matthew Eric Glassman, “Congressional Gold Medals, 1776-2016,” sgp.fas.org/crs/misc/RL30076.pdf. While serving as president in 1790, Washington received a box of medals to distribute that Congress authorized during the American Revolution, including his own that Congress had ordered fourteen years before.
Electronic Newsletter, Revolutionary Westchester 250, June 30, 2023, www.rw250.org/news-events.
For information about these eight men, see Victor J. DiSanto, “André’s Captors Revisited: Separating Myth from Historical Reality,” Journal of the American Revolution, July 12, 2022, allthingsliberty.com/2022/07/major-Andrés-captors-revisited-separating-myth-from-historical-reality/.
John Jameson to George Washington, September 23, 1780, founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-28-02-0182-0002
John André to Washington, September 24, 1780, founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-28-02-0182-0003.
Washington to Samuel Huntington, September 26, 1780, founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-28-02-0192-0008.
Jameson to Washington, September 27, 1780,founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-28-02-0205. It is interesting, in light of Benjamin Talmadge’s accusations against André’s captors in 1817, that 1) they delivered André to Jameson and then went on their way without seeming to expect any additional reward, and 2) Jameson trusted Paulding to deliver this letter, in which he included military intelligence and also complained about plundering and opined that the plunderers were in league with Delancey’s “Cow boys.“ Concerning Talmadge’s conflict with Paulding, Van Wart and Williams in 1817, see Benson, Vindication of the Captors of Major André.
Washington to Huntington, October 7, 1780, founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-28-02-0182-0017. For the popularity the captors initially enjoyed see Brown, “Three Forgotten Heroes,” and Victor J. DiSanto, “The Rise and Fall of André’s Captors in Popular Culture,” Journal of the American Revolution, September 6, 2022, allthingsliberty.com/2022/09/the-rise-and-fall-of-john-andres-captors-in-popular-culture/.
Alexander Hamilton to John Laurens, October 11, 1780, founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-02-02-0896.
Affidavit of John Paulding, dated May 6, 1817; David Williams, “Major John Andre,” The Ulster Sentinel, Kingston, June 20, 1827; “Trial of Joshua Hett Smith, for Complicity in the Conspiracy of Benedict Arnold and Major Andre,” Historical Magazine Supplement No. III (1866), 70-73.
Washington to Huntington, October 7, 1780,founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-28-02-0182-0017.
Marquis de Lafayette to Benjamin Franklin, November 19, 1780, founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-34-02-0014.
Post Hannock House, www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=47276.
Marquis de Lafayette to Benjamin Franklin, November 19, 1780,founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-34-02-0014.