Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

West Point and the Lower Hudson


 

Securing the control of the Hudson River was a favorite project with the British as its possession would enable them to cut the colonies in twain and subdue each section in turn. Not only would the control of the Hudson enable them to open a road to Montreal and so cut off the New England colonies, but once in possession of Albany they would easily overrun the Mohawk valley, give encouragement to the many Tories there, and be in close touch with their Indian allies, the Iroquois.

The Americans were as anxious to prevent the control of the Hudson by the British, as the latter were to secure it. After extended investigation it was decided that West Point offered the best location for defensive works. The river was very narrow there, not much over fourteen hundred feet wide ; the banks were high ; mountains overlooking the river on all sides ; and at this point the river bent almost at right angles so that cannon would control for a long distance, and obstructions to navigation could easily be placed and maintained. Beside all these advantages there was a high, rocky island in the river just above West Point that could be fortified readily. The plan of West Point below makes the situation clear.


Plan of West Point

The occupation of West Point by the Americans was a constant menace to New York, therefore the British had a double reason for desiring possession of the Hudson. The struggle for West Point enabled Arnold to carry into effect the treasonable purposes he had for some time entertained. There is in all American history no sadder incident than that of Arnold's treachery. A strong, brave man, who had made a fine record as a soldier, by a single act destroyed for all time all the esteem in which he had been held. While the treason of Arnold can never be forgotten nor condoned, one cannot forget the part he took at Quebec, and at Saratoga, nor can one overlook the fact that he was not always treated fairly.

Benedict Arnold was a descendant, and namesake, of one of the early governors of Rhode Island. Young Arnold began business as an apothecary, and later added to his enterprise the selling of books and stationery. At the outbreak of the Revolution he marched to Cambridge in the command of a company. He was with Allen at Ticonderoga, and wherever he was he was in the thickest of the fight. By many he was regarded as the hero of Saratoga.

Arnold was not advanced as rapidly as he felt he should be, and on several occasions he was deeply humiliated, but had there not been a lack in his character, somewhere, we should not now have to tell the story of his treason. While Arnold was at Philadelphia he married Margaret Shippen, a daughter of one of the Tory residents of the city. Arnold, who was always fond of display, lived far beyond his means at this time. He kept a coach, servants in livery, gave splendid banquets, and in such ways incurred debts that he could not meet. He was accused of raising money in improper ways, and on being tried was acquitted on two charges, but found to be guilty in some measure on others. A part of the court before whom he was tried voted to cashier him, but the majority decided that he should be reprimanded by his Commander-in-Chief. Washington performed this duty with all possible delicacy, for he had always been a friend of Arnold's, and he did not believe there had been any wrong intent. This was the condition of affairs that existed when Arnold sought the command at West Point, which Washington gladly gave him. Even at this time Arnold had been in treasonable correspondence with the British. The picture is the blacker because Arnold sought this position that he might betray not only his country, against which lie thought he had grievances, but his commander as well, who had always been his friend, and who had done all that he could to shield him from criticism, and to promote his interests.

While at West Point Arnold occupied as his headquarters the Beverley Robinson House, which was situated on the east bank of the Hudson, nearly opposite West Point, and at the foot of Sugar Loaf Mountain. The house was built about 1750 by Colonel Beverley Robinson, son of John Robinson, President of the colony of Virginia. The grounds contained about a thousand acres. The estate came to Robinson through his wife, a daughter of Frederick Philipse. During the Revolution Robinson sided with the British and raised a regiment of loyalists for the British service. At the close of the war his estate was confiscated. The house was destroyed by fire in 1892, being at that time the property of Hamilton Fish. Washington was at this house frequently, and Putnam and other American officers made their headquarters there. It was at this house that Washington had the sad interview with the almost distracted Mrs. Arnold after the discovery of the treason of her husband. It was to this house that Roger Morris and his wife came when they were obliged to flee from New York when that city was occupied by the American troops. It was at this house that Hamilton and Lafayette were at dinner when they received the dispatch announcing the capture of Major Andre.


The Beverley Robinson House

André

A correspondence had been carried on between Andre and Arnold for some time, Andre writing over the signature John Anderson, while Arnold signed himself "Gustavus." It became necessary to have a meeting between Arnold and someone who could speak for Sir Henry Clinton with authority. Major Andre was chosen to act in that capacity. It was at first planned to have the meeting take place at Dobb's Ferry, and Arnold went down the river in his barge for that purpose, but owing to some misunderstanding his boat was fired upon and he was compelled to withdraw. He returned to West Point, and Andre, who was at Dobb's Ferry, went back to New York.

The first effort to bring about a meeting had resulted in failure. There was further correspondence, after which Andre went up the river as far as Teller's Point, where, on board the Vulture, he waited until a meeting with Arnold could be arranged. Arnold was aided in this matter by Joshua Hett Smith, who lived on the west side of the river, about two and a half miles below Stony Point. His house has long been known as the "Treason House," because Arnold and Andre met there and arranged their plans for the surrender of West Point. To what extent Smith was in the confidence of Arnold will probably never be known. Whether Smith was a Tory, or whether he was deceived by Arnold, will always be a matter of some doubt.

On Thursday, the 21st of September, 1780, at about midnight, Smith, with two of his tenants acting as boatmen, rowed out to the Vulture. Andre was brought ashore and met Arnold about two miles below Haverstraw, at the foot of Long Clove Mountain. The two men talked together till morning, when, not having completed their plans, they went to Smith's house, Andre going very reluctantly. As they reached the house they heard the sound of cannonading. Colonel Livingston, who was in command at Verplancks Point, had opened fire on the Vulture, which he compelled to drop down the river. Arnold and Andre remained in consultation nearly all day. At the close of their conference Arnold returned to the Robinson House in his barge, having given passports to Andre which would enable him to pass the American lines at that point.

Arnold's movements caused no suspicion as he had accounted for them in advance in a very plausible way.


Treason House

The Vulture, after having been driven down the river, returned and waited for Andre, but Smith for some reason would not row him out to the vessel. Being compelled to attempt his return by land Andre, with Smith for a guide, set out on horseback a little before, sunset. Andre changed his military suit for citizen's clothes which Smith furnished. They went up the river as far as King's Ferry, where they crossed over to Verplancks Point. From this point they went to Compound, where they were stopped by a sentinel who insisted upon seeing their pass. They remained over night with one Andreas Miller and set out early in the morning, taking the road to Pine Bridge. When within two miles of this place they stopped and took breakfast with a Mrs. Sarah Underhill. Here Smith left and hastened back to the Robinson House to report Andre's movements to Arnold.

It had been planned to have Andre go from Pine's Bridge to White Plains, but he heard such reports as to the safety of the route that he changed and took the road to Tarrytown instead. When near the latter place he was halted by three men, John Paulding, David Williams and Isaac Van Wart. The following quotations from the testimony which these men gave later is of interest. Paulding said:


Movements of Arnold and Andre

"Myself, Isaac Van Wart and David Williams were lying by the side of the road about half a mile above Tarrytown, and about fifteen miles above Kingsbridge, on Saturday morning, between nine and ten o'clock, the 23rd of September. We had lain there about an hour and a half, as near as I can recollect, and saw several persons we were acquainted with whom we let pass. Presently, one of the young men who were with me said, 'There comes a gentleman-like looking man, who appears to be well dressed, and he has boots on, and you better step out and stop him, if you do not know him.' On that I got up and told him to stand, and then asked which way he was going. Then he said, 'I am a British officer, out in the country on particular business, and I hope you will not detain me a minute,' and to show that he was a British officer he pulled out his watch. Upon which I told him to dismount. He then said, 'My God! I must do anything to get along,' and seemed to make a kind of a laugh of it and pulled out General Arnold's pass, which was to John Anderson to pass all guards to White Plains and below. Upon that he dismounted. Said he, 'Gentlemen, you had best let me go, or you will bring yourselves into trouble, for your stopping me will detain the general's business;'" and he said he was going to Dobb's Ferry to meet a person there and get intelligence for General Arnold. Upon that I told him I hoped he would not be offended; that we did not mean to take anything from him: and I told him there were many bad people on the road, and I did not know but perhaps he might be one."

Williams gave the following testimony: "We took him into the bushes and ordered him to pull off his clothes, which he did; but, on searching him narrowly, we could not find any sort of writings. We told him to pull oft' his boots, which he seemed to be indifferent about; but we got one boot oft' and searched in that boot and could find nothing. But we found that there were some papers in the bottom of his stocking next to his foot; on which we made him pull his stocking oft, and found three papers wrapped up. Mr. Paulding looked at the contents and said he was a spy. We then made him pull oft' his other boot, where we found three more papers at the bottom of his foot within his stocking. Upon this we made him dress himself, and I asked him what he would give us to let him go.

He said he would give us any sum of money. I asked him whether he would give his horse, saddle, bridle, watch, and one hundred guineas. He said 'Yes,' and told us he would direct them to any place, even if it were that very spot, so that we could get them. I asked him whether he would not give us more. He said he would give us any quantity of dry goods, or any sum of money, and bring it to any place we might pitch upon, so that we might get it. Mr. Paulding answered, 'No, if you would give us ten thousand guineas you should not stir one step.' I then asked the person who had called himself John Anderson if he would not get away if it lay in his power. He answered, 'Yes, I would.' I told him I did not intend he should. While taking him along we asked him a few questions and we stopped under the shade. He begged us not to ask him questions and said when he came to any commander he would reveal all."

The papers found on Andre showed the number and the distribution of the troops at West Point, the positions they would occupy in case of an attack, the location of the different forts and batteries, with the men and guns for the defense of each, and all such other information as an enemy would desire to have. Arnold agreed that in case an attack was made on West Point he would scatter the forces and so arrange in other ways that no effective defense could be made.

Andre was taken to North Castle, the nearest military post, and turned over to the commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Jameson, who, unaccountable as it may seem, after reading the papers found on Andre, decided to send him to Arnold in charge of Lieutenant Allen. He did so, writing a letter to Arnold, saying that he had sent the captured papers to Washington. Soon after Andre left Major Tallmadge, the second in command at North Castle, learned what had been done. He declared that he was suspicious of Arnold and urged that Andre be brought back. To this Jameson gave a reluctant consent. The next day Major Tallmadge took Andre to Lower Salem and left him in charge of Lieutenant King. From here Andre was sent to the Robinson House, then to West Point, and from there to Tappan, where he was confined till his trial. General Washington had been at West Point only a short time before the meeting of Arnold with Andre. He had gone on to Hartford and was to stop at West Point on his return from that place. He was back at West Point on the 24th of September, the day that the British had been expected to make their attack, for the scope of Arnold's treason contemplated the capture of Washington as well as West Point.

Washington returned from Hartford by the way of Fishkill. Soon after leaving the latter place he met the French Minister, Luzerne, with his suite, and was persuaded to return with them in Fishkill and spend the night there. Early the following morning Washington and his staff were on their way to West Point, intending to breakfast with Arnold at the Robinson House, but as they approached the place Washington took another road, and Lafayette said, "General, you are going in the wrong direction." Washington replied humorously. "Ah, I know, you young men are all in love with Mrs. Arnold, and wish to get where she is as soon as possible. You may go and take your breakfast with her and tell her not to wait for me, for I must ride down and examine the redoubts on this side of the river, and will be there in a short time." However, the officers accompanied Washington, with the exception of two aids, who, at the request of Washington, rode on to notify Mrs. Arnold of the cause of the delay.

Breakfast was waiting when the aids arrived, and those present sat down. During the meal a letter from Colonel Jameson was handed to Arnold. It was the one Jameson wrote two days before, announcing the capture of Andre. Arnold asked to be excused, saying he was needed at West Point immediately. To his aids he said, "Say to General Washington that I have unexpectedly been called over the river and will return very soon." He went to his wife's room and sent for her. Lie told her that he must leave at once, and that they might never meet again, that his life depended upon his reaching the British lines before he was detected. Mrs. Arnold fainted. Leaving her in that condition Arnold hurried down stairs, mounted a horse and rode at full speed to the bank of the river, where his boat lay. He entered it and directed the men to row rapidly down the river, telling them that he was going on board the Vulture with a flag of truce, and that he was in great haste, as he was expecting Washington and wished to return as soon as possible.

Washington arrived at the Robinson House just after Arnold left. He received Arnold's message, took a hasty breakfast, and went over to West Point to meet him, and was greatly surprised to find that Arnold was not there, and had not been for two days, and that the officer in charge had not heard from him in that time. Washington inspected the works and returned to Arnold's for dinner. As he was walking up from the dock he met Hamilton, who told him of Arnold's treason and flight. Calling upon Knox and Lafayette for counsel, Washington said. "Whom can we trust now?" Hamilton was sent immediately to Verplanck's Point in the hope of intercepting Arnold, but the traitor was already on board the Vulture.


Washington's Headquarters at Tappan

Washington could not know whether or not others were involved in Arnold's treason, but he decided to take all the officers into his confidence. This was greatly appreciated by them, the more so because circumstances were somewhat against Jameson, and one "or two others, though all were innocent of any wrong act.

Andre did not seem to fear death greatly, but he dreaded to die the death of a spy, and begged that he might be shot instead of being hanged. Every one sympathized with him, but it seemed necessary that an example should be made of him, the more so that his case was very similar to that of Hale, for whom no mercy had been shown.

Capture of Major André

At Tappan André was confined in a stone mansion, afterward occupied as a tavern by Thomas Wandle. His trial took place in the old Dutch church.

The Americans made strenuous efforts to capture Arnold, but without avail, General Clinton and other British officers pleaded earnestly for Andre's release, which of course could not be granted. Arnold wrote a letter to Washington threatening in case Andre was executed to retaliate upon every American whom he might afterward capture. Arnold's course after his treason did quite as much toward blackening his memory as did his treason itself.

André was arrested near Tarrytown on the 23rd of September, and was executed at Tappan on the 3rd of October of the same year.

André was tried by a board of fourteen general officers, Lafayette, Greene, Stirling and Steuben being among the number. He was declared to be a spy and condemned to suffer the death of one.

His execution took place in the presence of the army, on the summit of a low hill about a quarter of a mile to the west of Tappan. A monument has been erected at Tarrytown to the memory of John Paulding, David Williams and Isaac Van Wart, the captors of Andre.

A monument to the memory of Williams has been erected on the grounds of the old fort at Schoharie, he having been a resident of Schoharie County for many years before his death. The Corporation of the City of New York erected a monument to the memory of John Paulding in the graveyard of the little church on the Van Courtlandt Manor, about two miles west of Peekskill. In 1829 the citizens of Westchester County erected a monument at Greenburgh in memory of Isaac Van Wart. While these men and their acts are kept in remembrance by the monument erected in their honor at the place where André was captured, the people among whom they lived also honored their act and commemorated their memory by suitable monuments.

The Military School at West Point

Washington, mindful of the fact that a large portion of his trained officers during the Revolution were chosen from the ranks of foreign soldiers, because we lacked men who had had military training, urged in his message of 1798 the establishment of a military academy. Congress being then, as often, very dilatory, nothing was done at that time toward acting upon Washington's recommendation. In 1798, 1800 and 1801 some provision was made for the instruction of cadets, but it was not until 1802 that the Military Academy can fairly be said to have come into existence, and it led a very feeble life till 1812; in fact, there was not a single cadet at West Point at the time of the declaration of war between Great Britain and the United States.


Looking North from West Point

At this time Congress was willing to act, and provision was made for two hundred and fifty cadets. It was provided that admission to the Academy should be determined by examination, which had not previously been required.

Major Thayer was made the Superintendent of the Academy in 1817 and he held the position for sixteen years. To him, far more than to anyone else, is due the credit for the general plan of the school.

The usefulness of the Academy was fully justified during the Civil War, for although only the merest fraction of the officers engaged on either side had had any military experience, a very large portion of those who achieved eminence during the conflict owed their success to the training they received at West Point. This fact is shown by the careers of Grant, Lee, McClellan, Jackson, Sherman, Johnston, Burnside, Beauregard, Hooker, Pemberton, Sheridan, Longstreet, Thomas, Bragg, Halleck, Rosecrans, Early, Buel, Buckner, and many others.

The Academy has grown continually in equipment and in efficiency. There are now more than one hundred fifty buildings of various kinds in use and Congress has appropriated several millions for further improvements.

Kingston

Our state government was organized at Kingston in 1777. It was there on the 30th of July, 1777, that George Clinton was declared elected the first governor of the state. Kingston received its first charter from Governor Stuyvesant in 1661. Kingston was the first capital of the state, and at the time it was made the capital had about twenty-five hundred inhabitants, being the third city of the state in population.

In 1776 the General Assembly of New York changed its title to "Convention of Representatives of the State of New York." The body appointed a committee to draft a constitution for a state government and then adjourned to meet in the city of New York on the 8th of July, but the appearance of Howe before that date prevented the meeting. The convention held short sessions at Harlem, White Plains and Fishkill, and then adjourned to meet at Kingston, where they reassembled in February 1777, and continued in session till the following May. They met in a stone building that is sometimes called the Constitution House and sometimes "Old Senate House." Here the first constitution for the state of New York was adopted. John Jay was the chairman of the committee that drafted it and the work was mainly his. The draft of the constitution was submitted to the convention on the 12th of March. It was very fully discussed and was adopted on the 30th of April, 1777. The work of drafting this constitution was so well done that we lived under it for forty-seven years, very few amendments being made during that time. This constitution was printed in pamphlet form at Fishkill by Samuel Loudon, on the only press in the state to which the patriots had access at that time. It is a matter of some interest that this was the first book printed in the state.


Constitution House at Kingston

At the time of the advance of Sir Henry Clinton, in 1777, Fort Putnam was not yet completed, and there was no other fort at West Point on the west side of the river. Fort Constitution was opposite West Point on what is now known as Constitution Island. Forts Montgomery and Clinton were opposite Anthony's Nose. Clinton easily made his way up the river. With him was General Vaughn with a force of thirty-six hundred men. All the vessels on the river were destroyed, and the houses of prominent Whigs were burned. The expedition reached Kingston on the 13th of October, 1777. A force was landed and the city was burned, only a few stone buildings escaping destruction. It was supposed that Clinton would go on up to Albany, but for some reason he went down the river again, and the surrender of Burgoyne a few days later made it impossible for Clinton to hold any part of the river above West Point.

Albany

This place was first known as Beverwyck (sometimes spelled Beaverwyck), then as Willemstadt and finally as Albany. It was incorporated as a city by Governor Dongan in 1686.

A little church was built at Albany about 1657. In 1715 this was replaced by the one shown in the illustration below. It was located in the open space bounded by State, Market and Court streets. The following is from Watson's "Sketches of Olden Times in New York": ''Professor Kalm who visited Albany in 1749, has left us some facts. All the people then understood Dutch. All the houses stood gable end to the street; the ends were of brick, and the side walls of plank or logs. The gutters on the roofs went out almost to the middle of the street, greatly annoying travelers in their discharge. At the stoopes (porches) the people spent much of their time, especially on the shady side, and in the evening they were filled with both sexes. The streets were dirty by reason of the cattle possessing their free use during the summer nights. They had no knowledge of stoves, and their chimneys were so wide that one could drive through them with a cart and horses."


Ancient Dutch Church at Albany

Albany was the natural gateway to the north and west. This gateway had to be held against the French and Indians in the early days, and later against the British and the Six Nations. From the earliest times Albany has been a place of great importance. It is said to be the second oldest existing settlement in the original thirteen colonies. In 1524 Verrazano went up the Hudson, and not long after some French traders built a fortified trading post on Castle Island. Hudson did not come till eighty-five years later. At the time that the French first came to the vicinity of Albany it would have been vastly more proper to have spoken of America as the "Dark Continent" than to have applied that name to Africa fifty years ago.

When Albany became a city in 1686 it was second in population and resources to New York only, and hardly second to it in importance. For a century and a half everything to the west and north of Albany, save the little hamlet at Schenectady, and the French settlements on the St. Lawrence, was an unbroken wilderness.

In the early days not only the peace and comfort, but the actual existence of Albany was dependent upon the friendship of the Six Nations. This was very carefully cultivated by the Dutch. Once, at a council fire, a Mohawk sachem gave Albany the name of "The House of Peace."

During the French wars Albany was a storehouse for munitions of war, and the rendezvous for troops. It was one of the busiest places on the continent.

In 1754 a convention of colonial delegates was held at Albany for the avowed purpose of renewing treaties with the Six Nations, but also with the hope of creating some bond of union between the colonies, the need of which had long been felt. Seven of the colonies, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire. Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, responded to the call. Many very able men were among the delegates, Benjamin Franklin being one of the delegates from Pennsylvania. He presented a plan for the union of the colonies, which, after much debate, was approved by the convention, but nothing came from it directly, though no doubt it aroused a train of thought which in time bore fruit. James DeLancey was chosen president of the convention and made an address to the Indians. The chief speaker for the Six Nations was King Hendrick.

Albert Shaw says Albany has long been one of the three or four chief law making centers of the English speaking world.

Newburg

When at Newburg Washington occupied for his headquarters a house built in 1750 by Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck. The house is now owned by the state, and is open for visitors at all times. It contains many military relics.

While Washington made his headquarters at Newburg, Generals Knox, Greene, Gates, and Colonels Biddle and Wadsworth were at Vail's Gate, four miles south of Newburg. They made their headquarters in the Ellison House, which is not now standing. It was while he was at Newburg that Washington received the famous Nicola letter, in which the writer went on to say the troops were without pay, and that Congress was either indifferent or helpless; that the form of government was weak and that many thought it best to put all authority in the hands of one man. He argued that republics were weak and that whatever progress had been made was due to the army and not to the civil government. This whole matter had been much discussed by several officers in the army, and Colonel Nicola was selected to present the matter and suggest that Washington become practically king and ultimately assume that title. Nicola performed his task as tactfully as such a task could be performed, perhaps, but its effect upon Washington might easily be imagined. His reply to Colonel Nicola is given here.


Washington's Headquarters at Newburg

Newburgh, May 22d, 1782.

Colonel Lewis Nicola.
Sir:-With a mixture of great surprise and astonishment, I have read with attention the sentiments you have submitted to my approval. Be assured, sir, no occurrence in the course of the war has given me more painful sensations than your information of there being such ideas existing in the army as you have expressed, and which I must view with abhorrence and reprehend with severity. For the present the communication of them will rest in my own bosom, unless some further agitation of the matter shall make a disclosure necessary.

I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could have given encouragement to an address which to me seems big with the greatest mischief that can befall my country. If I am not deceived in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable. At the same time, in justice to my own feelings, I must add that no man possesses a more sincere wish to see ample justice done to the army than I do, and so far as my powers and influence, in a constitutional way, extend, they shall be employed to the utmost of my abilities to effect it, should there be any occasion. Let me conjure you then, if you have any regard for your country, concern for yourself, or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind, and never communicate, as from yourself, or anyone else, a sentiment of the like nature. With esteem, I am sir,

Your most obedient servant, G. Washington.

 AHGP New York

Source: Stories from Early New York History, by Sherman Williams, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906.

 

Please Come back Soon!!




Hosted Free

This page was last updated Saturday, 06-Dec-2014 18:38:51 EST

Copyright August 2011 - 2017The American History and Genealogy Project.
Enjoy the work of our webmasters, provide a link, do not copy their work.