Isaac Van Wart

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The Van Wart grave obelisk at the Elmsford Reformed Church and Cemetery

Isaac Van Wart (25 October 1762 – 23 May 1828) was a militiaman from the state of New York during the American Revolution. In 1780, he participated in the capture of Major John André.[1][2]

Personal history[edit]

Born in the farm country of Greenburgh, New York, near the village of Elmsford, Van Wart's exact birthdate is not recorded, but his tombstone declares that he died at the age of sixty-nine.

Van Wart married Rachel Storm (1760–1834), a daughter of Elmsford's most prominent family (from whom the settlement's original name, "Storm's Bridge", was derived). He divided his time between his family, his farm, and his church (in time, he became an elder deacon of the Dutch Reformed Church). Van Wart's body was buried in the cemetery of the Elmsford Reformed Church in Elmsford, New York.[3]

Revolutionary history[edit]

Despite his bucolic lifestyle, Van Wart joined the volunteer militia when New York was a battlezone of the Revolution. Overnight on 22–23 September 1780, he joined John Paulding and David Williams in an armed patrol of the area.[1][2] The three men seized a travelling British officer, Major John André in Tarrytown, New York, at a site now called Patriot's Park. Holding him in custody, they discovered documents of André's secret communication with Benedict Arnold. The militiamen, all local farmers of modest means, refused André's considerable bribe and instead delivered him to army headquarters.[4] Arnold's plans to surrender West Point to the British were revealed and foiled, and André was hanged as a spy.

The Fidelity Medallion, the first military decoration of the United States of America.

With George Washington's personal recommendation, the United States Congress awarded Van Wart, Paulding and Williams the first military decoration of the United States, the silver medal known as the Fidelity Medallion. Each of the three also received federal pensions of $200 a year, and prestigious farms awarded by New York State.

Legacy[edit]

Van Wart died in Elmsford and is buried in the cemetery of the Old Dutch Reformed Church on Route 9.[5] A marble and granite monument was erected at his grave on 11 June 1829, bears the single emphatic word "FIDELITY", followed by this epitaph,

The three militiamen were highly celebrated in their lifetimes: commemorations large and small abound in Westchester, and can be found in many disparate parts of the early United States. Among other honors, each of the men had his name given to a county in the new state of Ohio (1803): Van Wert County, bearing a common alternate spelling of the name, is in the northwest corner of the state.

Still, Van Wart and the others did see their reputations impugned by some. André at his trial had insisted the men were mere brigands; sympathy for him remained in some more aristocratic American quarters (and grew to legend in England, where he was buried in Westminster Abbey). Giving voice to this sympathy, Representative Benjamin Tallmadge of Connecticut persuaded Congress to deny the men a requested pension increase in 1817, publicly assailing their credibility and motivations. Despite the slight, the men's popular acclaim continued to grow throughout the 19th century to almost mythic status. Some modern scholars have interpreted the episode as a major event in early American cultural development, representing the apotheosis of the common man in the new democratic society.[6]

Van Wart and his companions are honored on the monument erected at the site of the capture in Tarrytown, dedicated on June 11, 1829, by the Revolutionary general and congressman Aaron Ward of nearby Ossining.[7] A Van Wart Avenue is located on the south side of Tarrytown, near the Tappan Zee Bridge. Three streets in the neighboring village of Elmsford, New York, are named for the militiamen, with Van Wart Street being one of the village's main roads. White Plains, New York, has a Van Wart Avenue in the southwest section of the city, off NY Route 22.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Raymond, pp. 11–17
  2. ^ a b Cray, pp. 371–397
  3. ^ Austin O'Brien (August 1983). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Elmsford Reformed Church and Cemetery". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2010-12-24. 
  4. ^ [1]"Vindication." From New York Courier; reprinted in American & Commercial Advertiser, February 22, 1817. Account of capture of Andre, in rebuttal to criticism by Rep. Tallmadge. Depositions by Isaac van Wart and his neighbors, intended to refute allegations he and his companions were bandits or "Cow-boys" Retrieved July 25, 2011
  5. ^ Isaac Van Wart at Find A Grave
  6. ^ White, p. 49
  7. ^ "In Saw Mill River Valley: Elmsford and its Revolutionary Church and Graveyard". The New York Times. 17 November 1895. Retrieved 25 August 2013. 
Bibliography

Further reading[edit]