Isaac Van Wart
Issac Van Wart
The Van Wart grave obelisk at the Elmsford Reformed Church and Cemetery
|Spouse(s)||Rachel Storm (1760–1834)|
Isaac Van Wart (October 25, 1762 – May 23, 1828) was a militiaman from the state of New York during the American Revolution. In 1780, he was one of three men who captured British Major John André, who was convicted and executed as a spy for conspiring with Benedict Arnold.
Born in the farm country of Greenburgh, New York, near the village of Elmsford, Van Wart lived on the frontier and his birthdate is not recorded. His tombstone said 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 (he became an elder deacon of the Dutch Reformed Church). Van Wart was buried in the cemetery of the Elmsford Reformed Church in Elmsford, New York.
A yeoman farmer, Van Wart joined the volunteer militia when New York was a battlezone of the American Revolution. Overnight on 22–23 September 1780, he joined John Paulding and David Williams in an armed patrol of the area. The three men seized a traveling 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 yeomen farmers, refused André's considerable bribe and delivered him to Continental Army headquarters. Arnold's plans to surrender West Point to the British were revealed and foiled, and André was hanged as a spy. 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.
Van Wart died in Elmsford and is buried in the cemetery of the Old Dutch Reformed Church on Route 9. A marble and granite monument was erected at his grave on 11 June 1829, bears the single emphatic word "FIDELITY", followed by this epitaph,
On the 23rd of September 1780, Isaac Van Wart, accompanied by John Paulding and David Williams, all Farmers of the County of Westchester, intercepted Major André, 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 Gold, Secured and carried him to the Commanding Officer of the district, whereby the dangerous and traitorous Conspiracy of Arnold was brought to light; the insidious designs of the enemy baffled; the American Army saved; and our beloved country now free and Independent, rescued from most imminent peril.
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.
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. 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.
- Raymond, pp. 11–17
- Cray, pp. 371–397
- 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.
- "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
- Isaac Van Wart at Find A Grave
- White, p. 49
- "In Saw Mill River Valley: Elmsford and its Revolutionary Church and Graveyard" (PDF). The New York Times. 17 November 1895. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
- Bolton, Robert (1848). A History of the County of West Chester. Gould, Alexander S. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
- Cray, Robert E. Jr. (Autumn 1997). "Major John André and the Three Captors: Class Dynamics and Revolutionary Memory Wars in the Early Republic, 1780-1831". Journal of the Early Republic. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press. 17 (3). doi:10.2307/3123941.
- White, James T., ed. (1892). The Builders of the Nation. New York: Stanley-Bradley Publishing Co. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
- Lossing, Benson John (1852). The Pictorial Field-book of the Revolution. New York: Harper & Bros. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
- Raymond, Marcius Denison (1903). David Williams and the capture of André. Tarrytown, NY: Argus/Tarrytown Historical Society. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
- McKernan, Maureen (4 September 1951). "Old Families of Westchester: The Van Wart Family". The Daily Argus. Mount Vernon, NY. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
- Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York and the Hudson River Valley (1913) Volume II, p. 457