On September 23, 1780 British Major John Andre, dressed in civilian clothes, rode south through Westchester on his way to British-held New York City after meeting with American General Benedict Arnold. In his boot were the plans for the American Fortress at West Point which Arnold planned to surrender to the British. Early in the morning Andre’s route took him from King Street in Chappaqua south down Hardscrabble Road past the house of Sergeant Sylvanus Brundage of the Westchester militia. He exchanged greetings with the sergeant and stopped at a spring a little further down in front of #80 to water his horse.
Today, a small plaque, shown below, marks the location of the spring and commemorates our village’s link in the chain of events around one of the most important incidents of the American Revolution. Had Major Andre successfully delivered the plans on his boot to the British, the resulting capture of West Point and George Washington would probably have ended the war.
Andre’s ride through Westchester was a combination of bad luck and poor judgement. He had traveled to Haverstraw across the river for his secret meeting with General Arnold on the night of September 22, 1780 on board the HMS Vulture. The Vulture anchored offshore to carry him back down river to British held territory. The meeting lasted until dawn but Arnold was reluctant to allow Andre to be seen boarding the Vulture in daylight. Andre was persuaded to wait until dark, but during the day, the Vulture was fired on by members of the Westchester Militia stationed at Croton Point and forced to sail down-river to Dobbs Ferry. According to local lore, one of the cannon balls fired by the Vulture during this exchanged was poorly aimed and lodged in a tombstone in Sparta Cemetery.
Andre then made the fateful decision to travel overland through Westchester rather than wait for the Vulture to return. Andre was persuaded to disguise himself in civilian clothes and to hide the plans to West Point in his boot. Arnold gave him passes in the name of John Anderson to allow him safe passsage through American lines. Unfortunately for Andre, this meant his capture by American forces would result in his execution as a spy rather than imprisonment as a captured enemy soldier. Andre’s trip through Westchester was dangerous and unwise because most of Westchester County was a No Man’s Land called the Neutral Ground between the American forces along the Croton River and the British Forces camped throughout Yonkers and Eastchester. The land in between was constantly being patrolled by units of both armies looking for enemy forces and foraging for supplies from local farmers. The residents were also subjected to raids by irregular forces of both armies and bandits called Cowboys and Skinners who would rob and kill searching for supplies and valuables.
After watering his horse, Major Andre continued down to Pleasantville Road and then to Old Bedford Road making his way to Tarrytown. Later that morning Andre ran into a patrol of American militiamen waiting in ambush just outside of Tarrytown on the Old Albany Post Road, now Route 9. This was a favored route of the British irregulars called Cowboys who stole cows from the local farmers and herded them to New York City to feed British forces. Ironically, Andre mistook the three militiamen for Cowboys because one of them was wearing a uniform jacket belonging to the German allies of the British. Andre identified himself as a British Officer and was arrested. The statue and plaque shown below located at Patriot Park in Tarrytown commemorates this event.
Andre was taken to Tappan where he was tried as a spy and hanged on October 2, 1780. The tavern which served as his jail, today known as The Old 76 House, still operates as a restaurant and preserves the interior of the original. He was buried in a nearby field in an unmarked grave. Andre, viewed as a hero in England, was exhumed in 1821, and his body carried to England and reburied in Westminister Abbey. Arnold managed to escape to safety in British-held New York City. He became a Brigiader General in the British army and was part of the force which captured Charleston, South Carolina and attacked and burned Groton, Connecicut. After the war he settled in England.
Details of Andre’s route through Westchester can be found in the books listed below. The Westchester Treasure Hunt contains detailed maps of Andre’s route. The Crisis of the Revolution contains maps and photographs of the locations and individuals mentioned, as well as biographical information. There is additional information in the library, or on the internet through Wikipedia and Google.
PICTURE SOURCES Figure 1: House of Sergeant Brundage ca 1889, Hardscrabble Road, Briarcliff Manor from The Crisis of the Revolution by William Abbatt. Plate 23 Figure 2: House of Sergeant Brundage 2018, Hardscrabble Road, Briarcliff Manor Photo K. Smith Figure 3: Andre’s Spring, Hardscrabble Road, Briarcliff Manor. Photo B Fetonti Figure 4: Major John Andre, unknown painter, Wikipedia Figure 5: Gen Benedict Arnold, engraved by H B Hall from a painting by John Trumbull, Wikipedia Figure 6: Plaque from the Captor's Monument in Patriot's Park, Tarrytown. Photo Bill Coughlin
Wikipedia - Major John Andre Wikipedia - Benedict Arnold The Crisis of the Revolution by William Abbatt. The Westchester Treasure Hunt Tour by Julia Freehand