Isaac Van Wart

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

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 him to have died at 69 years of age. He 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). Van Wart divided his time between his family, his farm, and his church: he eventually became an elder deacon of the Dutch Reformed Church.

Despite his bucolic lifestyle, Van Wart joined the volunteer militia when New York was a battlezone of the Revolution. Overnight on September 22-23, 1780, he joined John Paulding and David Williams in an armed patrol of the area. The three men seized a travelling British officer, Major John André at a site in Tarrytown, NY, now called Patriots 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. 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.

The three militiamen were highly celebrated in their lifetimes: commemorations large and small abound in Westchester (see below), 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 not to grant 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.1

Van Wart died in Elmsford and is buried in the cemetery of the Old Dutch Reformed Church on Route 9A. A marble and granite monument was erected at his grave on June 11, 1829, bearing the epitaph, "Having lived the life, he died the death of a Christian". An inscription on the south side reads: "FIDELITY - 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."

Commemorations

Van Wart is honored on the monument erected at the site of the capture, Patriots Park in Tarrytown, NY; Van Wart Avenue is located on the south side of town, near the Tappan Zee Bridge. Three streets in the neighboring village of Elmsford, NY, are named for the militiamen, with Van Wart Street being one of the village's main roads. White Plains, NY, has a Van Wart Avenue in the southwest section of the city, off NY Route 22. Ohio's Van Wert County is also named after Isaac Van Wart (in addition to Williams, and Paulding County counties also in Ohio).

Notes

*1. See Cray, pp.371-397.

References

*"New York Times", "In Saw Mill River Valley: Elmsford and its Revolutionary Church and Graveyard", 11/17/1895. Online: [http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9D07E5DE1E3DE433A25754C1A9679D94649ED7CF&oref=slogin] NY Times.
*"The Daily Argus" (Mt. Vernon, NY), "Old Families of Westchester: The Van Wart Family", by Maureen McKernan, 9/4/1951. Online: [http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~vantasselfamilyhistoryhomepage/oldfamiliesofwestchester/vanwart.html] RootsWeb.
*"Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York and the Hudson River Valley" (1913) Volume II, p.457
*Lossing, Benson John, "The Pictorial Field-book of the Revolution". Harper & Bros., 1852. Online: [http://books.google.com/books?id=ZmQsAAAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA173&lpg=RA1-PA173&dq=%22john+paulding%22+1818+grave&source=web&ots=Li0ASSw09Z&sig=GahDbu45-ZYoBfQQPGSVGJdeuh8&hl=en] University of Michigan.
*Bolton, Robert, "A History of the County of West Chester". Gould, Alexander S., 1848. Online: [http://books.google.com/books?id=fF89g9xoSvQC&dq=%22john+paulding%22+peekskill&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0] Harvard University.
*ed., "The Builders of the Nation", National Cyclopaædia of American Biography. Stanley-Bradley Publishing Co., NYC, 1892. Online: [http://books.google.com/books?id=5SkEAAAAYAAJ&dq=%22david+williams%22+1780+andre&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0] New York Public Library.
*Cray, Robert E. Jr., "Major John Andre and the Three Captors: Class Dynamics and Revolutionary Memory Wars in the Early Republic, 1780-1831", "Journal of the Early Republic", Vol. 17, No. 3. Autumn, 1997. University of Pennsylvania Press.


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