Tag: Benedict Arnold

Major John Andre

Andre’s Tree – The Vanished Landmark

Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

I wrote the following piece many years ago, prodded by the knowledge that Andre’s Tree was a real, historic  – though now extinct – landmark.  My researches in local history taught me that many well-intentioned writers of the 19th and 20th centuries had, through ignorance and misinterpretation, consigned this important landmark to mythological status…

Major John Andre

Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown once had an impressive, living landmark which stood near what is today the border of the two villages.  André’s Tree was an ancient, enormous tulip or white-wood tree which towered over the Post Road until 1801.  According to Washington Irving’s friend, James K. Paulding, it stood “About half a quarter of a mile south of Clark’s Kill bridge, on the high-road….”  In other words, it stood roughly where Broadway passes Warner Library today.

Where Andre's Tree once stood—near the parking lot entry to Warner Library, Tarrytown

Where Andre’s Tree once stood—near the parking lot entry to Warner Library, Tarrytown

The American Citizen newspaper of August 25, 1801, reported that the tree was destroyed by lightning on Saturday, July 21, 1801.  It measured 29 feet around at the base, 111 feet in height, 106 feet in diameter at the crown.  Some local folk preserved pieces of the tree as keepsakes.  The newspaper also recorded that the lightening strike was said to have occurred on the day that news of Benedict Arnold’s death in England arrived at Tarrytown.

A cluster of tulip trees in the Sleepy Hollow section of Patriots' Park, about 300 yards from where Andre's Tree once stood

A cluster of tulip trees in the Sleepy Hollow section of Patriots’ Park, about 300 yards from where Andre’s Tree once stood

As the name suggests, the tree is associated with the momentous capture of the British spy, Major John André, and, indeed, there is a tradition that André was either stopped or searched directly under the tree.  However, the actual capture site lay at the intersection of André Brook and the Albany Post Road, approximately two hundred yards to the north. 

Patriots' Park tulip tree leaves

Patriots’ Park tulip tree leaves

On another score, General Jacob Odell recalled that the tree served as an enlistment station for patriots of the vicinity during the spring of 1776.  He and three cousins from the Irvington area, rode or walked up the Post Road to enlist with the local militia in the June of 1776.

The tree is associated with several spurious traditions too, among them:

  • That Major André was hanged at the tree
  • That the tree was destroyed upon receipt of the news of André’s death in Tappan
  • That the tree stood along André Brook.

The name, “Major André’s tree,” appears in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1819).  Washington Irving described the tree from first-hand observations made roughly twenty years earlier.  It is not clear when the tree was first given the name, André’s Tree, but the name appears to have originated after the destruction of the tree itself.  A remarkable feature of the tree is that it stood, literally, in the middle of the road.  That is, the road split to either side of the tree, a unique circumstance even in that day.

A tulip tree in Patriots' Park, Sleepy Hollow

A tulip tree in Patriots’ Park, Sleepy Hollow

The extensive description of the tree in the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” may be well worth revisiting.  “Many dismal tales were told about funeral trains, and mourning cries and wailings heard and seen about the great tree where the unfortunate André was taken.”  Irving goes on, “The common people regarded it with a mixture of respect and superstition, partly out of sympathy for the fate of its ill-starred namesake, and partly from the tales of strange sights and doleful lamentations told concerning it.”  The narrator of the story refers to it as a”fearful tree.”

Christopher Coles mislabeled Andre's Tree an oak in his 1789 survey.

Christopher Coles mislabeled Andre’s Tree an oak in his 1789 survey.

When he was writing the story in 1819, Irving may have been unaware that the tree had been destroyed by lightning nearly twenty years earlier.  If he was accurately describing the tree from his own youthful observations, André’s Tree had been the target of earlier lightning strikes:  “As he approached a little nearer, he thought he saw something white, hanging in the midst of the tree—he paused and ceased whistling, but on looking more narrowly, he perceived that it was a place where the tree had been scathed by lightning, and the white wood laid bare.”

It appears that the tree continued to serve as a convenient reference point even after it was gone.  In 1845 a local Revolutionary War veteran, Samuel Lyon, recalled that he was in a detachment chasing enemy loyalist troops on September 4, 1781, when he observed the enemy troopers, “near André’s great white wood tree.”  Lyon had seen them from the hill above the Old Dutch Church, but the enemy slipped away before he and his comrades could attack them.

The twentieth century nearly banished André’s Tree to the realm of myth.  It was, however, a real, living and unique landmark coloring the life and traditions of this community in its earliest days, and even a monument of purely Native American times.  A great part of what the tree really was, lives on.  It’s image is stamped in the pages of one of America’s great works of fiction.

Copyright  2012, 2019 Henry John Steiner

 

Andre Brook, Andre’s Tree, Benedict Arnold, HeadlessHorseman, James K. Paulding, John Paulding, legend of sleepy hollow, Major John Andre, sleepy hollow, Tarrytown, washington irving

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John Paulding

Capture of Andre II

Capture of Andre II

John Paulding

—Henry Steiner’s Remarks on the Anniversary of the Capture of Major Andre

By Henry John Steiner

Introduction

Hello, my name is Henry John Steiner, I am the historian of Sleepy Hollow.   It is very good to be here today as part of this celebration and commemoration of John Paulding and his fellow captors of British Major John Andre during the American Revolution. I would like to tip my hat to the members of the board of the Old Cemetery of Van Cortlandtville, who invited me to be here today, to the dignitaries and supporters of this event who have come to honor John Paulding and his fellow American soldiers, and to Colonel Scully, of West Point Military Academy, who we will also hear from today. The new plaque unveiled today will help to spell out and clarify the contribution of a man who did so much for the United States of America in its infancy. John Paulding’s remains lie not very far from where we are assembled. He died 199 years ago this year.

I’d also like to acknowledge my old friend, Jeff Canning, one of your own very astute local historians. Long ago, as children in Tarrrytown, Jeff and I were rigorously schooled in the importance and achievement of John Paulding. I’m sure neither of us has forgotten those early lessons, and I must confess I was somewhat daunted to learn that my old schoolmate was going to be here listening to my remarks. But knowing how generous Jeff has long been with his considerable knowledge of local history, I take great solace in knowing that he will be content to ignore everything I have to say.

Andre-Arnold Affair

Andre and Arnold

Andre and Arnold

I thought that today I would talk about John Paulding the man. His identity is so caught up in the Andre-Arnold Affair that it may be hard to get a good look at him through the centuries. Who was he? It’s very hard to separate him from the momentus event that he was part of, what one historian called “The Crisis of the Revolution.” Many of you are familiar with the story—Arnold was disgruntled with Congress and hard-up for money. He colluded with the wily John Andre, adjutant general and spy-master of the British Army in North America. Later, Andre was often cast as an innocent, unfortunate victim. He was not. He was a very intelligent, ambitious, and interested “player” whose plans went awry. In a high stakes game, he bet future acclaim and a very comfortable life on one roll of the dice. He lost. He was not cuddly and well-intentioned. He sought to deal a death blow to the American military, the American government, and the cause of American Independence. And from the grave he managed to muddy the reputations of John Paulding and the other captors.

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Andre’s Tree – The Vanished Landmark

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

I wrote the following piece many years ago, prodded by the knowledge that Andre’s Tree was a real, historic  – though now extinct – landmark.  My researches in local history taught me that many well-intentioned writers of the 19th and 20th centuries had, through ignorance and misinterpretation, consigned this important landmark to mythological status…

Major John Andre

The Vanished Landmark

by Henry Steiner

Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown once had an impressive, living landmark which stood near what is today the border of the two villages.  André’s Tree was an ancient, enormous tulip or white-wood tree which towered over the Post Road until 1801.  According to Washington Irving’s friend, James K. Paulding, it stood “About half a quarter of a mile south of Clark’s Kill bridge, on the high-road….”  In other words, it stood roughly where Broadway passes Warner Library today.

Read More

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