Headless Horseman Blog

About historic Sleepy Hollow and its environs…

Tag: 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

Native Sons & The Battle of the Ironclads

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

The month of March marks the anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads, Virginia.  This naval engagement occurred early in the War Between the States; it was a two-day battle fought on March 8 & 9, 1862.  Two “ironclad” ship prototypes were involved in the action at Hampton Roads, and the use of that experimental technology made the battle particularly significant.  

The Battle of Hampton Roads

The Battle of Hampton Roads

This battle has associations with our area due the involvement of two men.  One of them I have been well aware of for some time.  The Union ship, Monitor, was commanded by Lieutenant John L. Worden, an early nineteenth century native of Sparta, New York, just to the north of us.  The second man was Commodore Hiram Paulding, one of the children of local Revolutionary War hero John Paulding.  Hiram Paulding made an early name for himself in the Battle of Lake Champlain, during the War of 1812.  By the time of the Civil War he was a seasoned and aged senior naval officer in his mid-sixties. 

Commodore Hiram Paulding

Commodore Hiram Paulding

At the beginning of the Civil War and about a year before the battle of the ironclads, the Gosport Naval Base near Norfolk, Virginia lay idle.  It was a major naval installation of the Union, and it was now effectively behind Confederate lines.  Among the warships at risk of capture there was a relatively new, propeller-driven, frigate named the Merrimack.  This was one of the largest, most powerful warships in the U. S. Navy, mounting forty guns.  The Union commander of the naval base proved to be infirm and impaired by drink, not up to the task of evacuating the warships and personal from the vulnerable port.  Finally, Commodore Hiram Paulding was sent with a relief force to put things in motion, but too late to save the base and its ships.  The best Paulding could do, given the time and resources at his disposal, was to hastily destroy the base, the warships, the ammunition, and the guns.  Paulding reported to headquarters that he had two choices, to leave the arms to the enemy, or attempt to destroy them.  Roughly ten million dollars worth of munitions were burned or scuttled in an attempt to deny them to the Confederacy. 

Upon the departure of Paulding’s forces, the South began to hurriedly salvage the sunken Merrimack and redesign her into a new style of armored ship.  Several months later, in September 1861, Paulding was in Washington.  As a senior officer on the naval board he met in conference with President Lincoln on the subject of a new armored ship for the North.  A controversial design had been submitted by Swedish inventor, John Ericsson.  It met with much opposition, but Paulding proved to be consistently supportive of Ericsson’s concept for the “Monitor.”  While the Monitor was under construction at Greenpoint in Brooklyn, Paulding was appointed Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  It was he who ordered the completed vessel to the seat of battle at Hampton Roads in March 1862.  The order he wrote was delivered to the commanding officer aboard the Monitor, Lieutenant John L. Worden.    

In the first day of the famous battle, Saturday March 8, 1862, the Confederate ironclad, now renamed the Virginia, was unchecked, spreading destruction among the wooden warships of the Union blockade fleet.  However, the second day was marked by a climatic confrontation between the Virginia and the Monitor, newly arrived from its homeport at New York.

Rear Admiral John L. Worden

Rear Admiral John L. Worden

John L. Worden was born on March 12, 1818, in today’s Scarborough.  In nineteenth century accounts his place of birth is generally cited as “Sparta, Mount Pleasant Township”—a potentially confusing place name in modern context due to municipal changes.  At the time of Worden’s birth, the name Sparta applied to a larger area than it does today. Sparta was an unincorporated hamlet in the Town of Mount Pleasant, embracing most of what is currently known as Scarborough.  The home in which Worden was born was known as “Rosemont”.  It once stood on the east side of Route 9, south of Scarborough Road.  A New York State history sign visible from the highway has long marked the site. 

Worden did not remain long in the locale of his birth; when he was still a child, his parents moved the family to Fishkill.  In 1834, he became a midshipman, later attending the Naval School at Philadelphia.  He was assigned to various tours at sea and to service at the Naval Observatory in Washington, DC.  At the commencement of the Civil War, Worden was sent by land bearing dispatches to the Union forces at Pensacola Florida.  On the return trip he was captured near Montgomery Alabama.  It is said that he may have been the first P.O.W. held by the South.  After seven months of imprisonment he was “exchanged” and released in poor health.

While still recovering from his illness, Worden was assigned to command of the Union ironclad Monitor.  He reported to Greenpoint, Brooklyn and supervised the final stages of the ship’s construction.  The Monitor was completed on February 25th, 1862.  Although the ship departed for Hampton Roads two days later, it was forced to return immediately for repairs.  It departed a second time on March 6th, 1862, towed along by another vessel.  The relatively unseaworthy Monitor barely survived its voyage to Virginia.  Lieutenant Worden and his ship arrived at Hampton Roads on March 8, too late to participate in the action of that day, which had been highly destructive to the Union fleet. 

The following day, Sunday, March 9, 1862,  the Monitor and the Virginia met in battle—it was a four-hour contest that ended in a virtual draw, neither ship sustaining serious damage.  At the three-hour mark, Worden, the commander of the Monitor, was wounded and partially blinded by a shell explosion.  He ceded his command to the ship’s  executive officer, Samuel Greene.

The Sinking of the USS Monitor

The Sinking of the USS Monitor

As fate would have it, neither ship saw battle again.  The Virginia was intentionally scuttled by the South to avoid its capture, and the Monitor was to sink less  than a year later, in a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

In the North, Lieutenant Worden was acknowledged the Union hero of the battle at Hampton Roads, and his leadership was rewarded with proclamations and a promotion to the rank of commander.  In December 1862, he assumed command of a new Union ironclad, the USS Montauk.  After that assignment, Worden was ordered to supervise the building of ironclads at New York from 1863 to 1869.  He was then appointed to a five-year tour of duty as the Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy.  He was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, and he subsequently commanded the U. S. Navy’s European Squadron.  Worden died in 1897, and his remains were interred at Pawling Cemetery in Dutchess County, New York.

One of the proclamations honoring Worden in the days after the famous battle came from his home state of New York.  A valuable, ceremonial sword made by Tiffany & Company accompanied the legislative proclamation.  Fifteen years after Worden’s death, the sword was donated by his son to the United States Naval Academy, but it was mysteriously stolen in 1931 and given up for lost.  After seventy-three years missing, the sword was recovered by the FBI and restored to the Naval Academy in 2004.

 

 

[Copyright © 2012, 2018 Henry John Steiner]

The Mother of Her Country

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

Catfish Pond Near the Tarrytown Lakes

Catfish Pond Near the Tarrytown Lakes

It was the forbidden place.  As children growing up in Tarrytown we were told to stay away from it.  So naturally we tried to get there as soon and as often as possible.  The place is called Catfish Pond.  We knew the big kids—the teenagers—went there, and of course that made us all the readier to flaunt the prohibition of our parents.  Besides, our parents probably had a very dim idea of where Catfish Pond was anyway.  Some of the kids on my block knew you could get there by following paths through the woods from the east end of Union Avenue in the Crest—the big kids had shown us the way.  But we could also walk down to Tarrytown Heights and pick up the dirt path of the old railroad bed—along the back edge of  the Tarrytown Lakes.  It was not then a paved bike path as it is today, and there was a chance that you might encounter a particular vagrant person along the way.  He was harmless the big kids said, but, personally, I was prepared to run.

Catfish Pond—a good place to get in trouble

Catfish Pond—a good place to get in trouble

Today, most local folks do not know where Catfish Pond is, or even that there is a Catfish Pond.  They might recognize the place but have no idea that it actually has a name.  The only reason I bring it up here is to give the reader some idea of where Frena Romer lived in the time of the Revolutionary War.  She lived a short distance from where the pond lies today—with her husband Jacob and their many children. 

Read More

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.

Read More

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

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén