By Barrett Seaman–
Erik Weiselberg, PhD, known by his Irvington High School students as Dr.W., also the Principal Historian for the Revolutionary Westchester 250 project, gave a presentation on Sunday, November 15 on Tarrytown’s role in the Revolutionary War. One hundred thirty two signed up for the program via Zoom.
The event was hosted by the Warner Library in conjunction with the Historical Society of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson River Patriots’ Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The New York State DAR recently awarded Dr. Weiselberg its Outstanding Teacher of American History award.
Along with Revolutionary Westchester 250 President Connie Kehoe, Dr. Weiselberg and Kehoe have been engaged in a series of presentations all over Westchester on the county’s seminal role in the revolution. They have also produced a series of videos on specific people and places that loom large in the progress of the war. The program on Sunday singled out Tarrytown for three events—or rather two events and one legend: that of the headless horseman made famous by Washington Irving’s short story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
“From 1776-1783, Westchester County, including Tarrytown, was a battleground,” said Weiselberg. “The revolutionary war put Tarrytown on the map,” he added, “and Tarrytown put the United States on the map.”
The first and most famous episode with Tarrytown as its setting was the capture of the British spy, Major John Andre, caught by three local patriots, John Paulding, Isaac van Wart and David Williams, who were keeping watch over the Albany Post Road (now Broadway) for horse and cattle thieves when Andre tried to pass through in his effort to get to British-occupied New York City. From the maps and papers in his possession, the Americans were able to identify General Benedict Arnold as a traitor and thwart plans for the capture of West Point.
In the second part, Weiselberg described the role of local militiamen, working with French soldiers, in disrupting British naval attempts to steal supplies meant for continentals. Inflicting serious damage to at least one of the British ships and salvaging the supplies, the patriots and their French allies thwarted a key British strategy, which was to control the Hudson River.
The third and final segment of the talk addressed the origins of the legend of the headless horseman, best known in literature for chasing the terrified schoolteacher, Ichabod Crane, in the dead of night by the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow. The legend grew out of tales of a ghost of a Hessian soldier, fighting alongside the British Army in some local battle when a cannonball took his head off.
To hear the real story, readers are directed to Dr. Weisleberg’s presentation in its entirety, which can be viewed at: www.RW250.org as well as on the Warner Library’s YouTube channel
According to Revolutionary Westchester 250 president Kehoe, the project recently received a $5,000 grant from the Hudson River Greenway Project, which they plan to use to create more short videos. Currently, five are available on the project web site.
The Hudson Independent has published at least seven Revolutionary Westchester 250 segments written by Dr. Weiselberg, as well as other articles about the project. They can all be found in this site’s the Historic section under “Community” at: https://thehudsonindependent.com/category/historic/.
This program may also be viewed on Warner Library’s YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SK34ZT-UV7Q&t=4443s
Illustration credit: David R.Wagner, “Soissonnais Regiment, July 16,1781,” Hudson River Valley Institute, Dr. Frank P. Bumpus Collection.