by Dr. Erik Weiselberg
THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR IN WESTCHESTER COUNTY
A Bimonthly Series of local Revolutionary Era History Stories
Researched and Written by Erik Weiselberg, Ph.D., Principal Historian for Revolutionary Westchester 250 and Village Historian of Irvington, New York.
In an eight-year-long conflict where neighbors took different sides and rival armies plundered their way across Westchester County, why did some residents side with the patriot cause? What about the women, children and enslaved persons whose struggles and perseverance shaped our community in important ways? Revolutionary Westchester 250 seeks to build awareness and appreciation of the vital role that the people of Westchester County played in winning the Revolutionary War and in the founding of the United States. Visit https://RW250.org for information and upcoming events.
William Dutcher, Revolutionary War Militia Captain
Visitors to the Veterans Memorial Plaza on Irvington’s Main Street may observe a granite marker embedded in the red brick plaza engraved with the phrase, “Members of these Local Families Served the Patriot Cause In The War of Independence, 1776-1783: Acker, Bont, Buckhout, Dutcher, Ferris, Jewel, Odell, Requa, Van Tassel.” During the war, William Dutcher served as a captain of a local company of militia.
When two British warships arrived in the waters of the Tappan Zee in July of 1776, William Dutcher volunteered to form a company of 40 men, “to protect the inhabitants along the shore of the North River from the mischievous attempts of the Ministerial ships now lying in the river near Tarrytown.” By July 30, Dutcher informed the Provincial Congress that, “there is a number of men under my command that are well equipt as any Company in the County, and I think I can say with safety, the Best.” If the Provisional Congress would provide ammunition and allow the men to take care of their harvests, Dutcher assured them that, “you may depend upon it these men will be ready almost on the shortest notice.”
William Dutcher became captain of the Upper Philipsburgh Associated Company of Militia, one of twenty-eight companies of militia formed in Westchester. Authorized by the Continental Congress in 1775, militia units consisted of men from the civil population, and were intended to supplement the Continental Army by attending to local emergencies. Terms of enlistment in the militia lasted for only short periods of time, some as little as two to three days; men were allowed to return home when not actively needed, in order to tend to their farms and provide for their families. Dutcher’s company consisted of roughly 30 men including a first lieutenant, second lieutenant, three sergeants, two drummers and a fifer. Militia captains were typically chosen for their prominence within the community, and Dutcher, a descendant of Dutch settlers, was a well-respected community leader with a large tenant farm located along the shore between Tarrytown and Dobbs Ferry.
Facing resistance from Dutcher’s men, other militia companies and the residents, the British ships finally withdrew downriver on August 14. British General William Howe said of the local resistance in the area, “I can do nothing with this Dutch population; I can neither buy them with money nor conquer them with force.”
Dutcher’s company helped to construct and garrison Fort Independence (an area now a Bronx neighborhood) until it was abandoned in October, when General Washington led the retreat to White Plains. Dutcher’s company participated in the Battle of White Plains, where they were positioned just west of Horton’s Mill Pond, now Silver Lake.
After the battle, Dutcher sent his family to Salem, New York in order to take refuge with relatives. The British returning to New York City encamped on neighbor Jonathan Odell’s farm, taking his hogs and destroying his orchards (The “Odell Tavern” is the oldest building in Irvington). At the Dutcher home, the British rounded up the slaves who had been left in charge, took them in a boat out into the river, and threw them overboard. As it turned out, the water was shallow enough to enable them to walk back to shore. Slavery in New York was not abolished until July 4, 1827, and the experiences of enslaved persons in Westchester County are only beginning to be explored.
During the winter of 1777–1778, William Dutcher was home on leave when the British raided his home looking for him. Thanks to his wife Catherine, who distracted the raiding party when they came to the front door, Dutcher made a narrow escape out the rear and rode away on horseback.
In June of 1778, Daniel Martling replaced William Dutcher as captain of the company. Dutcher may have been enlisted as part of General Washington’s intelligence operations. Little record exists of Dutcher’s subsequent war service, except that in 1782 he sought a commission to cruise a whaleboat on the Hudson River.
After the war, the tenants of Philipse Manor purchased their farms and became landowners. William Dutcher’s large farm later formed the center of the present village of Irvington (and his farmhouse became the home of Charles Lewis Tiffany, although it has been demolished). Dutcher’s gravesite is at the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground in Sleepy Hollow, within sight of the Revolutionary Soldiers’ Monument (1894) at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which lists his name and rank. In Irvington, his name lives on at Dutcher Street, and he is listed on the renovated Veterans Memorial in downtown Irvington, on land that was once his home.
A version of this article originally appeared in:
Erik Weiselberg, “Captain William Dutcher,” The Roost (Irvington Historical Society), 19:1 (Winter 2018).