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Elmsford Hero Captures Spy, 231 Years Ago

ELMSFORD, N.Y. — Isaac Van Wart was lying in the bushes, musket at hand, when he saw a man in a purple coat riding along the road, the black horse trotting at a slow pace. He turned to his friends John Paulding and David Williams, who were playing cards near him.

“Here’s a horseman coming. We must stop him,” Van Wart said.

That scene happened on Sept. 23, 1780, during the American Revolution, and is described in Lucille and Theodore Hutchinson’s book “Storm’s Bridge: A History of Elmsford 1700-1976.”

The revolutionary militiaman Van Wart, then 22, lived in Storm’s Bridge, today Elmsford, and had left two days earlier in a patrol with Paulding and Williams. The horseman was Major John André, a British officer carrying documents that revealed a conspiracy to surrender West Point to the British.

The capture of Major André, 231 years ago in what is today Patriots Park in Tarrytown, is considered a remarkable event in the history of the American Revolution and, because of Van Wart, a point of pride to Elmsford. Indeed, Van Wart is buried in the village’s Reformed Church cemetery on South Central Avenue.

“He was a very important person in our community,” said Frank Jazzo, Greenburgh town historian.

The capture of Major André is also recorded in the Elmsford Village Hall, on a timeline of village history put together by Martin Rogers, the village’s assistant building inspector and former chairman of the Elmsford Centennial Committee.

Rogers said that some people who said they were descendants of Van Wart showed up during the village’s centennial celebrations last year, but he didn’t have a chance to meet them.

“They just came to the front window,” Rogers said.

Jazzo highlighted that, although Van Wart is the local hero, Paulding and Williams deserve the same credit.

“They were equally important in capturing an suspecting that Major André was a spy,” he said.

Jazzo said, however, that the present condition of the Elmsford’s cemetery, with its washed out gravestones, is not up to the significance of Van Wart’s deed.

“The cemetery needs a lot of work in order not to deteriorate further,” he said.

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