As the docent for the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow, NY, I remind visitors that during the American Revolution, this historic church sat in the middle of an area known as “Neutral Ground”. While Americans may have been waging a revolution against Great Britain, in places like this, they were in fact, waging civil war. “Neutral Ground” was a huge tract of land that neither British nor American forces controlled. In the 331 years of the church’s history, there were only three years when the church was closed, and that was during the Revolution. It was just too dangerous to be out on the road in “Neutral Ground”. You were bound to run into loyalist “cowboys” or patriot “skinners”, or worse, Hessian mercenaries looking for some coin and an opportunity to let off some steam. This is what happened to Major John Andre when he was trying to make his way back to British territory after meeting with Benedict Arnold. Unfamiliar with the area, he took a wrong turn and ran into a group of three patriot militiamen, (young men who grew up in our congregation), who at first saw him as an easy mark for a little mischief, but who eventually realized they had an important British officer in their midst. When John Paulding glanced at the papers found in Andre’s boot, the game was up for this gallant officer whose next stop would be trial for espionage and ultimately the gallows.
When Major Andre placed the noose around his own neck and covered his eyes with his own handkerchief, the gathering of American officers and soldiers wept as he dangled from the killing rope. A good officer died because the British could not give up a traitor and the General could not forget the execution of a patriot.
Lately, whenever I venture out into Sleepy Hollow Twitter Land, I feel as though I am in the “Neutral Ground”. A place where divided factions advance and lunge at each other in an endless dance to take control over the conversation that was launched on that fateful day in April. Locked in a circular motion of parry, thrust and retreat – stuck in a purgatory that has no satisfactory resolution and gives no rest. Composing a tweet is like putting the noose around your own neck waiting for the rope to recoil when you press the enter key.
I remember a time when we were friendly neighbors who bore our disagreements with levity and maybe a little satire. But now there is a verbal violence that splits us apart and some troll the landscape looking for the innocent bystander who misspoke, or a new neighbor who had the gall to join the conversation. This is what happens when you draw a line in the sand. Conversation ends. Sharing ends. Accusations and innuendo fly. How I long for a good swift wave to come crashing onto this landscape to wipe away that intractable line.
I miss who we were.
The Powers That Be could not free Major Andre because of unbending precedents that were already in play. But that didn’t stop the Americans from tears and regrets. Every time I see one of us ridicule or attack another on Twitter, the noose tightens. These attacks do not change the outcomes of 3.18. They only hurt and oft times silence the person they were aimed at. This is a short-lived victory that will never satisfy the soul. Much like the hanging of Major John Andre.
Loyalist “cowboys” and rebel “skinners” often blurred the line between stealing and serving as scouts and spies from 1776 through the end of the war.
Sir Henry Clinton tried to save Andre, but would not offer up Arnold since the British promised to protect loyalists.
The “patriot” was Nathan Hale, whom the British hung for treason, thus setting the precedent for the execution of Major Andre who had hoped for an officer’s death by firing squad instead of the gallows.
3.18 – Season 3 finale of Sleepy Hollow in which our heroine, Grace Abigail Mills sacrificed her life.