I can’t resist adding a second part to my original post. The most incredible thing happened yesterday at the Old Dutch. For the first time any of us can remember, we had a Hessian visit the church. Now when we tell the story of the Headless Horseman, we also touch on the role that Hessian mercenaries played in the American Revolution, especially in the area around the Old Dutch Church and Sleepy Hollow. Let us take a moment to remember this grievance against King George the III as it is enumerated in the Declaration of Independence:
“He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.”
These “Armies of foreign Mercenaries” were the Hessians. The fear of Hessian troops during the revolution was real. I like to say they were the storm troopers of the revolution. The family of Cornelius and Elizabeth Van Tassel knew this first-hand when the British decided to teach this group of patriots a lesson and send Hessian forces to their home one night. The Van Tassel men engaged the Hessian soldiers but did not prevail. The men were captured, the livestock rounded up, and the house looted and burned. And while this was going on, Elizabeth was looking for her baby Leah, fearful that she perished in the fire. But a Hessian soldier showed her that he had the baby. Leah, along with a blanket were returned to the mother. Both mother and daughter would survive this cold November night, but young Cornelius, Jr. would eventually perish from pneumonia. Sometime after this night a headless Hessian corpse was found by the family, and Elizabeth, remembering the Hessian who saved her baby, wanted him to be buried at the Old Dutch Burying Ground. And so he was, in an unmarked grave. This is just one type of Hessian story that Washington Irving may have heard from people like the Van Tassel family. It could have inspired his own Headless Horseman. The fact that he made his Horseman a Hessian was not lost on the readers of his story who still remembered their role in the war.
I always tell this story and to my surprise, when I finished telling a version of it yesterday a woman pointed to her male companion and said, “He is a Hessian”. We always get excited when descendants from the early Dutch community show up at the Church. I felt the same way when I met this gentleman. He was totally aware of the Hessian role in the revolution. It was the Legend of Sleepy Hollow that brought him and his wife and children to the church. Suddenly, the sound of German filled the sanctuary. I almost wanted to say, “Welcome, Home”. We spent a few minutes talking about Hessians in popular culture. (I’m thinking of you TURN and Fox Sleepy Hollow fans!) But he was a real sport when I pulled out my Flat Andre. He put on a smile and his wife snapped this shot:
It was a real pleasure sharing history with Matthias and his family. It’s the best part of weekends at the Old Dutch Church.
The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow is open for visits on Summer Saturdays from 11:30am to 2:30pm. The Burial Ground is open daily until 4:30pm. Worship Services take place on Sundays at 10am. All are welcome to enjoy this National Historic Landmark.