A curious thing happened. A missing headstone turned up. North of the Old Dutch Church in the town of Ossining a colonial headstone was found, broken in two pieces, covered by a bush in historic Sparta Cemetery. The women who found the stone quickly realized that it did not belong in Sparta. More research ensued and they finally reached out to Aubrey Hawes, the President of the Friends of the Old Dutch, who confirmed their suspicions. The headstone of Frederic Van Wart, who died in 1790 at the age of one month and one day was restored by master stone carver Robert Carpenter and re-seated in its original site on its original foundation. What was lost, was found. A celebration was called for and on Saturday, June 1st, 2019 members of the church, guests, and Van Wart descendants from Boston, New Jersey, and New York, gathered at the Old Dutch for a re-dedication service led by our Pastor, Jeff Gargano. It was my happy task to speak to the gathering about the Van Wart family. The talk was reprised on June 23, 2019, the first of our Summer Sundays of Worship at the Old Dutch. The text follows:
The Van Warts at the Old Dutch
In 1680, when the already successful merchant and land developer Frederick Philipse, formerly known as Vredryk Flypse, set his eyes on this land we now call Sleepy Hollow, his first thought was “wheat”. As he ran his fingers through the soil he envisioned his next market opportunity – the wheat-flour trade. The British had already granted him the right to purchase land, what he really wanted was a royal patent, but that was still to come. For now, having sealed this real estate deal with Lenape sachems for dry goods and wampum, his next step was to build the grist mill and fortify the mill pond, and add the buildings and docks necessary to carry out production and transportation of his goods. To this end, enslaved Africans became the workforce at the mills, but he still needed colonists to clear the land and plant the wheat.
By 1682, we know that Jochem Wouteszen Van Wert had made his way from Gouda, Holland, via New Amsterdam, to settle his family in Philipsburg. Perhaps he heard that Frederick Philipse was giving rent-free leases to farmers willing to clear timber and plant wheat. What is clear is that from the time he arrived his life and that of four succeeding generations would be entwined in the rise and fall of the Philipse family.
The Van Wart name is peppered through-out Dirck Storms’ Church Register of 1715, along with other familiar names of families who journeyed to Philipse’s Upper Mills project in the wilderness. These names etched on the stones outside our windows were as entwined in life as they are in death. In The Souvenir of the Revolutionary Soldiers’ Monument Dedication, the writers says:
The Van Warts were intermarried with all of the good old families on this Manor, notably with the Dutchers, the Ackers, the Storms, the Sees, the Martlings, the Davids, and the Odells…There was so much commingling of these families that it is difficult to tell where the one begins and the other ends…
Somewhere between 1682 and 1685 we believe work began on the church. We can imagine the excitement in the small community. Just reading through the membership, baptism, and wedding lists that are recorded in the church registers it’s plain to see that worship was important to these families. Jochem Van Wert would no doubt have witnessed the building of the church. Perhaps he marveled at the wealth that brought yellow brick from Holland, along with the elegant mahogany and oak octagonal pulpit, complete with sounding board. He would have been among the first to hear the call to worship ring out from the church bell that “Margaretta of blessed memory”, Frederick’s business partner and first wife, had cast in Holland and carried over the Atlantic in one of her own ships. The biblical verse she had engraved on this bell “Si Deus Pro Nobis, quis contra nos” (If God is with us, who can be against us?) would have brought comfort and inspiration to the new community.
Margaret did not live to see the work completed. Frederick’s second wife, Catherine, took up the reins, quite literally. It is said that she would ride up on horseback to supervise the work. She took such an interest in it that it would be known as “Catherine’s Church”. Catherine Philipse is listed in the church register as the first member. She remained a patron throughout her life and is buried in a crypt under the chancel with her husband. Margaret gave us our bell. Catherine gave us our communion table – a 17th century Dutch draw-top table of oak and ebony inlay. The two oldest objects in the church come from the two wives of Frederick Philipse.
Between the commencement of the building of the church to its formal incorporation as a Dutch Reformed Church in 1697, Frederick Philipse was granted his long-sought after royal patent when the British monarchs William and Mary proclaimed him Lord of Philipsburg Manor. The new Lord and his Lady must have caused quite a stir when they showed up for Sunday worship, dressed in the latest fashion and seated in their elaborate chairs on either side of the pulpit with silken curtains to separate them from their tenant farmers and their families.
The Van Werts were early supporters of the church. As I said, Lady Catherine is listed as the first member of the church. Joachim Van Wert is listed as the sixth! He served as an Elder. His son Gerrit Van Weert is listed as the 26th member and he served as a Deacon and Elder. Gerrit’s son Abraham Van Weert is listed as the 188th member. Abraham’s son Martin is listed at the 335th member of the church. And Martin’s son, Issac Van Wart, one of the three captors of Major John Andre, is the father of Frederic, whose headstone we re-dedicate today.
From Joachim down to Issac, the Old Dutch Church welcomed the Van Wart family to worship. Celebrated their marriages, baptized their children, and buried their dead. But generations of peace and prosperity would come to an end with the onset of the American Revolution. Lord Frederick Philipse III, eager to maintain the status quo, sided with the British, while the majority of his Dutch tenants would take up the patriot cause. It is said of the Van Wart family:
[They] were thoroughly patriotic and furnished their full quota of the Revolutionary soldiers of this Manor [which] is evident by the large number whose names appear upon the roll of honor.
Abram Van Wart, Garret Van Wart, Hendrick Van Wart, Henry Van Wart, Issac Van Wart (1st Lieutenant), Issac Van Wart (corporal and captor of Major Andre), Jacob Van Wart (Sgt), James Van Wart, Martinus Van Wart (father of Isaac and grandfather of Frederic), William Van Wart, and Will Van Wart.
And here in this place called Neutral Ground, a buffer zone between the British to the south and American forces to the north, these farmers took up arms as militia fighting in smaller skirmishes, tracking and capturing cowboys who rustled cattle for the enemy, engaging troops of Hessian soldiers who under British command burned the farms and fields of patriots. They participated in other forms of guerrilla warfare to harass the enemy. Many were taken prisoner and suffered from disease and deprivation and even death in British prisons. Even Katrina Buckout was killed by a Hessian Jager when she appeared at the door of her home with a man’s hat upon her head.
It’s no wonder the church doors were closed during most of the revolution. In the church register, the last marriages recorded during this time were in 1778, including the marriage of Issac Van Wart to Rachel Storms on April 13th. The next marriage won’t happen here until 1784.
In late September, 1780, Major John Andre, Adjutant General of the British Army, and Spy Master, made some of bad decisions that landed him in Neutral Ground. Perhaps the worst decision was to take General Benedict Arnold’s advice to change into civilian clothes before making the trek from Verplanck back to New York. After a secret meeting with Arnold where he obtained documents pertaining to West Point, Major Andre missed his ride home. The sloop Vulture, which was waiting to return Andre to New York, came under fire and had to retreat, leaving the Major stranded. He had no choice but to make his way back to British lines on his own.
At the direction of Sgt John Dean, Isaac Van Wart, along with John Paulding and David Williams, were sent out on patrol to look out for cattle rustlers. While Paulding and Williams were playing cards, Issac, who took the first watch spotted Andre. At this point I have to tell you that John Paulding, who had just escaped a third time from British imprisonment, was wearing a stolen Hessian jacket when they met Andre. The Major, upon seeing the jacket, made his second mistake in assuming that the boys were loyalists. I think most of you know what happened next. As their suspicions grew, they searched Andre and came upon the West Point documents in his stockings. The rest is history. Andre was taken to Continental Army headquarters in North Castle and eventually his true identity was revealed. He ended up in Tappan, NY where he was tried and hanged as a spy. Very quickly thereafter, Van Wart, Paulding, and Williams were hailed as heroes. General Washington had silver medals struck in their honor – the Fidelity medals. They were each given 200 dollar a year stipends for life. And after the war, New York State gave them farms. General Washington wined and dined them. As Washington said in a letter to Congress, “They have prevented in all probability our suffering one of the severest strokes that could have been meditated against us.” That would be the British taking of West Point and the control of the Hudson River. Plays were written. Paintings painted and monuments raised to these men over the years. And songs were sung like the Ballad of Major John Andre:
Come, all you brave Americans,
And unto me give ear,
I’ll sing you now a ditty
That will your spirits cheer,
Concerning a young gentleman
Who came from Tarrytown,
Where he met a British officer,
A man of high renown.
Then up spoke this young hero,
Young Paulding was his name;
‘0 tell us where you’re going, sir,
And also whence you came.’
‘I bear the British flag, sir,’
Up answered bold Andre,
‘I have a pass that takes me through,
I have no time to stay.’
Then others came around him,
And bade him to dismount:
‘Come tell us where you’re going,
Give us a strict account;’
Young Paulding said, ‘We are resolved
That you shall ne’er pass by’;
And so the evidence did prove
The prisoner a spy.
Andre then begs for his liberty and tries to bribe the men with gold and silver and they respond.
‘We scorn this gold and silver
You have laid up in store,’
Van Vert and Paulding both did cry,
‘You need not send us more.’
The story came to Arnold
Commanding at the Fort:
He called for the Vulture
And sailed for New York;
Now Arnold to New York has gone,
A-fighting for his King,
And left poor Major Andre
On the gallows for to swing.
Not only do we have a song that extols the heroism of the captors, it also sings of the honor of Andre.
In Britain he was born,
To die upon the gallows
Most highly he did scorn.
And now his life has reached its end
So young and blooming still-
In Tappan’s quiet countryside
He sleeps upon the hill.
After the war, the men would return to their farms and families. All of Frederick Philipse IIII’s land was confiscated and put up for auction by the New York Commission on Forfeiture – allowing the tenants to purchase their farms.
Today, people still come to hear this story of the capture of Major Andre which has been highly romanticized over the years, more recently in the AMC production of “TURN: Washington’s Spies”. Keep in mind, they were all young men. Andre was 29 when he was hanged, and Issac,at 19, was the youngest of the three captors.
So, we know at the Old Dutch Church, we will eventually come to the subject of Washington Irving.
Some eight years after the death of Frederic Van Wart, Washington Irving, then 15, was sent to Tarrytown to stay with the Paulding family during a cholera epidemic in New York City. Here he absorbed Dutch culture, most likely heard tales of the American Revolution and the Hessians, and perused the headstones, stealing a name here and there, all while being captivated by the natural beauty of the Pocantico. He would hold these experiences close to his heart and it would take an encounter with another Van Wart to turn those memories into legends.
Issac Van Wart’s nephew, Henry Van Wart worked for the Irving family business in New York City where he met and later married Irving’s sister, Sarah. They left for England to open another branch of the business in Liverpool which failed. They would go on to Birmingham and begin a venture on their own that was successful. Henry Van Wart was eventually granted British citizenship through a special act of Parliament and became one of Birmingham’s wealthiest and respected citizens. Washington Irving had also left for England around 1815 to aid the family business that never recovered after the War of 1812. He was invited to literary salons and introduced to the romantic writer Sir Walter Scott who would become a friend and mentor. During a visit with the Van Warts he spent an evening in front of the fire reminiscing with Henry about their time together in Tarrytown. After taking his leave he went to his rooms and wrote through the night, appearing for breakfast that next morning with a draft of Rip Van Winkle in his hand. Within two years “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent” was published in Britain, a year later here in America.
Many people come to the Old Dutch in search of the Headless Horseman. But once they visit the church and walk amongst the stones, it is our hope that they leave with a better understanding of the significance of this place that was founded upon Lenape land, nurtured by Dutch farmers under British rule, whose heirs would win their independence and forge a new government and whose stories would provide the material for America’s First Author. And from the beginning we see that the Van Wart family stands witness to all of this.
So today we honor a very churchy theme. That which was lost is found – that which was broken is made whole. In the re-dedication of Frederick Van Wart’s headstone, we as a church, do what we have always done, we take care of our community. The grave of the infant son of Isaac and Rachel Wan Wart, their third child, was adorned with a stone carved by the master Solomon Brewer whose signature soul effigy testifies that this child has ascended to heaven.
We are grateful to Jane Botticelli, Patty Bassak, and Martha Mesiti of the Ossining Historic Cemeteries Conservancy whose research led to the return of Frederic’s stone – recently found broken into two pieces and hidden under a bush at Sparta Cemetery. This find was reported to the Friends of the Old Dutch Church who engaged master stone carver and conservator Robert Carpenter to perform the repairs and re-seat this stone.
Note: Van Wert, Van Wart, and Van Weert are all variations of the same name.
The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow: Legends and Lore of the Oldest Church in New York by Janie Couch Allen & Elinor Griffith
Chronicles of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow by Edgar Mayhew Bacon
Souvenir of the Revolutionary Soldiers’ Monument Dedication, At Tarrytown, N.Y., October 19th, 1894, by Marcius Denison Raymond.