ELMSFORD, NY — On South Central Avenue, across from the warehouse for Prestige Flooring & Interiors, the remains of 119 people who died between 1794 and 1913 rest inside a small cemetery, alongside the former Elmsford Reformed Church.
The centerpiece of the cemetery is an obelisk surrounded by a wrought iron fence. On the south side of that obelisk, an epitaph titled “Fidelity” summarizes the treason that was thwarted by the man who was buried there:
On the 23rd of September 1780, Isaac Van Wart, accompanied by John Paulding and David Williams, all farmers of the County of Westchester, intercepted Major Andre on his return from the American lines in the character of a spy and, not withstanding the large bribes offered them for his release, nobly disdaining to sacrifice their country for gold, secured and carried him to the commanding officer of the district, whereby the dangerous and traitorous conspiracy of Arnold was brought to light, the insidious designs of the enemy baffled, the American army saved, and our beloved country, free and independent, rescued from most imminent peril.
Van Wart, Paulding and Williams were militiamen who captured Major John Andre, a British officer, at the site of the current Patriot’s Park in Tarrytown. Inside one of his stockings, Andre carried plans that revealed the scheme by General Benedict Arnold, the commander of West Point, to surrender that fort to the British.
Van Wart died on May 23, 1828, at age 69. To mark the 190th anniversary of his passing, a plaque was placed at his gravesite on May 6, 2018. The dedication was preceded by a program inside the former church, where Van Wart was an elder. The church was built in 1793, then turned over to the Elmsford Historical Society after worship services ceased at the end of 2017.
The event was sponsored by the Hudson River Patriots Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and by the Daughters of Liberty’s Legacy, both of which were represented by Cynthia Kauffman and Debra Palazzo. Kauffman was dressed as Van Wart’s wife, Rachel.
“You can teach history in school, from a book, but people don’t really listen,” Kauffman said. “But when they meet someone, and hear it from them, it sticks with them more.”
Kauffman and Palazzo were joined by Revolutionary War re-enactors from the 2nd New York Regiment and Pawling’s Levies, and by Hudson Valley storyteller Jonathan Kruk, who portrayed Isaac Van Wart. In addition, three of Van Wart’s descendants were in attendance — Peter Van Wart of Ulster County, his daughter Lindsey, and Rae Faith Robinson of Westchester County, who held the Fidelity Medallion that Congress awarded to their ancestor.
For Peter Van Wart, who taught industrial arts at Peekskill High School for 30 years, and retired in 2009, it was his first visit to Isaac’s gravesite.
“I had known this was here,” he said. “I just didn’t realize it was that big of a deal.”
Tim Lamorte is an award-winning journalist who has spent almost two decades documenting life along the Hudson River.