Peekskill is a fine town of two thousand
inhabitants, containing eight churches, a bank, several foundries
and tanneries and some three hundred other buildings. It carries
on a flourishing trade with New York, and contains objects worthy
of the attention of the traveller. 'I'he Peekskill Academy on Oak
Hill is extremely well situated for purposes of education; the
site being one of the most healthy on the Hudson, and commanding
a delightful view of the noble Dunderberg and other mountains
Peekskill is the birth-place of John Paulding, the patriot farmer, whose conduct in the affair of Major Andre has been recorded by a monument, a marble pyramid fifteen feet high. It is inclosed in an iron railing twelve feet square. On the south side is the following inscription:
" Here repose the
mortal remains of
who died on the 18th day of February, 1818,
in the 60th year of his age.
On the morning of the 23d of September, 1780,
accompanied by two young farmers of the county
(whose names will one day be recorded
on their own deserved monuments,)
He intercepted the British Spy, Andre
He disdained to acquire wealth by sacrificing
Rejecting the temptation of great rewards,
He conveyed his prisoner to the American camp,
By this act of noble self-denial,
The treason of Arnold was detected;
The designs of the enemy baffled;
West Point and the American army saved,
and these United States
Now by the grace of God, free and independent,
Rescued from imminent peril."
On the north side is the inscription,
Other inscriptions appear on the remaining sides.
Two miles from the village is a dwelling,
occupied by Washington when the American army was encamped here.
On Oak Hill, near the flourishing academy before mentioned,
stands a venerable oak tree, on which were hung in the days of
the Revolution, the two spies, Strang and Palmer. It was in the
case of the latter that Putnam the warrior, "born a
hero," wrote his characteristic note to Governor Tryon. His
iron will was not to be changed by the threats of the British
governor, or by the dictates of his humane heart, at the
entreaties of Palmer's wife. The letter was as follows:
"Sir-Nathan Palmer, a lieutenant in your king's
taken in my camp as a spy; he was tried as a spy, and condemned
as a spy; and you may rest assured, sir, he shall be hanged as a
spy. I have the honour to be, &c. ISRAEL PUTNAM.
P. S.- Afternoon.-He is hanged."
It is a curious fact that the man who turned off Palmer
gallows, afterwards married his widow. It was a singular
"reward of merit."
A traditionary circumstance connected with the
capture of Andre, is related in a popular volume, "Letters
about the Hudson," which would seem to have occurred in the
neighbourhood of Peekskill. About the time when Andre was
bargaining for West Point with the traitorous Arnold, a farmer
was engaged in making cider at a mill, on the east bank of the
Hudson. While thus occupied, two young men, Sherwood and
Peterson, approached with muskets on their shoulders, exchanged
salutations, refreshed themselves with his cider, and then sat
down on a log near by. Their attention was earnestly directed to
a part of Haverstraw bay, known as "the Motherís
Lap" The farmer noticing their earnest gaze, desired to know
what alarmed them.
"Speak low," said Sherwood, "the red-coats are
"Yonder, just within the Lap," said Peterson; "go
back to your mill, and Sherwood and I will crawl to the bank of
the river, and give the red-coats a shot."
They drew near the margin of the river, took shelter
rock, and fired upon an English gun-boat, containing twenty four
sailors, two of whom fell at the discharge. The crew belonged to
the Vulture sloop of war, which lay at anchor off Teller's Point.
The British had no weapon but a blunderbuss, and were unable to
see their enemy. They therefore put off from the shore and rowed
back to the Vulture. The young men waited a while in expectation
of a reinforcement, but none came. They therefore rejoined the farmer
at the mill.
" What luck with the red-coats ?" he inquired.
" Good luck and bad luck; if that's possible," said
" How can that be ?"
" Easy enough ; we had the good luck to come off
the bad luck to kill two of the sailors in the boat, whose only
crime against us was serving their king."
As they spoke, a man was observed coming down the east bank of the river, just below Collabergh landing, and cautiously examining every thing around him. He had gained the spot nearly opposite where the gun-boat had been stationed, when he observed the men at the mill, and retraced his steps. This man was Major Andre, just returning from his conference with Arnold. He had crossed from the west bank of the river, and had come to meet the gun-boat at the Lap; not finding it he was obliged to travel through Westchester county. Thus was he thrown into the path where he met with Paulding, Williams, and Vanwert, the three humble patriots who scorned the gold which purchased the haughty Arnold.
The City of Peekskill was settled in 1665, incorporated as a village in 1839 and as a city in 1940 when it separated from nearby Cortland. It was named for a Dutch navigator known as Jan Peek. The population in 1990 was 19,536.
In 1949 Peekskill was the site of riots following a concert by Paul Robeson. For more information on this topic, visit the Voices of History web site.