Peekskill

Text from William Wade

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 around.
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
John Paulding
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
of Westchester,
(whose names will one day be recorded
on their own deserved monuments,)
He intercepted the British Spy, Andre
Poor Himself,
He disdained to acquire wealth by sacrificing
His Country.
Rejecting the temptation of great rewards,
He conveyed his prisoner to the American camp,
and
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,

"The Corporation
of the
City of New York
erects this tomb
as a memorial
raised to
Public Gratitude."

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 service, was 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 at the 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 about us."

" Where?"

"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 behind a 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 Peterson.

" How can that be ?"

" Easy enough ; we had the good luck to come off safely, and 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.