Saturday at the Old Dutch, Pastor Jeff Gargano spent the morning replacing old flags with new in anticipation of Memorial Day, as visitors strolled the grounds and toured the 334 yr old church. Perhaps it was the site of the new flags that stirred a patriotic feeling or a simple curiosity of who these headstones belonged to that turned our visitors’ attention away from Irving’s Legend and to the lives of those now buried beneath the trees of the Old Dutch.
The historic burying ground has headstones for over 70 soldiers of the American Revolution, although there are probably others buried there without a marker. The Dean crypt above, erected in 1849, includes the body of Sgt. John Dean (1755-1817) and his wife, Mary Storm Dean (1756-1845). Sgt. Dean’s service is remembered in tales of heroism, narrow escapes, and compassion. He was also the officer who assigned John Paulding, Issac Van Wart and David Williams to patrol the area wherein they encountered and captured the British spy Major John Andre.
The Van Tassel name is famous in Sleepy Hollow and can be also found on headstones spelled as Van Tessel, Van Tessell, or Van Tassell. Petrus Van Tessel’s headstone, carved by Solomon Brewer, is written in three languages: Latin, Dutch, and English. A soul-effigy carved in relief is a distinctive feature. Petrus and cousin Cornelius, who is buried near-by, experienced the terror of a Hessian raid on their properties on Nov 17, 1777. It was a punitive raid on the part of the British who were aware of the cousins’ patriotic leanings. Cornelius’ farm was burnt to the ground, the livestock along with the two men were marched to New York City. The men were imprisoned for 11 months and paroled for British officers. Petrus’ health was affected by his imprisonment and he did not live long after the war. This event would incite retaliatory action by the Liberty Boys, a group of local men who boarded whale boats and sailed down the Hudson into British held territory to burn down the home of a leading loyalist.
After the revolution, many of the men returned to find their farms and crops burnt and their livestock scattered or gone. They were able to purchase their farms at auction as the lands of Frederick Philipse III were confiscated under the Forfeiture Act of 1779 and were put up for auction by the New York Commission on Forfeiture. (The Old Dutch Church and three-acre burying ground were deeded to the Minister, Elders and Deacons for 10 shillings.)
During summer worship at the Old Dutch, we are never far away from the memory of these men and women who suffered great hardship and loss during the American Revolution. And while most of soldiers here did not die in battle, these farmer/soldiers who served in the founding of our nation, were ready to make the ultimate sacrifice if called to do so. We honor their memory.