Tappan is a hamlet 12 miles north of New York City and two and a half miles west of the Hudson. It was settled by sixteen families – three of the men were free blacks – on a land patent of 1686-7 obtained from the Tappan Indians of the Lenape tribe and Governor Dongan of New York. These first settlers of Tappan were thrifty Dutch farmers. It is still conjecture, however, whether the name Tappan is of Dutch or Indian origin.
Although Tappan has grown for over 300 years, much of its original character and charm remain. One can see a unique cross-section of New York State architecture – from the DeWint House, built in 1700 of Dutch brick and native red sandstone, to a center-hall colonial home built in 2000 of modern materials. Tappan is a living town where history has happened. In September 1780, General Washington had his headquarters in the DeWint House when Benedict Arnold, commander of the fort at West Point, almost made good his plan to sell out to the British. Had he succeeded, the British would have controlled the “Gibraltar on the Hudson” and cut the rebellious colonies in two. Washington might then have lost the war. But British Major John Andre, returning to the New York City from meeting Arnold at Haverstraw, was apprehended in Tarrytown with damning evidence in his boot – the plans of West Point. Andre was brought to Washington at Tappan.
Andre was imprisoned in Mabie’s house, the Old 76 House, tried in the Dutch Reformed Church by a military tribunal of fourteen generals, and hanged as a spy on October 2, 1780. Yoast Mabie’s house, that once stood on the site of the Cunningham House (aka the Bartow House), also figured in history on July 4, 1774 as the site of signing of the Orangetown Resolutions. This document was an open protest to the king and a bid for independence – ideas incorporated in our Declaration of Independence, signed two years later to the day.
At the end of the war, in May of 1783, Sir Guy Carleton, the British commander, met with Washington at the DeWint House to sign orders for peaceful evacuation of British troops from New York City. The DeWint House, now owned and maintained as George Washington’s Headquarters at Tappan by the Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark by Secretary of Interior Stewart L. Udall, September 29, 1966. It is open to the public, 10 to 4 daily.
Tappan’s historic sites lie within an 85-acre historic district established by an Orangetown ordinance – first law of its kind in a New York State town – signed in the DeWint House, December 28, 1966. In 1993 a central section of the historic district was placed on the State and National Register of Historic Places.
In today’s world of quick change Tappan is a rarity. The town is not a restoration. You will find the sites authentic, standing where history placed them, altered only slightly by time. Here it is possible for you to retrace the past with only a short walk.
Courtesy of the Tappantown Historical Society