The Revolution

“The Unfortunate Death of Major André”

The Declaration of Independence in 1776 was an act of rebellion the British king, George III, could not allow, and following the Battle of Long Island, a decisive initial defeat for George Washington, British forces occupied all of New York City and Long Island.

In September of 1776, British soldiers came to Samuel Townsend’s home in Oyster Bay to arrest him for his outspoken Patriotic beliefs, and to imprison him on one of the notorious prison ships in New York Harbor, where horrendous conditions would result in the deaths of over 12,000 captives by the end of the war. According to the recollection of family members, a British officer in the home smashed a hunting rifle that was mounted above the mantle, declaring that a rebel had no right to possess such a weapon, and then motioned to a portrait of the Townsends’ oldest son, Solomon, demanding to see him as well. When told that Solomon was at sea, he expressed regret that they could not arrest him as well. Outside the house, wife Sarah and daughters Sally and Phebe were frantic, afraid they might never see Samuel again.

Samuel was led away through the village and towards Jericho, traveling up the long hill in Pine Hollow. Coming down the hill in the opposite direction were Thomas Buchanan and his wife Almy, Samuel’s brother Jacob’s daughter, riding in a Phaeton carriage, with Samuel’s daughter Audrey alongside on horseback. Though he was considered a Tory, Buchanan was very close to the Townsends. He was also in the shipping business with the Townsends, and had hired Samuel’s oldest son Solomon to captain his merchant ship, the Glasgow.

According to family history, when Buchanan saw Samuel being led away, he took Audrey’s horse and followed the soldiers to Jericho, where he paid a huge sum of money — several thousand pounds — to secure Samuel’s freedom. To the great relief of family and friends in Oyster Bay, Samuel returned home, unharmed, though he was then compelled to sign an oath of allegiance to the king, foreclosing any overt action against the crown. Following the end of the war in 1783, when all British were required to evacuate, Thomas Buchanan’s great loyalty and friendship were remembered, and he was allowed to stay and continue his successful merchant business in New York, unlike many Loyalists who were forced to emigrate, forfeiting their property.

For a six-month period from 1778 to 1779, the Townsend home served as headquarters for a regiment of over 300 British troops called the Queen’s Rangers, and their commander, Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe, who quartered himself in the house, alongside the family. Daily officers’ meetings were held in the front parlor, and the presence of British officers in the house became an everyday fact of life. In March of 1779, Simcoe was visited for several weeks by a close friend, British officer and intelligence chief Maj. John André, who would later be hanged as a spy for his role in helping Benedict Arnold turn traitor in 1780. André, by all accounts a remarkable charismatic person, and an accomplished amateur artist, was 29 years old at the time of his death. After the war, Lt. Col. Simcoe founded the city of Toronto, where he served as Governor of Upper Canada.