THE WILDERNESS TO THE SEA
by Benson J. Lossing
Virtue & Yorston : New York 1866
t was mid-autumn when we visited Beverly House, and the Sugar-Loaf Mountain, at the foot of which it stands, exhibited those gorgeous hues which give such unequalled splendour to American forests at that season of the year. The beautiful hues of the foliage of the maple, hickory, chestnut, birch, sassafras, and several other kinds of deciduous trees in the Northern and Middle States, seen just before the falling of the leaf in autumn, are almost unknown in Europe. A picture by Cropsey, one of the most eminent of living American landscape painters, in which this peculiarity of foliage was represented, drew from one of the minor English poets the following sonnet:--
CROPSEY'S "AUTUMN ON THE HUDSON."
[ Addressed to J.T. Field, of Boston.]
Forgot are Summer and our English sir:
Here is your Autumn with her wondrous dyes;
Silent and vast your forests round us rise:
God, glorified in Nature, fronts us there,
In His transcendent works as heavenly fair
As when they first seemed good unto His eyes.
See, what a brightness on the canvas lies
Hues, seen not here, flash on us everywhere;
Radiance that Nature here from us conceals
Glory with which she beautifies decay
In your far world, this master's hand reveals,
Wafting our blest sight from dimmed streets away;--
With what rare power!--to where our awed soul kneels
To Him who bade these splendors light the day.
From the summit is a grand and extensive view of the surrounding scenery, which Dr. Dwight (afterwards President of Yale College) described, in 1778, as "majestic, solemn, wild, and melancholy." Dwight was then chaplain of a Connecticut regiment stationed at West Point, and ascended the Sugar Loaf with the soldier-poet, Colonel Humphreys.
Under the inspiration of feeling awakened by the grandeur of the sight, he conceived and partly composed his prophetic hymn, beginning with the words--
"Columbia! Columbia! to glory arise.
The queen of the world and the child of the skies."
General Arnold was at the mansion of Colonel Robinson (Beverly House) on the morning of the 24th of September, 1780, fully persuaded that his treasonable plans for surrendering West Point and its dependencies into the hands of Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander-in-chief,-- then in possession of New York,--for the consideration of a brigadier's commission in the British army, and £10,000 in gold, were working prosperously. This subject we shall consider more in detail hereafter. We will only notice, in this connection, events that occurred at the Beverly House.
Major André, Arnold's immediate accomplice in treasonable, designs, had, in a personal interview, arranged the details of the wicked bargain, and left for New York. Arnold believed he had arrived there in safety, with all requisite information for Sir Henry; and that before Washington's return from Connecticut, whither he had gone to hold a conference with Rochambeau and other French officers, Clinton would have sailed up the Hudson and taken possession of the Highland fortresses. But André did not reach New York. He was captured on his way, by militia-men, as a suspicious-looking traveler. Evidences of his character as a spy were found upon his person, and he was detained. Washington returned sooner than Arnold expected him. To the surprise of the traitor, Hamilton and Lafayette reached the Beverly House early on the morning of the 24th, and announced that Washington had turned down to the West Point Ferry, and would be with them soon. At breakfast Arnold received a letter from an officer below, saying, "Major André, of the British Army, is a prisoner in my custody." The traitor had reason to expect that evidences of his own guilt might arrive at any moment. He concealed his emotions. With perfect coolness he ordered a horse to be made ready, alleging that his presence was needed "over the river" immediately, He then left the table, went into the great passage, and hurried up the broad staircase to his wife's chamber. In brief and hurried words he told her that they must instantly part, perhaps for ever, for his life depended on his reaching the enemy's lines without detection. Horror-stricken, the poor young creature, but one year a mother, and not two a wife, swooned and sank senseless upon the floor. Arnold dare not call for assistance, but kissing, with lips blasted by words of guilt and treason, his boy, then sleeping in angel innocence and purity, he rushed from the room, mounted a horse, hastened to the river, flung himself into his barge, and directing the six oarsmen to row swiftly down the Hudson, escaped to the Vulture, a British sloop-of-war, lying far below.
Washington arrived at the Beverly House soon after Arnold left it. As yet no suspicion of treason had entered his mind. After a hasty breakfast, he crossed to West Point, expecting to find Arnold there. "I have heard nothing from him for two days," said Colonel Lamb, the commanding officer. Washington's suspicions were awakened. He soon re-crossed the river, where he was met by Hamilton with papers just received revealing Arnold's guilt. He called in Knox and Lafayette for counsel. "Whom can we trust now?" he inquired with calmness, while deep sorrow evidently stirred his bosom. At the same time the condition of Mrs. Arnold, who was frantic with grief and apprehension, awakened his liveliest sympathies. "The general went up to see her," wrote Hamilton in describing the scene. "She upbraided him with being in a plot to murder her child, for she was quite beside herself. One moment she raved; another she melted into tears. Sometimes she pressed her infant to her bosom, and lamented its fate, occasioned by the imprudence of its father, in a manner that would have moved insensibility itself." Washington believed her innocent of all previous knowledge of her husband's guilt, and did all in his power to soothe her. "She is as good and innocent as an angel, and as incapable of doing wrong," Arnold wrote to Washington, from the Vulture, imploring protection for his wife and child. Ample protection was afforded, and Mrs. Arnold and her infant were conveyed in safety to her friends. She was the traitor's second wife, and the daughter of Mr. Shippen, a loyalist of Philadelphia; and she was only eighteen years of age at the time of her marriage to Arnold, while he was military governor of that city, in 1778. The child above-mentioned was named James Robertson Arnold. He entered the British army, and rose to the rank of Colonel of Engineers. He was at one time the aide-de-camp of her Majesty. In 1841 he was transferred from the Engineers' corps, and in 1846 was a major-general and a Knight of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order.
Mr. Arden kindly took us in his carriage from Beverly to Indian Brook, a clear mountain stream that makes its way in rapids and cascades, through a wild ravine, from the hills to the river. It falls into the deep marshy bay between Garrison's and Cold Spring. We stopped on the way to view the river and mountains below West Point, from the residence of Eugene Dutihl, Esq. His mansion is upon a point of the plain, shaded by a grove of pines, overlooking a deep dark dell, with a sparkling brook in its bosom, on one side, and the river and grand mountain scenery on the other. The view southward from his piazza is one of the most interesting and beautiful (though not the most extensive) among the Highlands, comprehending the site of Forts Clinton and Montgomery-- the theatre of stirring and most important events in the war for independence. From thence we passed along the brow of the declivity next the river, to the mansion of Ardenia, from which one of the finest views of West Point may be obtained; and then rode to Indian Brook, passing, on the way, the ancient Philipsburg Church--in which the officers of the Continental Army had worshipped during the Revolution--and the grounds and mansions of wealthy residents in that vicinity.
We crossed Indian Brook on a rustic bridge, just below the Indian Falls, whose murmur fell upon the ear before we came in sight of the stream. These falls have formed subjects for painting and poetry, and are the delight of the neighbourhood in summer. In the small space allotted for each of our illustrations and accompanying descriptions, we can convey only faint ideas of the wild beauty of the scenes we are called upon to depict in this mountain region of the Hudson. We were on the Indian Brook on a bright October day, when the foliage was in its greatest autumnal splendour, and the leaves were falling in gentle showers among the trees, the rocks, and in the sparkling water, appearing like fragments of rainbows cast, with lavish hand, into the lap of earth. At every turn of the brook, from its springs to its union with the Hudson, a pleasant subject for the painter's pencil is presented. Just below the bridge, where the highway crosses, is one of the most charming of these "bits." There, in the narrow ravine, over which the tree tops intertwine, huge rocks are piled, some of them covered with feathery fern, others with soft green mosses, and others as bare and angular as if just broken from some huge mass, and cast in there by Titan hands. In midsummer this stream is still more attractive, for there, as Street has sung of the Willewemoe,--
"A fresh, damp sweetness fills the scene
From dripping leaf and moistened earth.
The odour of the winter green
Floats on the airs that now have birth;
Plashes and air-bells all about
Proclaim the gambols of the trout,
And calling bush and answering tree
Echo with woodland melody."
In the neighbourhood of this mountain stream are delightful summer residences, fitted for occupation all the year round. Among the most pleasing of these, in their relation to the surrounding scenery, are those of Dr. Moore, late President of Columbia College, and Mr. De Rham, a retired merchant. We passed through their grounds on our way to Cold Spring village, and wished for space, among our sketches of the Highland scenery, for pen and pencil pictures of charming spots upon these and the neighbouring estates.
Our road to Cold Spring lay through the region occupied by portions of the American army at different times during the old war for independence. There, in the spring of 1781, the troops and others stationed there were inoculated with the small-pox. "All the soldiers, with the women and children," wrote Dr. Thacher, an army surgeon, "who have not had the small-pox, are now under inoculation." "Of five hundred who were inoculated here," he wrote subsequently, "only four have died." This was about fifteen years before Jenner made successful experiments in vaccination.
This portion of the Highlands is a charming region for the tourist on the Hudson; and the lover of nature, in her aspects of romantic beauty and quiet majesty, should never pass it by.
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