18th C. | Beverley Robinson, Benedict Arnold, George Washington
At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Beverly Robinson, by then one of the wealthiest and most influential men in North America, was asked by his friend, John Jay, to sign an oath of allegiance to the newly created United States of America. Robinson declined Jay’s invitation.
By all accounts a fine man, a good landlord and devout Christian, Robinson chose to remain loyal to his British heritage, and refused to become part of the rebellion. In May 1777, he raised the Loyal American Legion. He served during the war years as a Loyalist Colonel in British Intelligence, leading agents made up of local citizens that aided the British armed forces. He helped plan and fought in the successful British conquest of Forts Montgomery and Clinton in October 1777.
In 1778, his home in Garrison was taken for the use of the Continental army, and Benedict Arnold came to occupy it in the summer of 1780, when he took up his post as commandant of West Point. Robinson’s entire estates were confiscated in 1779 on the establishment of the State government in New York.
Robinson was part of the plot, conceived by Benedict Arnold and the British spy, Major John Andre, to deliver the fortifications at West Point to the British. Robinson was on board the British ship, HMS Vulture, which Andre left to go ashore near Stony Point to meet Arnold and obtain the plans on Thursday, September 21, 1780. However, American cannon fire drove the Vulture back down the Hudson and Andre was forced to find another way back to British lines.
Dressed in civilian clothes, Andre was captured on Saturday, September 23. On the morning of Monday, September 25, Arnold learned that the plot had been uncovered and rode fullspeed to the landing where his barge waited. He ordered his men to row him to the Vulture, where he told the waiting Beverly Robinson of the plot’s failure.
Robinson and his family left for England at the close of the Revolution. Robinson died there in 1792, never returning to the Hudson River Valley. Some of the most touching early records of our church include letters, written after the war by Beverly Robinson to his old friend, John Jay, pleading for the restitution of his fortune and property. Jay’s letters in response simply say, “I’m sorry. It’s not possible!”
The turmoil of the war had a significant impact on the church and the surrounding community. Most of the residents of Garrison remained staunch Loyalists and, as the war continued and the cause of the colonials prospered, the church lost many families as parishioners fled north to Nova Scotia. Those families supporting the Colonial cause, who had remained in the area, felt resentment towards St. Philip’s because of its strong Tory ties.
G. Washington: "That sir, is my Church!"
The most telling anecdote of these war years involves a threat to very physical existence of the church. The story goes that a group of Colonials, bent on burning down the ‘Tory’ church, were turned away at its doors by George Washington himself. He is reported to have said to their leader, “That, sir, is my Church!” To recognize this momentous event, a stained glass window depicting General Washington was later placed in the vestibule of St. Philip’s, where it can be seen to this day.
During the post-Revolutionary years, the families around Garrison, having experienced the departure of more than one-half the local population, were challenged to rebuild their community and their church. In 1784 the Anglican Church of America was formalized with the consecration of Samuel Seabury as the first American Bishop.
By 1786, thanks to the efforts of William Denning, the new owner of Beverly Robinson’s forfeited lands and first post-Revolutionary warden of St. Philip’s, the chapel was refurbished with new additions of a pulpit and altar.