James Fenimore Cooper.

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of the water. The elements, most probably assisted
by some violent convulsion of the crust of the earth,
triumphed, and the river has wrought for itself a
sinuous channel through the maze of hills, for a dis-
tance of not less than twenty miles. Below the
Highlands, though the parapets and their rival banks
form a peculiar scenery, the proportions of objects
are not sufficiently preserved to give to the land, or
to the water, the effect which they are capable of
producing in conjunction. The river is too broad,
or the hills are too low. But within the Highlands,
the objection is lost. The river is reduced to less
than half its former width, (at least it appears so to
the eye,) while the mountains rise to three and four
times the altitude of the parapets. Rocks, broken,
ragged, and fantastic ; forests, through which dis-
jointed precipices are seen forming dusky back-
grounds ; promontories ; dark, deep bays ; low sylvan
points ; elevated plains ; gloomy, retiring valleys ;
pinnacles ; cones ; ramparts, that overhang and frown


upon the water ; and, in short, almost every variety
of form in which the imagination can conjure pictures
of romantic beauty, are assembled here. To these
natural qualities of the scenery, must be associated
more artificial accessories than are common to Amer-
ica. The ruins of military works are scattered pro-
fusely among these wild and ragged hills, and more
than one tale of blood and of daring is recounted to
the traveller, as he glides among their sombre shadows.
To these relics of a former age, must be added the
actual and flourishing estabhshment at the " Point,"
which comprises a village of academic buildings, bar-
racks, and other adjuncts. 1 remember nothing more
striking in its way than a view up one of the placid
reaches of this passage. The even surface of the
water, darkened here and there with broad shadows
from a pyramid of rock ; the glorious hue of a setting
sun gilding the green sides of a distant mountain,
over which the dark passage of a cloud vtas occa
sionally to be traced, resembling the flight of some
mighty bird; with twenty or thirty lagging sails,
whitening the channel, from whose smooth surface
they were reflected as from that of a mirror, formed
the picture.

Above the Highlands, the river again assumes a
diflerent character. From the bay of Newburg to
that of Hudson, a distance at least of sixty or seventy
miles, it appears hke a succession of beautiful lakes,
each reach preserving the proportions and appear-
ance of a separate sheet of water, rather than of part
of a river. There are a few of these detached views
that may compete with any of Italy, and to one in
particular there is a noble back-ground of mountains,
removed a few miles from the water, which are
thrown together in splendid confusion.

From Hudson to Albany, some thirty miles, the
Hudson acquires more of the character of a river
accordins; to our European notions. It is doited

Vol. r T


with islands, much Hke the Seine above Caudebec
and its scenery is picturesque and exceedino-ly agree-
able. This character, indeed, is preserved even to
VYaterford, a few miles further, and above the point
where its waters are increased bj the contributions
ol the Mohawk.

At Waterford, one hundred and eighty miles from
the sea, it becomes a reduced and rural stream, about
as large as the Seine at Paris, and can be traced for
leagues, sometimes still, lovely, and green with
islands, and sometimes noisy, rapid, and tumbling,
until you reach its sources in the rugged, broken
mountains of the northern counties of the State
1 here are far mightier streams in this country than
the Hudson, but there is not one of scenery so diver-
sihed and so pleasing. The Rhine, with its cities, its
hundred castles, and its inexhaustible recollections
has charms of its own; but when time shall lend to'
the Hudson the interest of a deeper association, its
passage wdl, I thhik, be pronounced unequalled
At present, even, it is not without a character of
pecuhar moral beauty. The view of all the im-
provements of high civilization in rapid, healthful
and unequalled progress, is cheering to philanthropy ,'
while the countless villas, country-houses, and even
seats of reasonable pretensions, are calculated to as-
sure one, that, amid the general abundance of life
Its numberless refinements are not neglected '

The Highlands had been the great military position
ot the Americans during the struggle for their inde-
pendence. The scattered population of the country,
at that time, lay along the shores of the Atlantic, be-
ween the forty-third and the thirty-third degrees of
Jatitude Perhaps one half of the entire physical
strength of the country then existed in the States of
J>few-England. It is well known, that after the in-
surrection had assumed the character of a war,
breat Britain, instead of maintaining, was obli-ed to


resort to the more established principles of a regular
contest to recover her former dominion. She obtain-
ed the possession of Montreal and New- York. Na-
ture, by means of the Hudson and the northern lakes,
offered extraordinary facilities of communication be-
tween the two places ; and poHticians, at the dis-
tance of three thousand miles, as they studied the
map, vainly imagined that the cord of moral connex-
ion could be severed as easily as one of a more' per-
ishable nature. It was believed, that by maixhing
armies from the opposite extremities, and leaving
sufficient garrisons at the most important points along
their routes, the intercourse between the eastern and
the other States could be so far interrupted as to ren-
der conquest certain. There can be no doubt that
the success of such a plan would for a time have
thrown great embarrassment in the way of the
Americans, though it is morally certain it would
have assured the final failure of the royal cause.
The idea of covering a country, peopled like that in
dispute, with military posts, ought to have been
deemed too absurd for serious consideration. A
power stronger than even that of the bayonet had
already taught the intended victims of this plan confi-
dence in themselves and in their cause. It is clear
that the scheme could only succeed in a nation,
whose people had been accustomed to consider
themselves as appendages to, instead of the control-
lers of, a political system. It would have been giving
to the Americans a vast advantage already possessed
by their enemies, by dividing the power of the latter,
and in inviting attack, as it must have indicated the
points against which a superior force might have been
easily directed. The experiment was afterwards made
in the less populous States of the south, and complete-
ly failed, most of the garrisons being captured in suc-
cession. One might almost fancy he saw the stubborn
yeomanry of New-England leaving their ploughs for a


week, in order to mingle in the pastime of reducing a
hostile garrison. In short, the plan was German, and
however successful it might have been between the
Rhine and the Danube, it would have infallibly ended
in disgrace, on the banks of the Hudson. It did end in
disgrace, though time was not given for its complete
developement. The yeomanry of New-England, in-
stead of waiting for that portion of the royal force
which debouched from the St. Lawrence to commu-
nicate with their brethren on the Hudson, saw fit to
divert their course, and marched the whole of what
was, in that day, a powerful army, prisoners of war
to Boston. This was merely effecting in gross, that
which, under other circumstances, would have infal-
libly been done in detail.

In America man had early discovered that the so-
cial machine was invented for his use, and it would
have required something far more powerful than the
display of a line of ensigns to direct him from the
great object on which he had gravely, deliberately,
and resolutely determined. Still as every foot of land
acquired was so far a conquest as its sovereignty form-
ed a portion of the disputed territory, it cannot be
supposed that the Americans were indifferent to the
possession of the strongest fortress of their country.
By holding the Highlands they rendered the commu-
nications between the States more easy, and they kept
a constant check on the movements of the royal
forces in the vastly important city of New-York.
West Point, the heart of their positions in these
mountains, had been strongly fortified, and its defence
was justly enough considered as of the greatest mo-
ment to their cause. After the arrival of the French
army at Rhode Island, a conquest which had baffled
all the previous exertions of the British, should have
been abandoned as impossible. It would seem a hope
was indulged that what could not be achieved by
force of arms, mi<^ht be efiected by means less miu*-


tial. The officer in command of West Point, a man
of talents and of great personal courage, but one of
depraved morals, was unfortunately disposed to make
advances which Sir Henry Clinton, the English com-
mander-in-chief, was glad to meet. It is well known
that the British Adjutant-General Andre was employ-
ed as a negotiator on this occasion. La Fayette had
been an actor in some of the scenes connected with
this interesting event, and as we walked the deck to-
gether, and gazed upon the mountains which environ-
ed us, he revived his own recollections, and delighted
some half dozen greedy auditors, by dwelling on the
more familiar incidents of that day.

It appears that a British sloop of war had ascended
the river, and anchored in a wide bay a few miles
below the entrance of the Highlands. This sloop
(the Vulture) had brought Major Andre, and, having
landed him, was awaiting his return. The adjutant-
general was induced to eater within the lines of the
American sentinels for the purpose of acquiring a
knowledge of the force, condition, and defences of
his enemy ; an act that clearly committed him as a
spy. His retreat was rendered difficult, and instead
of returning to the Vulture, he assumed a disguise,
and attempted to regain New- York by traversing the
intervening county of West-Chester. On his road he
was intercepted by three young American farmers,
who, according to the usage of the country, were in
ambush to await the passage of any small party of
the British, or of their friends, who might chance to
come that way. By these young men was Andre ar-
rested. The Americans were in common parlance
termed the party above^ (in reference to the course of
the river,) and their foes, the party belovj. As there
was nothing immediately in view about the person of
Major Andre to betray his real character, it is quite
possible that, had he retained his presence of mind,
he might, after a short detention, have been permit-
T 2


ted to pass. But his captors manifested much more
sagacity than the British officer himself. Some allow-
ance, however, ought in justice to be made for the
critical situation of the latter. He eagerly demanded
" To which party do you belong?" The Americans
adroitly answered " below." To this simple artifice
he became a victim, immediately confessing himself a
British officer. Now, it is quite plain to us, who
speculate on the death of this young officer, that had
he possessed a quickness of intellect equal to the
questionable office he had assumed, his miserable
fate might have been averted. By assuming the char-
acter of an American he would clearly have been
safest, let his captors prove to be what they would ;
since, if enemies, it might have lulled their suspicions,
or if friends, they would at most have conducted him
to the British camp, the very spot he was risking his
life to gain. Providence had ordained it differently.
He was searched, and plans of the works at the
Point, with other important communications, were
found about his person. It then became necessary
to entreat and to promise. Though the English were
known to pay well, and to possess the means of
bribing high, these young yeomen were true to the
sacred cause of their country. Neither gold, nor
honours, nor dread of the future, could divert them
from their duty. The helpless adjutant-general was
conveyed to the nearest post, delivered into the hands
of its commandant, was sent to head-quarters, tried,
and finally hanged.

During the time Arnold was maturing his work of
treason, Washington was absent from the army, in the
adjoining State of Connecticut, whither he had gone
to arrange a plan for the ensuing and final campaign
of the contest, with the commandant of the French
forces. La Fayette was of the party. It happened
that these military chiefs arrived in the mountains on
the very morning when the arrest of Andre (under a


fictitious name) was made known at *the Point.'
The residence of Arnold was on the east side of the
river. The principal fortress, or the 'Point,' was
nearly opposite. Washington and his suite were
engaged to breakfast at the former place, but a de-
sire to inspect certain posts in the passes, interfered
with the arrangement. Two aides'^ were despatched
with an apology, and a promise to repair the failure
at dinner. The other guests were at table (at break-
fast), when a letter was put into the hands of Arnold,
which he read without betraying any emotion. It
was the report of the officer in advance, that he had
arrested a "John Anderson," of the British army,
under circumstances of great suspicion. As this was
the name Andre had assumed by agreement, the trai-
tor instantly knew his danger. After a moment's
pause, he left the table, at which a dozen officers of
rank had assembled to greet Washington, and ascend-
ed to his chamber. His wife had been able to pene-
trate an uneasiness which less anxious eyes had failed
to detect. Apologizing to her guests, she followed
her husband to his room. It is suspected that she
had been privy to his intentions to betray the Amer-
ican cause. He communicated the failure of the
plan, and his own imminent danger, in as few words
as possible. He then left her in a swoon, stepping
over her insensible body, and telling a maid to give
assistance, he passed through the room, informing his
guests, with the utmost coolness, that his wife was
seized with a sudden indisposition, and that there
was a necessity for his own immediate departure for
the Point, in order to prepare for the military recep-
tion of the commander-in-chief. Although the known

* Hamilton, an aide of Washington, afterwards so distinguish-
ed in the history of his country ; and M'Henry, an aide of La
Fayette, subsequently Secretary of War.^ It is pleasant to trace
these young men in the events of their early Uves, through these
famihar scenes.


cupidity of the man had excited very general disgust,
his devotion to his country, which had been tried in
so many battles, was not in the slightest degree dis-
trusted. As yet, you will remember, he had all the
evidences of his guilt in his own possession.

Quitting the house, Arnold mounted a horse be-
longing to one of his aides, and galloped a half a mile
to a place where his barge was in waiting. He en-
tered the boat w^ith a favourable tide, and command-
ed the crew to pull down the river. His object was
to get as soon as possible beyond the reach of the
cannon of the forts. Of course he was obeyed, and,
as no suspicions had been excited, he was believed
to be at the Point, when, in truth, he was making
the best of his way along the lovely mountain-river
1 have endeavoured to describe. The distance to go
before he was safe, was seventeen or eighteen miles,
for all the commanding points were in the keeping of
his injured countrymen. By the aid of great encour-
agement, his crev/ (who were deceived by a tale that
he was going on board the Vulture with a flag on
urgent business) made such exertions as enabled him
to get through the lower pass, before the courier with
the intelligence of his treason had arrived. Through-
out the whole affair, this wretched man, who has ac-
quired a notoriety that promises to be as lasting as
that of Erostratus, manifested the utmost coolness
and decision.*

Arnold had scarcely got beyond the reach of the
cannon on the Point, when Washington, La Fayette,
and Knox, another distinguished general, with their
several suites, arrived. The commander-in-chief was

* The writer has had the double advantage of Kstening to the
deeply interesting details of La Fayette, and of hearing Arnold's
own statement from a British officer, who was present when the
latter related his escape at a dinner given in New-York, with an
impudence that was scarcely less remarkable than his surprising


naturally enough surprised that his host was not at
home to receive him. An aide of Arnold (Major
Franks) apologized so warmly for the absence of his
general, as to create doubts of his own faith, when the
facts came to be known. After a short delay, Wash-
ington, with most of the company, crossed the river
to the fortress. Some surprise was expressed, as tliey
approached the shore, that no movement was seen
among the troops ; and they landed without the
slightest evidence of their being expected visitors.
The officer in command soon appeared, and made his
excuses for not paying his superior the customary
honours, on the ground of ignorance that he was ex-
pected. " Is not General Arnold here ?" demanded
Washington. " No, Sir ; we have not seen him on
this side of the river to-day." Some amazement was
expressed among the generals ; but treason was so
little in consonance with the feeling of the times, that
not the smallest suspicion was even yet excited.
Washington continued on the west side of the river,
until the hour for dinner was near, when he returned
to the abandoned residence of the fugitive, to comply
with his engagement of the morning. As the party
approached the house. Colonel Hamilton, who had
not crossed the river, was seen pacing its court-yard
in a high state of excitement. He held in his hands
a bundle of papers. He gave the latter to the com-
mander-in-chief, and they retired together. These
papers were the plans, &c. found on the person o
Andre, and they fully explained his object, and be-
trayed the guilt of Arnold. Had not Washington
been so near, it is probable that Arnold would have
used his authority to liberate the British officer, and
then governed his own conduct by circumstances ;
but the presence of that illustrious man was fated to
be of service to his country in more ways than one.
As has been seen, the traitor had onlv time to ecu-


suit his own selfish apprehensions. He fled like a

La Fayette, still ignorant of what had occurred,
was dressing for dinner, when his aide, M'Henry, en-
tered for his pistols. Without explanation, he and
Hamilton mounted their horses, and gallopped through
the passes of the mountains, in order to interrupt the
flight of Arnold. It has since appeared, that the of-
ficer in advance (a Colonel Jamieson) had despatched
his first messenger with the report that had reached
the hands of Arnold before examining the papers, but
that he lost no time in repairing the mistake the in-
stant he had perused them. This short interval saved
the life of Arnold, and forfeited that of his associate.
When Washington and La Fayette met, the former
put the report of Jamieson into the hands of the latter,
and said, with tears in his eyes, " Arnold is a traitor,
and has fled to the British!" General Knox was
present at this scene.

^Vashington now sought an interview with the w^ife
of the traitor. He found her raving, though sensible of
his presence and character. She implored him not to
injure her, and was so completely under the influence
of terror as to beg " he would not murder her child.*"
Commending her to the care of the attendants, he left
the room. Notwithstanding the immense stake that
was involved in the treason, and his entire ignorance
of its extent, the self-possession of this extraordinary
man was undisturbed. For a single moment he had
appeared to mourn over the moral depravity that
3ould expose so fair a cause tq so base an action,
but it would have baflled the keenest eye to have
traced in his countenance the existence of the slightest
alarm. He entered the dining-room calm and dig-
nified as usual, and apologizing for the absence of
both host and hostess, he invited the company to be
seated. It was only in the course of the entertain-
ment, so extended and complete was the influence


of his collected and imposing manner, that the news
of the event was circulated from ear to ear in whis-

The commandant of the advanced post of the High-
lands, at Stony Point, was at hand. This officer (a
Colonel Cole) was a warm friend and a prottge of Ar-
nold. He had even carried his attachment so far, as
to have fought a duel in defence of the traitor's char-
acter, but a short time before the exposure of the
treason. Washington now sent for him. " Colonel,"
he said, "we have been deceived in the character of
General Arnold; he has betrayed us. Your post may
be attacked this very night : go to it without delay,
and defend it, as I know you will." This noble con-
fidence was not misplaced. Cole could with difficulty
speak. Pressing his hand on his heart, he found
words merely to utter — " Your excellency has more
than rewarded all I have done, or ever can do for my
country," and departed. Is there not something
noble, and worthy of the best days of classic recol-
lection, in the single-minded and direct character
which marked the events of this glorious contest?
One loves to dwell on that integrity, which having
•been compelled to give credit to one act of baseness,
refuses to believe that another can be meditated. I
know no fact more honourable to the American char-
acter than the one which proves that, notwithstanding
the great trust and high character the traitor had once
enjoyed, his influence ended the instant he was known
to be unworthy of confidence. While on board the
Vulture, he essayed in vain to tempt the serjeant and
six men, who composed the crew of his own boat, to
follow his fortunes, though every offer which might
tempt men of their class was resorted to, in order to
induce them to change their service. "If General
Arnold likes the King of England, let him serve him,"
said the stubborn serjeant ; " we love our country,
and intend to hve or die in support of her cause."


The traitor must have felt the bitter degradation of
his fall, even in this simple evidence of his vv^aning
power. Exasperated at their refusal, Arnold would
have kept them as prisoners, but the English captain
was far too honourable to lend himself to so disgrace-
ful a ti ansaction. They returned as they came, under
the protection of a flag.

The day passed away in the reflections and pre
cautions ^uch a discovery would be likely to produce.
In the evening the barge returned from the Vulture,
bearing an insolent letter from the traitor to the com-
mander-in-chief, in which, among other undignified
and vain threats, he denounced the vengeance of his
new masters, unless certain conditions which he
wished to impose, were implicitly regarded. The
impetuous character of Washington''s native temper
is as well known as the unrivalled self-command he
had acquired. While his eye glanced over this im-
pudent and characteristic communication from Ar-
nold, it appeared, by his countenance, as if a burst of
mighty indignation was about to escape him. Re-
covering himself as it were by magic, he turned to
one of his aides with surprising moderation and dig-
nity, and said, "Go to Mrs. Arnold, and inform her,
that, though my duty required no means should be
neglected to arrest General Arnold, 1 have great
pleasure in acquainting her that he is now safe on
board a British vessel of war."

It ought to be added that, w^hile the American gov-
ernment proceeded steadily to their object throughout
the rest of this interesting transaction, guided only by
their reason, and utterly disregarding the menaces of
the English general, the wife of the traitor continued
to receive every attention which delicacy could pre-

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 18 of 58)