Watching it Burn: Bedford, NY

Sometimes, the best stories are the ones we don’t go looking for.  They are the ones buried in the ground that somehow, we get lucky enough to stumble upon.  That was the case for me with the Village of Bedford—I didn’t expect it, but this Village has so many stories to tell, far more than can fit in one post.  So, welcome to a series on Bedford.  In honor of Fourth of July weekend, we are uncovering the story of a forgotten revolutionary town, one that burned to the ground and rebuilt itself during America’s first years.

In 1779, the American Revolution was raging, with the colonies having become a warzone.  A few years earlier, Southern Westchester had played a huge role in the war, when the Battle of White Plains occurred in 1776.   The Americans had been pushed back, but still, no one really controlled Westchester County.  You may think nothing happened in this county, because it’s not in any history book, but that’s a missing story—Westchester was a no man’s land.  Criminals ran wild, local citizens turned their backs on each other, and the British and the Americans constantly fought in the area.  Westchester, as a county, suffered greatly in the war, but no place more than Bedford.

The town had been founded in 1680 but nothing from the founding remains because on July 11, 1779, Bedford went up in flames.  Why?  Why was this town in northern Westchester the spot that got erased from the grid?  Well, because on July 2nd, a powerful American was in Bedford, and the British wanted to capture him in a surprise attack, that didn’t end up being much of a surprise as the Americans were ready.  Following this, Washington tried to send more troops to Bedford, but they got diverted to Connecticut, leaving Bedford open for attack. The town had two look-outs, but one made a fatal error, thinking British troops approaching were American troops.  A woman, though, Esther Holmes, waved her red petticoats from atop a hill, warning the town.  And, the town took notice—from the houses, the people got to the windows, shooting at the soldiers as they arrived.  Their fight was not enough and in revenge, the British burned every house down, except for one, where a man who was loyal to the King lived.  And so, Bedford became a town of dust and ash, as the Revolution continued to rage on for four more years.


A sign leading to the hill where the Americans stood watch                                  Credit:

However, Bedford’s story was far from over.  It would not remain ash for long, soon rebuilding itself in the new country of the United States of America and play a critical role in the beginning of New York’s history as a state.  That is a story for another day, another uncovering.

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Throughout the local cemetery, you will find numerous graves, now unreadable, that have flags labeled “1776” next to them.

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The cemetery also shows that many prominent Bedford families, such as the Bates, remained in Bedford even after the burning.