A Revolutionary War Ancestor with a Very Important House Guest

Like many of you, I am related to Revolutionary War veterans with fascinating stories of their own. One of these is my fifth-great-grandfather Lieutenant Joseph Appleby (1731-1792).

I know from my own family history that Joseph’s home was used as George Washington’s war headquarters in 1781. It stood on what is now Secor Road in Dobbs Ferry, New York. The WFAS radio station offices are now located on this site. Joseph served as a 2nd lieutenant in the First Regiment of Westchester County, New York Militia.

I wanted to learn more about my ancestor and his role in the American Revolution, so I searched for more information in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

A screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page showing a search for Joseph Appleby
Source: GenealogyBank

This search generated way too many search results, so I narrowed it down by searching for Joseph’s full name with the keyword “Dobbs Ferry.”

A screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page showing a search for Joseph Appleby and "Dobbs Ferry"
Source: GenealogyBank

This search generated an article about the New York Society of the Sons of the American Revolution’s celebration in Dobbs Ferry.

An article about Dobbs Ferry, New York, Crawford Avalanche newspaper article 5 July 1894
Source: GenealogyBank, Crawford Avalanche (Grayling, Michigan), 5 July 1894, page 2

The article continues with additional information about the role my ancestor’s home played in securing American victory in the Revolutionary War.

An article about Dobbs Ferry, New York, Crawford Avalanche newspaper article 5 July 1894
Source: GenealogyBank, Crawford Avalanche (Grayling, Michigan), 5 July 1894, page 2

“Washington was at Dobbs Ferry for nearly six weeks before he decided upon the Yorktown campaign. The outlook for independence was very gloomy… A month later the prospects were brighter. By the middle of June Lafayette was in hot chase after Cornwallis and Washington was planning with Rochambeau to effect the capture of New York City. On July 4, 1781, their forces met at Dobbs Ferry. Washington removed his headquarters from the house of Joseph Appleby, which then stood a few miles from the Hudson, on what was later called Washington’s Hill, to the Van Brugh Livingston mansion.”

According to an article in the Lexington Leader, Livingston proposed that Dobbs Ferry be renamed after himself because “the aristocracy who had to have their letters addressed there” felt that “Dobbs Ferry” was a “vulgar name.”

An article about Dobbs Ferry, New York, Lexington Leader newspaper article 2 August 1909
Source: GenealogyBank, Lexington Leader (Lexington, Kentucky), 2 August 1909, page 8

In the end, however, “the citizens were glad to drop the [renaming] agitation and stick to the old but homely name of Dobbs.”

Today, Dobbs Ferry is part of the town of Greenburgh, New York, but the village of Dobbs Ferry, New York, retains its original name.

Genealogy Tip: Find more information about the roles your ancestors and their hometowns played in American history by searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

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7 thoughts on “A Revolutionary War Ancestor with a Very Important House Guest

  1. The Joseph Appleby house can be found on the Erskine map of roughly 1780 held by the NY Historical Society. It has traditionally been seen as being in Ardsley, NY (it is in its school district) although arguably now the area is was located it has a Hartsdale postal address (Hartsdale is a census designate place or perhaps a hamlet) whereas Ardsley is a 125 year old village and the Ardsley School district (which includes parts of Dobbs Ferry) is even older There is more history about the Appleby House and Washington’s connections to it in the Westchester Historical Society journals from 1932 with articles by Ardsleyan James Owen and New Rochelle’s Morgan Seacord. A sign marking the Appleby House was proposed by James Owen 88 years ago with suitable language. For unknown reasons it has not been erected.
    I will contact WFAS radio station which now occupied the site and ask if they might put up a sign.

  2. Thanks for your post. I would love to see a historical marker at the Joseph Appleby House site. I think it might be best to “Revolutionary War Trail Project” rather than WFAS. They are less than helpful as Joseph Appleby was still listed as the property owner in 1932 (Owen). On another note, I am very glad that the neglected Odell House is finally scheduled for restoration. If you descend from Joseph Appleby II, then you are also related to John Tompkins, the builder of this historic house.

  3. Amy , you are welcome . Sadly WFAS appears defunct. Professor Robert Selig has just released his 266 page report on the Franco-American encampment. He also mentions the failure to install a sign at the Appleby House location. More significantly, by overlaying maps from the 1780s till now, he shows the connecting road between the Odell and Appleby houses as being Farm Road in the Village of Ardsley. Oddly one of the streets in Ardsley is Major Appleby’s (perhaps a relative to Joseph or a historical error as Joseph was not a Major).

    The Franco-American Encampment in the Town of Greenburgh, 6 July – 18 August 1781:
    A Historical Overview and Resource Inventory
    Project Historian

    For copies of this report please go to either http://www.greenburghny.com
    to download a digital copy

    p. 690: “In July 1781, I was up for several days at General Washington’s headquarters at Appleby’s in order to reclaim a horse which had been taken from me.” The location is determined beyond any doubt by James Owen, “Location of Washington’s headquarters in 1781 at Appleby’s in the Town of Greenburgh.” The Quarterly Bulletin of the Westchester County Historical Society vol. 8 no. 3, (July 1932), pp. 101-108. Owen already suggested in his article almost 75 years ago that a marker be placed on or near this site. See also Morgan H. Seacord, “Site of the Appleby House.” Ibid., vol. 10 no. 1, (January 1934), pp. 8-13.

  4. A bit off the stream here, but it is about Lt. Appleby’s daughter, Wintje Lavinia Appleby, from both of whom I am a direct descendant. I am looking for any actual documentation of her being his daughter or of her mother Rachel van Wart.
    Al Finch

  5. Does anyone have information on Odell Appleby bone in 1804 in Dutchess County NY. Married Eliza Curtiss 1830. 5 children born in Ohio. Hariam , William, Harmon, Fannie and Mary.

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