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The Question That Won’t Die: Is One of George Washington’s Personal Secretaries buried in Dundee?

Yates Past - November 2005

I was reading through an old issue of the Dundee Observer a while back and saw an article about George Washington’s personal secretary being buried in Dundee. I got to thinking that it would make an interesting topic to write about for February because of Washington’s Birthday. I called Pam Miller (Starkey Town Historian and Director of the Dundee Historical Society) to ask about it and she said rather emphatically that it simply was not true. It is a story that goes well back into the nineteenth century. No one knows for sure where the story originated but it was perpetuated by various articles in local newspapers over the years (like the one I read), Lewis Cass Aldrich’s History of Yates County, N.Y. published in 1892, and Walter Wolcott’s Military History of Yates County, NY published in 1895. Wolcott even had the fellow as Washington’s aide de camp during the Revolutionary War. A local amateur historian quoted in a 1921 newspaper article reported that the man was a general on Washington’s staff, with him throughout the Revolution. There is quite a file on the man in the Dundee Historical Society. Pam said that someone will bring the old story up again every ten years or so and write about it and/or try to research it. So it’s I am..... doing it again ....well, writing about it at any rate. I might as well keep this story going into the new century.

The man’s name was Isaac Andrews. Some reports had him born in Scotland while others said New England. This much is fairly certain: He came into what would eventually become the Town of Starkey in Yates County in the early 1800s. He was a surveyor who had worked on surveying both preemption lines from the Pennsylvania border to Lake Ontario. He had a farm a few miles south of Harpending’s Corners (later Dundee) . He was instrumental in the founding of the Presbyterian Church in Eddytown (later Lakemont) and he was a member of the Masonic Lodge in Reading. He died in 1829 and was buried alongside his wife in the old burial ground near Harpending’s Corners. That location today is in the park in front of the Dundee Historical Society on Seneca Street in Dundee. That building was originally a grade school and the old burial ground was in what was once part of the playground. Old articles in the Dundee paper quoted old timers who remembered that there were once headstones (or remains of them) laying flat imbedded in the ground. One old fellow even remembered that Andrews’ headstone was used for third base in their ball games.

Over the years it upset people that a Yates County resident who MAY have been a personal secretary to George Washington was buried in what became an unmarked grave unknowingly trampled on by the feet of school children (these days...people walking through the park on Seneca Street). Over the years there have been a few attempts to commemorate the man by placing a headstone or other monument on the site. A serious attempt to do that was back in the 1920s. A Dundee resident, William Snook, left $500 in his will for the Guyanoga Chapter of the DAR to erect a monument on the spot. The DAR accepted the bequest providing they could verify that Isaac Andrews was indeed Washington’s secretary. The DAR conducted a search of available records and could find no solid evidence of Andrews’ connection to George Washington. They returned the $500 to the Snook estate and no monument was erected. Research is complicated by the fact that there were more than one Isaac Andrews who served in the American Revolution, none apparently on the staff of General Washington.

So.....are you interested in historical research? Do you like a challenge? Do you have time to kill? Would you like to make an important contribution to the history of Yates County? Well....there you go. As of now, there is NO EVIDENCE to tie the Isaac Andrews buried in Dundee to George Washington....only rumor and tradition. Maybe YOU can be the one to finally put the question to rest.

by Rich MacAlpine

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