Who Was John Dean?

John Dean was a youngster in the town of Mount Pleasant, NY before the American Revolution. His family’s farm sat squarely in the middle of what was known as the Neutral Zone. Like many from the area, John was forced to take a side. He clearly chose the side of being a Patriot as he joined the Continental Army.

John Dean  enlisted on July 4, 1775, at the age of nineteen and served in Capt. Ambrose Pierce’s company of the 4th Regiment of the New York Line. 

John Dean (b. September 15, 1755; d. April 4, 1817), a patriot through and through, wasted no time in answering the call to arms during the American Revolution. With the wholehearted support of his father, he eagerly enlisted in the patriot cause at the tender age of nineteen. Joining Capt. Horton’s Company, which hailed from his native county, John embarked on a challenging journey to Canada as part of the 4th battalion under Col. Van Courtland. His elder brother William shared his fervor and enlisted alongside him, but their resolve was tested by the grueling trials of war. The arduous trek to Canada proved too much for their health, and both fell ill, as did many of their comrades. Tragically, William succumbed to his illness and found his final resting place on the infamous plains of Abraham.

Despite facing similar hardships, John pressed on with his company to St. John’s U. C. Yet, fate dealt him another blow as sickness seized him, a consequence of enduring treacherous weather conditions while rowing in an open boat laden with provisions. Rendered unfit for duty, John found himself shuttled between various stations, serving as a hospital patient at Crown Point, Ticonderoga, and eventually Fort George, where he received an honorable discharge in November 1775. A poignant document, bearing his name and the faded endorsement of his discharge, serves as a testament to his service and sacrifice.

Discharged from Fort George, John Dean, destitute and poorly attired, embarked on a weary journey on foot to the city of Albany. Fortune smiled upon him when he encountered Captain Abram Martlings of Tarrytown, who extended a helping hand. Joining Captain Martlings on his vessel, John made the journey back to Tarrytown and, ultimately, to his home in Mount Pleasant, just a few miles east. There, amidst the warm embrace of family and friends, John found solace and the nurturing care that saw him through to a full recovery, restoring both his health and spirits.

Although no longer in the Continental Army, John Dean saw plenty of action in the Neutral zone. Although not named as one of the men who captured Major Andre, Sergeant Dean did play a role in the now-famous and important event.

On the morning of September 23, 1780, a group of six local militia men obtained a permit from the local ranking Continental Army Commander and set to country roads around Tarrytown, NY, in search of Tory loyalists (Cowboys). The trip was organized by fellow displaced Neutral Zone farmer John Yerks in North Salem, NY (no direct relation to the tavern in that town by the same name). The original six-man scouting party consisted of John Yerkes, James Romer, John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart, Isaac See, and Abraham Williams. In South Salem, they asked David Williams to join them, making them seven.

According to records, the seven men split into two groups, with one group of three stationing themselves on what is now Broadway and the other group of four high on a hill overlooking the town. The first group: John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart, and David Williams would become famous for stopping Major John Andre, a British spy with detailed plans for the rebel’s stronghold at West Point hidden in his boot. While there is no record of John Dean being part of the original scouting party, it seems very plausible that he joined the seven after the capture and directed them to Col. John Jameson who was at the nearby Continental army outpost in North Castle.

Andre was headed for the British-occupied city of New York, and if he hadn’t been stopped by Paulding, Van Wart, & Williams that morning the results would have been disastrous for the rebel cause. If the British had captured the fort, the revolution would likely have been over.

John Dean did miss out on the fame and glory of that mission, but as a militia man and Sergeant in Westchester, he had many other stories to tell. Most of those stories we will save for another time, but here is a teaser.

John Dean’s Account Of A Revolutionary Skirmish In Mount Pleasant

On Display At the Met

John Dean may not have received any of the glory for Capturing Major Andre, but he and his Flintlock are remembered for their actions through a display at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 372. 

The display card reads as follows:

“This gun is notable for its great length (77 inches overall) and for several stylistic features that make it attributable to New York. It is distinguished further by its historical association with John Dean (1755–1816), a sergeant in the Continental Army during the American Revolution who participated in the capture of the British spy Major André. Although made for hunting, this gun may have been carried by Dean during the Revolution.

Like many American firearms of the Colonial era, it is fitted with an imported barrel and lock. The lock comes from a French infantry musket, model 1728, and bears the marking of the royal arms factory at Saint-Étienne. The gun has been handed down through the Dean family; a member of the family, Dr. Bashford Dean (1867–1928), became the first curator of the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Arms and Armor in 1912.”

So What Is John Dean Rock?

John Dean Rock was described as “a large rock on the west side of and near the Saw Mill River, on the Widow Yerk’s farm just adjoining his place, where he was want to take his stand and on occasion secrete himself if necessary, and from which he would sally forth and attack the enemy, and which is called, “Dean Rock” until this day.” Basically, John Dean would hide behind the boulder and then ambush British troops as they traveled up and down the Saw Mill River Road one the other side of the river.

The “Widow Yerk’s farm” is named as a clue to the rock’s location. Using a map of the revolutionary-era landowners, we are able to see that the  Yerks farm was located on the east side of Buttermilk Hill near the present hamlet of Hawthorne. The Dean farm is adjacent, just slightly to the north.

John Dean Rock Location on Map

John Dean Rock lies between the old railroad bed (now the North County Trailway) and the Saw Mill River just after, where the river crosses underneath the Saw Mill River Parkway from the northbound lane (East side) to the southbound lane (West side). So when walking along the North County Trailway north from Eastview, it will be on the right, down a steep embankment.  But it is still visible from the Saw Mill River Parkway.


The rock stands impressively at a height of about 20-25 feet and spans approximately 25-30 feet in width. When viewed from the rail trail, its eastern face presents a flat surface. However, on the river side (east face), the rock slopes gently downward from its highest point towards the river. Despite its imposing stature, the rock maintains a narrow profile, making it an ideal hiding spot capable of concealing one or more individuals without difficulty.

An intriguing anecdote adds to the rock’s lore: John D. Rockefeller purportedly had an affinity for visiting John Dean Rock. In “John D.: A Portrait in Oils,” penned by John Winkler, an episode unfolds:

“Not long ago, while on one of his daily afternoon motor drives, he [Rockefeller] directed his chauffeur, Phillips, to stop at John Dean Rock by the Nepperhan River [also known as Saw Mill River], which flows through his estate… John D. walked to the rock, patted its rugged surface, and mischievously remarked to a companion: Our initials are the same, this rock and I? Wonder which will last the longer!”

Despite Rockefeller’s longevity, reaching the age of 97, John Dean Rock continues to stand prominently today, albeit not achieving the same level of fame as JDR.

A Forgotten Historical Landmark

John Dean Rock was once adorned with a New York State Historical Marker, proudly positioned along the Saw Mill River Parkway.  The marker has long since disappeared.  These markers, recognizable by their blue and gold hues, serve as poignant reminders of significant events in New York State history. Initially established in 1926 to honor the Sesquicentennial of the Revolutionary War, this program was overseen by the Department of Education’s State History Office until its discontinuation in 1966. While New York currently lacks a centralized historical marker program, dedicated volunteers and historians endeavor to preserve these markers. Those interested in installing or restoring markers are advised to consult with local historians or officials from counties, cities, towns, or villages.

Often, local historians collaborate with organizations like the William G. Pomeroy Foundation (http://www.wgpfoundation.org/) to secure funding for marker projects. It’s speculated that the marker at John Dean Rock vanished sometime in the 1950s or 1960s, possibly due to the evolving nature of the parkway from a road to a highway. Given its location, it’s conceivable that the marker posed a notable and unconventional distraction along the narrow and winding parkway.

In the past, I had the opportunity to examine the specifics of all such markers, including the one at John Dean Rock. It bore the inscription:



Though the physical marker may no longer be present, its details persist in various lists online, such as those derived from the original New York State Database, including resources like Wikipedia. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_York_State_Historic_Markers_in_Westchester_County,_New_York]

If you find yourself visiting John Dean Rock, you may want to set off on an adventure to Raven Rock while you are there, which is not too far away.  But beware, there is no trail to get there from John Dean Rock.  There is an easy one from JDR  Park Preserve.