As part of an armed patrol with fellow militiamen David Williams, and Isaac Van Wart, Paulding seized André at a site now called Patriots Park in Tarrytown, NY. Holding him in custody, they discovered documents of André's secret communication with Benedict Arnold. The militiamen, all local farmers of modest means, refused his considerable bribe and instead delivered him to the Continental Army. Arnold's plans to surrender West Point to the British were revealed and foiled, and André was hanged as a spy.
With George Washington's personal recommendation, the United States Congress awarded Paulding, Williams, and Van Wart the first military decoration of the United States, the silver medal known as the Fidelity Medallion. Each of the three also received federal pensions of $200 a year, and prestigious farms awarded by New York State.
The celebrated trio became only more celebrated after the war: commemorations large and small abound in Westchester County (see below), and elsewhere throughout the original colonies. By an Act of Congress, the new state of Ohio (1803) included the counties of Paulding, Van Wert (a common alternate spelling), and Williams. Paulding was uniquely honored among the three by the bestowal of his name to the new county's seat of government, the town of Paulding. 1
Paulding himself was held in particularly high regard by early America: he is honored in the names of Paulding County, Georgia; Paulding, Michigan; Paulding, New Jersey; Paulding, Mississippi; Paulding County, Ohio and Paulding, Missouri. Standard 19th-century retellings of the event give prominence to Paulding, crediting him with the decision-making and initiative at the scene.2
Still, Paulding and the others did see their reputations impugned by some. André at his trial had insisted the men were mere brigands; sympathy for him remained in some more aristocratic American quarters (and grew to legend in England, where he was buried in Westminster Abbey). Giving voice to this sympathy, Representative Benjamin Tallmadge of Connecticut persuaded Congress not to grant the men a requested pension increase in 1817, publicly assailing their credibility and motivations. Despite the slight, the men's popular acclaim continued to grow throughout the 19th century to almost-mythic status. Some modern scholars have interpreted the episode as a major event in early American cultural development, representing the apotheosis of the common man in the new democratic society.3
John Paulding was a self-sufficient farmer: a strong, sturdy man, he stood over six feet tall, unusual for the era. He married three times in his life, and was the father of nineteen children.4 He died in 1818 at Staatsburg, Dutchess County, New York of natural causes. His last words were reported to be: "I die a true republican."5 He is buried in the cemetery of Old Saint Peter's Church in Van Cortlandtville, Cortlandt Manor, NY. The grave is marked by a large marble monument with the epitaph: "FIDELITY - On the morning of the 23rd of September 1780, accompanied by two young farmers of the county of West Chester, he intercepted the British spy, André. Poor himself, he disdained to acquire wealth by the sacrifice of his country. Rejecting the temptation of great rewards, he conveyed his prisoner to the American camp and, by this noble act of self-denial, the treason of Arnold was detected; the designs of the enemy baffled; West Point and the American Army saved; and these United States, now by the grace of God Free and Independent, rescued from most imminent peril."
Paulding's descendants are numerous but perhaps the best-known of them is his son Hiram Paulding (b.1797 - d.1878), who served in the War of 1812 and fought in the Battle of Lake Champlain; he rose to become a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy and retired only after the end of the American Civil War.