Monday, September 22, 2014

Pye The Englishman

Around 1800, an Englishman named John Pye opened a tavern on the road between Albany and Troy.  It stood just a little south of the present entrance to the Rural Cemetery along Route 32.

Born in England around 1752, he first appears in local records after the end of the Revolutionary War and was known to be a good friend of General Philip Schuyler and his family.  The Schuylers were, of course, his neighbors; their large farm known as The Flatts lay just a few yards northwest from the Pye Tavern.

John Pye is best remembered for a robbery at his tavern on a wintery night in 1808.  Robert Johnson, later described as "a highwayman," entered the tavern seeking $1,000 in cash and gold that Pye was rumored to have beneath his bed.  He surprised the sleeping innkeeper and his wife and, drawing a pistol, demanded, "Your money or your life."  When Pye hesitated, Johnson fired and wounded him in the neck.  Some accounts say that Pye's wife, Elizabeth, then fired at the highwayman with her husband's own pistol.

Johnson fled, racing back to Albany on horseback.  He attracted attention when he jumped his horse across a toll barrier and escaped across the river.  By then, the alarm had been raised and William Winne, a letter carrier and watchman pursued the highwayman through the snow.  When Winne confronted Johnson, the robber pulled a knife on him and managed to knock out Winne's front teeth.  Winne, however, was able to subdue him by seizing his bandana and choking him with it.  Johnson was apparently wounded by Mrs. Pye's shot and died shortly after being taken into custody.  His skeleton was reportedly kept in the office of an anatomist in Troy for some years after.

John Pye survived the attack and continued to manage his tavern.  The incident caused quite a sensation in the local papers and an account was published in 1836 with the lengthy title, "The robber, or A narrative of Pye and the highwayman, Being a detailed and particular account of an attempted robbery of the inn of John Pye, between the cities of Albany and Troy, N.Y. in 1808, and of the outlaws' final capture and end: as related by Mrs. Pye herself, and others who were most intimately acquainted with the whole tragical affair..."  The story was not without embellishments, some contributed by William Winne himself.

Pye died in 1817 and was buried among his friends in the Schuyler family burial ground at The Flatts.  His widow married their bartender, William Nutt, and continued to manage the tavern.  She died in 1846 at the age of 90 (or 97, according to some sources).  She and her second husband were also buried at The Flatts.

In the 1920s, all of the graves at old Flatts burial ground was removed to the Rural Cemetery.  A number of headstones were brought over from The Flatts with the remains, but most are now illegible.  One of the worn stones above may be that of Pye The Englishman.

More on the original Flatts burial ground here.

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