Born into slavery near Peekskill, NY. Known as “Rifle Jack” because of his skill as a marksman, Peterson enlisted in the 2nd New York Regiment of the Continental Army under Col. Philip Van Cortlandt and fought at the Battles of Saratoga and Peekskill. He also helped save America in very dramatic fashion.

In 1780, Peterson was on guard duty with Moses Sherwood, watching for British ships sailing up the Hudson River. The ship was the Vulture and she was the key to Patriot General Benedict Arnold’s plans to hand the West Point military base and all its soldiers to the British, thus becoming America’s most despised traitor.

When a small landing boat with two dozen redcoats left the Vulture, Peterson and Sherwood opened fire, killing two of them. The landing boat retreated to the larger ship, which started blasting cannonballs at the pair. They quickly rode to a command post and returned with two cannons of their own. At dawn, they blasted the Vulture, damaging her and injuring her captain, causing the ship to sail down river, out of reach of the Patriots’ weapons.

This left British spy John Andre stranded. Andre was Arnold’s contact and was supposed to sail back to New York City on the Vulture. Andre was quickly captured and was found to be carrying maps of West Point and documents about the Patriot military force given to him by Arnold. Andre was hanged as a spy and Arnold was forced to flee to the British. But the soldiers at West Point were saved, thanks in large part to John, “Rifle Jack” Peterson.

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