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John André
May 2, 1750 – October 2, 1780
John andre loc.jpg
Major John André
Place of birth London, England
Place of death Tappan, New York
Resting place Westminster Abbey
Allegiance United Kingdom Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1770 – 1780
Rank Major
Battles/wars American Revolutionary War

John André (May 2, 1750 – October 2, 1780) was a British army officer hanged as a spy during the American Revolutionary War. This was due to an incident in which he assisted Benedict Arnold's attempted surrender of the fort at West Point, New York to the British Army.


Early life

André was born on May 2, 1750 in London to Huguenot parents, Antoine André, a merchant from Geneva, Switzerland, and Marie Louise Giradot, from Paris, France. At age 20, he entered the British Army and joined his regiment, the 23rd Foot, in Canada in 1774 as a lieutenant. He was captured at Fort Saint-Jean by General Richard Montgomery in November 1775, and held a prisoner at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, until December 1776, when he was exchanged. He was promoted to captain in the 26th Foot on January 18, 1777, and to major in 1778.

He was a great favourite in society, both in Philadelphia and New York, during their occupation by the British Army. During his nearly nine months in Philadelphia, André occupied Benjamin Franklin's house, where it is claimed he took items from Franklin's home when the British left Philadelphia. He had a lively and pleasant manner and could draw and paint and cut silhouette pictures, as well as sing and write verses. He was a fluent writer who carried on much of General Clinton's correspondence. He was fluent in English, French, German, and Italian. He also wrote many comic verses.[1]

Capture and execution

In 1779, he became adjutant-general of the British Army in America with the rank of Major. In April, he was placed in charge of the British Secret Intelligence. By the next year (1780) he had begun to plot with American General Benedict Arnold. Arnold's Loyalist wife, Peggy Shippen, was a close friend of André's, and possibly a paramour; the two had courted in Philadelphia prior to Shippen's marriage to Arnold. She was one of the go-betweens in the correspondence. Arnold, who commanded West Point, had agreed to surrender it to the British for £20,000 ($1.1M in 2008 dollars) — a move that would have enabled the British to cut New England off from the rest of the rebellious colonies.

André went up the Hudson River on September 20, 1780, to visit Arnold. At night, André rowed ashore in a boat from the sloop-of-war Vulture and met Arnold in the woods below Stony Point. Major André accompanied Arnold to Thomas Smith House (Treason House) in West Haverstraw, New York, which was occupied by Thomas Smith's brother, Joshua Hett Smith. Morning came before they had finished talking, and American troops under James Livingston that were guarding Verplanck's Point across the river had begun to fire on the Vulture, which was forced to go down the river without André. André met with Arnold on September 21. This may have led to the comedy of errors that led to his capture.

The Capture of John André

In order to escape through American lines, André was provided with common clothes and a passport by Arnold. André took the name John Anderson which led to his being captured as a spy and not a prisoner of war had he been in uniform. Arnold also gave six papers (written in Arnold's hand) showing the British how the fort could be taken - a foolish move since Clinton already knew the fort's layout. André hid them in his stocking. Another unwise move occurred when Joshua Hett Smith, who was accompanying him, left him just before he was captured.

André rode on in safety until 9 am on September 23, when he came near Tarrytown, New York, where armed militamen John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart and David Williams stopped him.

"Gentlemen," said André, who thought they were Tories because one was wearing a Hessian soldier's overcoat, "I hope you belong to our party." "What party?" asked one of the men. "The lower party," replied André, meaning the British. "We do," was the answer. André then told them he was a British officer who must not be detained, when, to his surprise, they said they were Americans, and that he was their prisoner. He then told them that he was an American officer, and showed them his passport. But the suspicions of his captors were now aroused, and they searched him and found Arnold's papers in his stocking. Only Paulding could read them, and for some time, Arnold was not suspected. André offered them his horse and watch, if they would let him go, but they did not accept the bribe. André testified at his trial that the men searched his boots for the purpose of robbing him. Paulding however realized he was a spy and took him to Continental Army headquarters in Sands Hill.

Major André's hanging

The prisoner was at first detained at Sands Mill in Armonk, New York, before being taken to the headquarters of the American Army at Tappan, and was held at The Old '76 House which has never been a prison. There he admitted who he really was. At first all went well for André since the post commandant Lt. Col. John Jameson decided to send him and the papers to Arnold but then Major Benjamin Tallmadge, head of Continental Army Intelligence, arrived and persuaded Jameson to bring the prisoner back. He had intelligence showing that a high-ranking officer was planning to defect to the British but was unaware of who it was. However, Jameson insisted on sending the papers to Arnold. This gave Arnold time to escape to the British.

According to Tallmadge's account of the events, he and André conversed during the latter's captivity and transport. André wanted to know how he would be treated by Washington. Tallmadge, who had been a classmate of Nathan Hale while both were at Yale, described the capture of Hale. When André asked whether Tallmadge thought the situations similar, he replied "Yes, precisely similar, and similar shall be your fate", a reference to Hale's hanging as a spy by the British.[2]

General George Washington convened a board of senior officers to investigate the matter. He used a trial which contrasted with Sir William Howe's treatment of Hale some four years earlier. The board consisted of Major Generals Nathanael Greene (the presiding officer), Lord Stirling, Arthur St. Clair, Lafayette, Robert Howe, Steuben, Brigadier Generals Samuel H. Parsons, James Clinton, Henry Knox, John Glover, John Paterson, Edward Hand, Jedediah Huntington, John Stark, and Judge-Advocate-General John Laurance.

Monument at site of hanging
Inscription on monument

André's defense was that he was suborning an enemy officer, "an advantage taken in war" (his words). However he never to his credit tried to pass the blame onto Arnold. André told the court that he had not desired to be behind enemy lines and had not planned it. He also noted that because he was a prisoner of war he had the right to escape in civilian clothes. On September 29, 1780, the board found André guilty of being behind American lines "under a feigned name and in a disguised habit", and that "Major André, Adjutant-General to the British army, ought to be considered as a Spy from the enemy, and that agreeable to the law and usage of nations, it is their opinion, he ought to suffer death."[3] Later, Glover was officer of the day at André's execution. Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander in New York, did all he could to save André, his favourite aide, but refused to surrender Arnold in exchange for André even though he despised Arnold. André appealed to George Washington to be executed by firing squad, but by the rules of war he was to be hanged as a spy at Tappan on October 2, 1780.

A religious poem, written two days before his execution, was found in his pocket after his execution.[4]

While a prisoner he endeared himself to American officers, who lamented his death as much as the British. Alexander Hamilton wrote of him: "Never perhaps did any man suffer death with more justice, or deserve it less." The day before André's hanging he drew, with pen and ink, a likeness of himself, which is now owned by Yale College. In fact André, according to witnesses, refused the blindfold and placed the noose around his own neck.

An eyewitness account of the last day of Major André can be found in the book The American Revolution: From the Commencement to the Disbanding of the American Army Given in the Form of a Daily Journal, with the Exact Dates of all the Important Events; Also, a Biographical Sketch of the Most Prominent Generals by James Thacher, M.D., a surgeon in the American Revolutionary Army:

"October 2d.-- Major Andre is no more among the living. I have just witnessed his exit. It was a tragical scene of the deepest interest. During his confinement and trial, he exhibited those proud and elevated sensibilities which designate greatness and dignity of mind. Not a murmur or a sigh ever escaped him, and the civilities and attentions bestowed on him were politely acknowledged. Having left a mother and two sisters in England, he was heard to mention them in terms of the tenderest affection, and in his letter to Sir Henry Clinton, he recommended them to his particular attention. The principal guard officer, who was constantly in the room with the prisoner, relates that when the hour of execution was announced to him in the morning, he received it without emotion, and while all present were affected with silent gloom, he retained a firm countenance, with calmness and composure of mind. Observing his servant enter the room in tears, he exclaimed, "Leave me till you can show yourself more manly!" His breakfast being sent to him from the table of General Washington, which had been done every day of his confinement, he partook of it as usual, and having shaved and dressed himself, he placed his hat upon the table, and cheerfully said to the guard officers, "I am ready at any moment, gentlemen, to wait on you." The fatal hour having arrived, a large detachment of troops was paraded, and an immense concourse of people assembled; almost all our general and field officers, excepting his excellency and staff, were present on horseback; melancholy and gloom pervaded all ranks, and the scene was affectingly awful. I was so near during the solemn march to the fatal spot, as to observe every movement, and participate in every emotion which the melancholy scene was calculated to produce. Major Andre walked from the stone house, in which he had been confined, between two of our subaltern officers, arm in arm; the eyes of the immense multitude were fixed on him, who, rising superior to the fears of death, appeared as if conscious of the dignified deportment which he displayed. He betrayed no want of fortitude, but retained a complacent smile on his countenance, and politely bowed to several gentlemen whom he knew, which was respectfully returned. It was his earnest desire to be shot, as being the mode of death most conformable to the feelings of a military man, and he had indulged the hope that his request would be granted. At the moment, therefore, when suddenly he came in view of the gallows, he involuntarily started backward, and made a pause. "Why this emotion, sir?" said an officer by his side. Instantly recovering his composure, he said, "I am reconciled to my death, but I detest the mode." While waiting and standing near the gallows, I observed some degree of trepidation; placing his foot on a stone, and rolling it over and choking in his throat, as if attempting to swallow. So soon, however, as he perceived that things were in readiness, he stepped quickly into the wagon, and at this moment he appeared to shrink, but instantly elevating his head with firmness he said, "It will be but a momentary pang," and taking from his pocket two white handkerchiefs, the provost-marshal, with one, loosely pinioned his arms, and with the other, the victim, after taking off his hat and stock, bandaged his own eyes with perfect firmness, which melted the hearts and moistened the cheeks, not only of his servant, but of the throng of spectators. The rope being appended to the gallows, he slipped the noose over his head and adjusted it to his neck, without the assistance of the awkward executioner. Colonel Scammel now informed him that he had an opportunity to speak, if he desired it; he raised the handkerchief from his eyes, and said, "I pray you to bear me witness that I meet my fate like a brave man." The wagon being now removed from under him, he was suspended, and instantly expired; it proved indeed "but a momentary pang." He was dressed in his royal regimentals and boots, and his remains, in the same dress, were placed in an ordinary coffin, and interred at the foot of the gallows; and the spot was consecrated by the tears of thousands ..."


Self-portrait on the eve of André's execution
The Fidelity Medallion

Strickland, André's executioner, who was confined at the camp in Tappan as a dangerous Tory during André's trial, was granted liberty for accepting the duty of hangman and returned to his home in the Ramapo Valley or Smith's Clove, and no further knowledge of him is known.

Joshua Hett Smith, who was connected with André with the attempted treason, was also brought to trial at the Reformed Church of Tappan. The trial lasted four weeks and ended in acquittal for lack of evidence.

The Colquhon brothers who were commanded by Benedict Arnold to bring André from the sloop-of-war Vulture to shore, as well as Major Keirs, under whose supervision the boat was obtained, were exonerated from all suspicion.

A pension was awarded to his mother and three sisters not long after his death, and his brother William André was made a Baronet.

In 1821, at the behest of the Duke of York, his remains, which had been buried under the gallows, were removed to England[5] and placed among kings and poets in Hero's Corner at Westminster Abbey under a marble monument depicting Britannia mourning alongside a British lion over André's death. On October 2, 1879, a monument was unveiled on the place of his execution at Tappan until a member of the Order of Socialists in New York City named Hendrix blew it up three years later. Hendrix met a violent death in 1884 at the Brooklyn side of the Fulton Ferry.

The names of André's captors were John Paulding, David Williams, and Isaac Van Wart. The United States Congress gave each of them a pension of $200 a year and a silver medal, known as the Fidelity Medallion. All were honoured in the names of counties in Ohio, and in 1853 a monument was erected to their memory on the place where they captured André.

  • "He was more unfortunate than criminal." - from a letter of George Washington to Comte de Rochambeau, October 10, 1780
  • "An accomplished man and gallant officer." - from the sentence of a letter written by Washington to Colonel John Laurens on October 13, 1780

Historical portrayal

André is primarily remembered as a British spymaster and Benedict Arnold's handler. Popular legend holds that Peggy Shippen fell in love with and pursued André, as she later did with Arnold.

Historically, a possible allusion to André's lack of interest in women occurs in one of Shippen's letters, which refers to Andre's "unrequited appeal to the fairer sex".

Willard Sterne Randall's non-fiction book, Alexander Hamilton: a life, gives some details about Major John Andre in reference to some time before his capture (as Hamilton's wife had an interest in André prior to her marriage) and his execution. In describing André, he stated that there was most likely a relationship between Andre and General Clinton, to whom he wrote a last letter.

In popular culture

Some authors of both historical documentary and fiction have speculated that André was homosexual. Examples of such portrayals occur in Dark Eagle : A Novel of Benedict Arnold and the American Revolution (1999) by John Ensor Harr. Benedict Arnold: A Drama of the American Revolution in Five Acts (2005) by Robert Zubrin similarly implies that André was a lover of General Henry Clinton.

In 1968, No Way Back, the very last episode of the classic science-fiction series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, had the modern submarine Seaview taken back in time to the War of Independence. There the sub is boarded by soldiers led by Arnold (Barry Atwater) and Andre (William Beckley). Arnold is an unpleasant man and a bully, while Andre is a cultured gentleman. An officer gives details about them to a member of the crew, expressing sadness for Andre's eventual fate. He also appears in A New World: A Life of Thomas Paine.

André was also a featured character in the historical novel Redcoat(1987) byBernard Cornwell.

The events around the defection of Benedict Arnold and the actions of André were the subject of the film The Scarlet Coat (1955), directed by John Sturges, with Michael Wilding playing Major André.

Further reading

See also


  1. ^ "Major John Andre". Independence Hall Association. 1997-2007. Retrieved 2007-10-25.  
  2. ^ Sparks, Jared (1856). The library of American biography, volume 3. Harper. p. 258. OCLC 12009651.  
  3. ^ William Dunlap (30 March 1798), André' — A Play in Five Acts, transcribed by John W. Kennedy,, retrieved 2007-10-25  
  4. ^ Sargent, Winthrop (1861), The Life and Career of Major John André, Ticknor and Fields,  
  5. ^ Dunton, Larkin (1896). The World and Its People. Silver, Burdett. pp. 34–35.  

External links

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