John André

John André
John André
John andre loc.jpg
Major John André
Born May 2, 1750
London, England
Died October 2, 1780
Tappan, New York
Buried at Westminster Abbey
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1770 – 1780
Rank Major
Battles/wars American War of Independence

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


Early life

André was born on May 2, 1750 in London to wealthy Huguenot parents, Antoine André, a merchant from Geneva, Switzerland, and Marie Louise Girardot, 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 favorite in colonial society, both in Philadelphia and New York, during their occupation by the British Army. 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. He planned the infamous Mischianza when General Howe resigned and was about to return to England.

During his nearly nine months in Philadelphia, André occupied Benjamin Franklin's house, where it has been claimed that, on the orders of Major-Gen. Lord Charles Grey he took several valuable items from Franklin's home, including an oil portrait of Franklin, when the British left Philadelphia. General Grey's descendents returned Franklin's portrait to the US in the early half of the 20th Century.[1]

Intelligence work, capture and execution

Intelligence officer

In 1779 André became adjutant-general of the British Army in America with the rank of Major. In April of that year he took charge of 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 the British sloop-of-war Vulture on Wednesday, September 20, 1780, to visit Arnold. The following night, Thursday the 21st, a small boat, furnished by Arnold, was steered to the Vulture by Joshua Hett Smith. At the oars were two brothers, tenants of Smith's, who reluctantly rowed the boat six miles on the river, to the sloop. Despite Arnold's assurances the two oarsmen sensed something was wrong; and believed they'd be in danger. None of these men knew Arnold's purpose, or suspected his treason; all were told that the purpose was too do good for the patriot cause. Only Smith was told anything specific, and that was the lie that it was to secure vital intelligence for the American cause. The brothers finally agreed to row after threats by Arnold to arrest them. They picked up Andre, and placed him on shore. The others left and Arnold came to Andre on horseback,leading an extra horse for Andre's use. The two men conferred in the woods below Stony Point until near dawn,after which Major André accompanied Arnold several miles to the Belmont House (Treason House) in West Haverstraw, New York, owned by Thomas Smith and occupied by his brother Joshua. Soon thereafter, that morning, Friday the 22nd, American troops commanded by Col. James Livingston), guarding Verplanck's Point across the river, began firing on the Vulture, which received many hits and was forced to retire down river without André.

The Capture of John André

Taken into custody

To aid André's escape through American lines, Arnold provided him with common clothes and a passport and he traveled under the name John Anderson. Hidden in his stocking, he bore six papers written in Arnold's hand that showed the British how to take the fort. This was a foolish move since Clinton already knew the fort's layout. In another unwise move, 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 militiamen John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart and David Williams stopped him.[2][3]

"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. 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 tavern The Old '76 House. 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 to Arnold, never suspecting that a high-ranking hero of the Revolution could be a turncoat, 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. Curiously, though unwilling to believe Arnold could be guilty of treason, Jameson did have the six sheets of paper carried by Andre sent, not to Arnold, but to Gen. Washington. However, Jameson also insisted on sending a note to Arnold informing him of the entire situation. Jameson didn't want his army career to be wrecked later for having wrongly believed his general was a traitor. Arnold received Jameson's note while at breakfast with his officers, made an excuse to leave the room and was not seen again. The note gave Arnold time to escape to the British. An hour or so later, Washington arrived at West Point with his party and was disturbed to see the stronghold's fortifications in such bad apparent "neglect" (which of course was part of the plan to weaken West Point defenses); and was further irritated to find that Arnold had breached protocol by not being about to greet him. Some hours later, Washington received the explanatory information from Maj. Tallmadge and immediately sent men to arrest Arnold, but it was too late.

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.[4]

Monument at the site of the hanging
Detail of the inscription on the monument

Trial and execution

General George Washington convened a board of senior officers to investigate the matter. The trial 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.

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."[5] 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 hanged as a spy at Tappan on October 2, 1780.[6]

A religious poem, written two days before his execution, was found in his pocket after his execution.[7]

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.

Eyewitness account

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

On the day of his capture, James Rivington published in his gazette in New York, Andre's poem The Cow Chase, in which Andre muses on his foiling of foraging expedition in Bergen across the Hudson from the city.[8][9]

Strickland,[10] 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 nothing further 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[11] 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. It was re-dedicated in 1880 and is located in Patriot's Park, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.[12]

  • "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 popular culture

Major André's capture is mentioned in Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which takes place in and around Tarrytown.

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) by Bernard 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.

See also

  • André, play
  • Maj. John Andre Monument
  • John Champe (soldier)
  • Jane Teurs


  1. ^ "Major John Andre". Independence Hall Association. 1997-2007. Retrieved 2007-10-25. 
  2. ^ Raymond, pp. 11-17
  3. ^ Cray, pp. 371-397
  4. ^ Sparks, Jared (1856), The library of American biography, volume 3, Harper, p. 258, OCLC 12009651, 
  5. ^ William Dunlap (30 March 1798), André' — A Play in Five Acts, transcribed by John W. Kennedy,, retrieved 2007-10-25 
  6. ^ Schwarz, Frederic. "Benedict's Betrayal" American Heritage, August/September 2005.
  7. ^ Sargent, Winthrop (1861), The Life and Career of Major John André, Ticknor and Fields, 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "1915 Annual Report of The Bergen County Historical Society". 
  11. ^ Dunton, Larkin (1896), The World and Its People, Silver, Burdett, pp. 34–35 
  12. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 

Further reading

  • "An Authentic Narrative of the Causes Which Led to the Death of Major Andre, Adjutant-General of His Majesty's Forces in North America", Joshua Hett Smith (London 1808)
  • Cray, Robert E. Jr., "Major John Andre and the Three Captors: Class Dynamics and Revolutionary Memory Wars in the Early Republic, 1780-1831", Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 17, No. 3. Autumn, 1997. University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Flexner, James Thomas (1953). The Traitor and the Spy: Benedict Arnold and John André. New York: Harcourt Brace. OCLC 426158. 
  • Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (1858), vol vi, which contains a comprehensive essay by Charles J. Biddle
  • Andreana, H. W. Smith (Philadelphia, 1865)
  • Two spies, Lossing (New York, 1886)
  • Life and Career of Major John André, Sargent, new edition (New York, 1904)
  • The Secret is Out: True Spy Stories, T. Martini (Boston, 1990)
  • The Execution of MAJOR ANDRE, John Evangelist Walsh (New York, 2001)

External links

Fleming, Thomas (February/March 2000), George Washington, Spymaster, American Heritage Magazine,, retrieved 2008-03-09 

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