George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Robertson, 2 October 1780

Greyhound Schooner Flag of Truce Dobbs Ferry October 2d 1780


A Note I have from General Green leaves me in doubt if his Memory had served him to relate to you with Exactness the Substance of the Conversation that had passed between him & myself on the Subject of Major André. In an Affair of so much Consequence to my Friend, to the two Armies, and Humanity, I would leave no Possibility of a Misunderstanding and therefore take the Liberty to put in writing the Substance of what I said to Genl Green.

I offered to prove by the Evidence of Colonel Robinson and the Officers of the Vulture, that Major André went on Shore at General Arnold’s desire in a Boat sent for him with a Flag of Truce; that he not only came ashore with he Knowledge and under the Protection of the General who commanded in the District, but that he took no Step while on Shore but by the Direction of Genl Arnold, as will appear by the inclosed Letter from him to your Excellency.

Under these Circumstances I could not, and hoped you would not, consider Major André as a Spy, for any improper Phrase in his Letter to you. The Facts he relates correspond with the Evidence I offer—but he admits a Conclusion that does not follow. The Change of Cloaths and Name was ordered by General Arnold, under whose Direction he necessarily was while within his Command. As General Green and I did not agree in Opinion, I wished, that disinterested Gentlemen of Knowledge in the Law of War and Nations might be asked their Opinion on the Subject; and mentioned Monsieur Knyphausen and General Rochambault.

I related that a Captain Robinson had been delivered to Sir Henry Clinton as a Spy, and undoubtedly was such. But that it being signified to him that you were desirous that this Man should be exchanged, he had ordered him to be exchanged.

I wished that an Intercourse of such Civilities, as the Rules of War admit of, might take off many of its Horrors. I admitted that Major André had a great Share of Sir Henry Clintons Esteem, and that he would be infinitely obliged by his Liberation; and that if he was permitted to return with me I would engage to have any Person you would be pleased to name set at Liberty.

I added that Sir Henry Clinton had never put to Death any Person for a Breach of the Rules of War, tho’ he had, and now has, many in his Power. Under the present Circumstances much Good may arise from Humanity, much ill from the Want of it. If that could give any Weight, I beg leave to add that your favorable Treatment of Major André, will be a Favor I should ever be intent to return to any you hold dear.

My Memory does not retain with the Exactness I could with the Words of the Letter, which General Green show’d me from Major André to your Excellency. For Sir Henry Clintons Satisfaction I beg you will order a Copy of it to be sent to me at New York. I have the Honor to be Your Excellency’s Most Obedient and Most humble Servant

James Robertson

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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