George Washington Papers

Editorial Note

Editorial Note

Maj. John André’s sterling career as a British army officer ended abruptly because of his role in Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold’s treachery.1 His correspondence concerning Arnold began in May 1779 and became more frequent over subsequent months. Loyalist liaisons Joseph Stansbury and Jonathan Odell facilitated the communications between Arnold and André, usually sent in code. A lull in the letters occurred during the British expedition against Charleston, which took André away from New York from late December until the next spring and brought Capt. George Beckwith, Lt. Gen. Wilhelm von Knyphausen’s intelligence officer, into the circle of correspondents.2 Not long after André’s return, Arnold adopted the alias “J. Moore” or “Mr Moore” for his letters and assigned “John Anderson” as an alias for André. The intensity of their exchanges increased after a letter from Arnold dated 16 June 1780 that reported the precarious situation of the Continental defenses at West Point, a place of profound strategic importance. Subsequent letters focused on a British takeover of West Point and culminated in Arnold’s proposal to André on 30 Aug.—in a letter signed “Gustavus”—that they meet to discuss arrangements.3 André, in the guise of John Anderson, accepted Arnold’s offer in a letter to Col. Elisha Sheldon dated 7 September. Arnold, again using “Gustavus” as an alias, informed André on 15 Sept. that Continental boats prevented


Fig. 1. Maj. John André, the British adjutant general, sketched this self-portrait while awaiting execution. (Yale University Art Gallery, 1832.103, Gift of Ebenezer Baldwin, B.A. 1808)

him from reaching their meeting. In the same letter, Arnold asked André to be at Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., on Wednesday evening, 20 September.4

Loyalist colonel Beverly Robinson, who was to accompany André, wrote Gen. Henry Clinton from the Vulture off Sing Sing, N.Y., on Sunday, 24 Sept., with word that only André went ashore because the pass from Arnold mentioned only his name. Robinson then reported: “Majr Andrée went off with [Joshua Hett] Smith, between 12 & 1 oClock Thursday night Smith told me Arnold would be about one oClock at a place called the old Trough or Road, a little above DeNoyells with a spare horse to carry him to his house; And it is with the greatest concern that I must now Acquaint your Excellency that we have not heard the least Account of him since he left the Ship.”5

By 24 Sept., irregular American militia already had taken André into custody on the outskirts of Tarrytown, N.Y., and delivered him to Lt. Col. John Jameson.6 GW soon learned about the significant prisoner, whom he decided to treat as a spy because André was captured in civilian dress and with incriminating military papers hidden in his boots.7 GW convened a board of general officers, which met on 29 Sept. and unanimously ordered André’s execution.8 Clinton and other British officers strove unavailingly to secure André’s release or exchange.9 André’s own appeal to GW to be shot as properly becoming a soldier elicited no reply. His hanging took place at noon on 2 October.10

André’s plight and the purpose of Arnold’s treachery enthralled residents in British-occupied New York, where printer Hugh Gaine tracked reports and rumors in his journal beginning on 27 Sept.: “Major André who went out to confer with General Arnold is taken by General Washington and ’tis supposed will be ill used.” Gaine wrote on 28 Sept.: “Major André is well and ’tis said is turned over to Congress by General Washington. ’Tis said an attack was intended against West Point, by our Troops, but we concluded that is now given over for the Present.” He continued on 29 and 30 Sept.: “Various Reports concerning Major André and Mr. Smith his Guide. … There certainly was an Attack intended against West Point and that very Serious.” News turned grim on 1 Oct.: “An Account that Major André and Mr. Smith are both to be executed. In Consequence of which General Robertson, Mr. Elliott, Hon. Wm. Smith &c. &c. are gone up the River to see what can be done with Washington.” Gaine was only partly accurate in his entry for 3 Oct.: “General Robertson returned from the Rebel Camp, but got little satisfaction concerning Major André otherwise, than that he was not hanged.” More accurate information appeared in Gaine’s entries for 6 and 7 Oct.: “An Account that Major André was Hanged. A Confirmation of the Execution. … Great Lamentations for the Loss of Major André: He is no more.”11

Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe had taken steps to recapture André with his Queen’s Rangers, thinking that the major would be sent to Philadelphia because GW “would not proceed to extremities” without congressional approval. Simcoe then exchanged letters with Maj. Henry Lee, Jr., hoping “to converse with him relative to Major André.” Learning that André would be executed, Simcoe wrote Lee: “The useless murder of Major André would almost, was it possible, annihilate that wish which, consentaneous to the ideas of our sovereign, and the government of Great Britain, has ever operated on the officers of the British army, the wish of a reconciliation and speedy re-union with their revolted fellow subjects in America.” André’s “murder” angered Simcoe and “totally eradicated” any favorable thoughts he held toward Continental generals, with GW presumably being foremost.12

Clinton never overcame his anger at GW for executing André.13 In his memoirs, Clinton asserted that GW “burnt with a desire of wreaking his vengeance. … And consequently, regardless of the acknowledged worth and abilities of the amiable young man who had thus fallen into his hands, and in opposition to every principle of policy and call of humanity, he without remorse put him to a most ignominious death.” Clinton continued: “Mr. Washington ought also to have remembered that I had never in any one instance punished the disaffected colonists within my power with death, but on the contrary had in several [instances] shown the most humane attention to his intercession, even in favor of avowed spies. His acting, therefore, in so cruel a manner in opposition to my earnest solicitations could not but excite in me the greatest surprise, especially as no advantage whatsoever could be possibly expected to his cause from putting the object of them to death. Nor could he be insensible—had he the smallest spark of honor in his own breast—that the example, though ever so terrible and ignominious, would never deter a British officer from treading in the same steps whenever the service of his country should require his exposing himself to the like danger in such a war. But the subject affects me too deeply to proceed, nor can my heart cease to bleed whenever I reflect on the very unworthy fate of this most amiable and valuable young man, who was adorned with the rarest endowments of education and nature and, had he lived, could not but have attained to the highest honors of his profession!”14

News of Arnold’s treachery and André’s fate reached Parliament on 13 Nov., when Horace Walpole wrote in his journal about “an account of General Arnold, the butcher’s son, who had behaved so bravely and been dangerously wounded, and who now commanded the advanced guard of Washington’s army, having offered Sir H. Clinton to betray the whole corps to him if he would advance. Clinton had sent his Lieutenant, Major-General St. André, son of St. André, the surgeon, to settle the terms. St. André was taken by three Americans, who carried him to Washington, on which Arnold had made his escape by the North River to Clinton. Washington offered Clinton to release St. André on Arnold being given up, and on refusal hanged St. André, who only begged to be shot. This was probably provoked by Lord Cornwallis’s having hanged 120 Carolinians.”15

Writing a surgeon in Manchester, England, on 20 Jan. 1802, British poet Anna Seward, who lived in Lichfield, related that “General Washington allowed his aide-de-camp to return to England after peace was established, and American independence acknowledged; and he commissioned him to see me, and request my attention to the papers he sent for my perusal; copies of his letters to André, and André’s answers, in his own hand, were amongst them. Concern, esteem, and pity, were awowed in those of the General, and warm entreaties that he would urge General Clinton to resign Arnold in exchange for himself, as the only means to avert that sacrifice which the laws of war demanded. Mr André’s letters breathed a spirit of gratitude to General Washington for the interest he took in his perservation, but firmly declined the application to General Clinton. The other papers were minutes of the court-martial, from which it appeared, that General Washington had laboured to avert the sentence against André, and to soften the circumstances of disguised dress, and of those fatal drawings of the enemies’ outworks and situation, which placed him in the character of a spy rather than that of a negotiator. The General’s next fruitless endeavour was to have obtained the grant of poor André’s petition, to die a less disgraceful death. His voice, though commander of the American armies, counted but as one on the court-martial. General Washington did me the honour to charge his aide-de-camp to assure me, that no circumstance of his life had given him so much pain as the necessary sacrifice of André’s life, and that next to that deplored event, the censure passed upon himself in a poem which he admired, and for which he loved the author; also to express his hope, that, whenever I reprinted the Monody, a note might be added, which should tend to acquit him of that imputed inexorable and cruel severity which had doomed to ignominious death a gallant and amiable prisoner of war.

“With that just request I immediately complied, by a paper sewed to the copy of my poem, from which I mean the future edition should be printed, if I should live to collect my works and publish them in a miscellany. …

“From the hour I conversed with General Washington’s officer, and perused these papers, I have regretted the injustice of which I had been guilty, without any consciousness that I was injurious.” No corroboration has been found for Seward’s intriguing recollection.16

For noteworthy secondary works on André, see Sargent, André description begins Winthrop Sargent. The Life of Major John André. New York, 1871. description ends ; Abbatt, Arnold and André description begins William Abbatt. The Crisis of the Revolution: Being the Story of Arnold and André: Now for the First Time Collected from all Sources, and Illustrated with Views of all Places Identified with it. New York, 1899. description ends ; Hatch, André description begins Robert McConnell Hatch. Major John André: A Gallant in Spy’s Clothing. Boston, 1986. description ends ; and Walsh, Execution of André.

2During André’s absence, Arnold unknowingly communicated a spurious proclamation to the British (see Arnold to GW, 7 June, and n.2).

3Hessian captain Johann Ewald commented on the plot to betray West Point in his diary entry narrating Arnold’s treachery and André’s capture: “This principal post, which guarded the gateway for communication with Canada, separated the French from Washington, and divided the whole into two parts, would have been lost suddenly by the Americans with all the guns, ammunition, and provisions. Indeed, their entire army would have been either captured or killed. If this affair had had a successful result, it would have put an end to the war, preserved the thirteen great and beautiful provinces for the Crown of England, and made Major André immortal” (Ewald, Diary description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends , 248–49).

4For a convenient compilation of the correspondence between Arnold and André, see Van Doren, Secret History description begins Carl Van Doren. Secret History of the American Revolution: An Account of the Conspiracies of Benedict Arnold and Numerous Others drawn from the Secret Service Papers of the British Headquarters in North America now for the first time examined and made public. New York, 1941. description ends , 437–81.

Arnold inserted a passage at the close of a letter he wrote Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge from Beverly Robinson’s house near West Point on 13 Sept.: “If Mr James Anderson a Person I expect from New York should come to your quarters I have to request that you will, give him an escort of two Horsemen to bring him on his way to this place, & Send an Express to me that I may meet him, if your business will permit I wish you to come with him” (DLC:GW; addressed to Tallmadge “On the Lines”). Tallmadge replied to Arnold from Lower Salem, N.Y., on 21 Sept.: “I had the Honor last Evening to receive Your favor of the 13th inst. It arrived here in due season, & as I was absent on Command by special Directions of His Excellency Genl Washington, the Letter was opened & the instructions therein contained, I trust, have been duly attended to. I feel myself, in behalf of the Regt under peculiar Obligations to You for that Care & Attention shewn to the Corps in procuring us so many Remounts.

“I expect to join Col. Jameson immediately, & should Mr Anderson come to my Q[uarte]rs I will do the needful, & shall be very happy to wait on him to Hd Qrs. … P.S. My best Wishes attend Lt Col. Varick” (DLC:GW; sent “⅌ Express”).

5Van Doren, Secret History description begins Carl Van Doren. Secret History of the American Revolution: An Account of the Conspiracies of Benedict Arnold and Numerous Others drawn from the Secret Service Papers of the British Headquarters in North America now for the first time examined and made public. New York, 1941. description ends , 474–75. Arnold had written a pass at Robinson’s house on 20 Sept.: “Permission is given to Joshua Smith, Esquire, a gentleman Mr. John Anderson, who is with him and his two servants to pass and repass the guards near King’s Ferry at all times” (Dawson, Papers Concerning André description begins Henry B. Dawson, comp. Papers Concerning the Capture and Detention of Major John André. Yonkers, N.Y., 1866. description ends , 60–61).

British naval captain Andréw Sutherland supplied his version of André’s final rendezvous with Arnold when he wrote Clinton from the Vulture off Spuyten Duyvil Creek, N.Y., on 5 Oct.: “Your Excellency has already been informed, that on the night of the 21st of September, a Mr. Smith came on board with a flag of truce. The substance of his order was, for himself and two servants to pass to Dobbs’s Ferry and back again. He likewise had a wri[t]ten permission to bring up with him a Mr. John Anderson and boy, and a letter addressed to Col. Robinson: All these papers signed B. Arnold.

“Most of these circumstances I had been previously taught to expect; and I had also been informed that Major André was the person understood by John Anderson, and that he was to go on shore under that name, to hold a conference with General Arnold. Mr. Smith’s powers appeared to me of sufficient authority; and as Major André’s going under a fictitious name was at the particular request of the officer from whom they were derived, I saw no reason for supposing he, from that circumstance, forfeited his claim to the protection they must otherwise have afforded him. Clear I am that the matter must have appeared in the same light to him; for had it not, measures might have been concerted for taking him off whenever he pleased, which he very well knew I, at any time, was enabled to accomplish. I am likewise persuaded Mr. Smith’s ideas perfectly coincided with ours; for when on the point of setting off, Col. Robinson observed, that as they had but two men in a large boat, they would find some difficulty in getting on shore, and proposed that one of our’s should tow them some part of the way; to which he objected, as it might, in case of falling in with any of their guard-boats, be deemed an infringement of the flag.

“On my first learning from Major André, that he did not intend going on shore in his own name, it immediately occurred to me, that an alteration of dress might be likewise necessary; and I offered him a plain blue coat of mine for that purpose, which he declined accepting, as he sa[i]d he had the Commander in Chief’s direction to go in his uniform, and by no means to give up his character; adding, at the same time, that he had not the smallest apprehension on the occasion, and that he was ready to attend General Arnold’s summons, when and where he pleased.

“The night the flag was first expected, he expressed much anxiety for its arrival, and all next day was full of fear lest any thing should have happened to prevent its coming. The instant it arrived on the ensuing night, he started out of bed, and discovered the greatest impa[t]ience to be gone; nor did he in any instance betray the least doubt of his safety or success.

“I own I was equally confident, nor can I now on the most mature consideration, find the least reason for altering my opinion. What, therefore, could possibly have given rise to so tragical an event, as has unhappily befallen Major André, is matter of the utmost surprize and concern to me” (Case of Andre description begins The Case of Major John Andre, Adjutant-General to the British Army, Who was put to Death by the Rebels, October 2, 1780, Candidly Represented: With Remarks on the said Case. New York, 1780. description ends , 15; see also Document III).

6See Document I.

7See Documents II and V.

8See Documents VII and VIII.

Tallmadge wrote Col. Samuel Blachley Webb from headquarters at Tappan on 30 Sept.: “You have doubtless heard before this of the rascally conduct of Arnold. … Poor Andre, who has been under my charge almost ever since he was taken, has yesterday had his trial, and tho’ his sentence is not known, a disgraceful death is undoubtedly allotted to him. By Heavens! Col. Webb, I never saw a man whose fate I foresaw, whom I so sincerely pitied. He is a young fellow of the greatest accomplishments, and was the Prime Minister of Sir Henry on all occasions. He has unbosomed his heart to me, and indeed, let me know almost every motive of his actions so fully since he came out on his late mission that he has endeared himself to me exceedingly. Unfortunate man! He will undoubtedly suffer death tomorrow, and tho’ he knows his fate, seems to be as cheerful as if he was going to an assembly. I am sure he will go to the gallows less tearful for his fate, and with less concern than I shall behold the tragedy. Had he been tried by a Court of ladies, he is so genteel, handsome, polite a young gentleman, that I am confident they would have acquitted him. …

“Jos. Smith, an accomplice with Arnold, I also bro’t on with me; he is now under trial” (Ford, Webb Correspondence and Journals description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed. Correspondence and Journals of Samuel Blachley Webb. 3 vols. New York, 1893–94. description ends , 2:293–97, quotes on 293–94; see also The Smith Family and Major General Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 26 Sept.–30 Oct., editorial note).

9See Documents IX, XI, XII, and XIV.

Capt. Aaron Ogden, who commanded a light infantry company under Major General Lafayette in September 1780, later recalled that he had “received an order from the Commander-in-Chief to attend at Headquarters the next morning [presumably 30 Sept.] at 8 o’clock precisely, when he was met by General Washington alone, at his tent door, who put into his hands a packet addressed to his Excellency Sir Henry Clinton Commander … and at the same time directed him to carry it with a flag of truce, under an escort of twenty-five dragoons, to the next post of the enemy and deliver it into the hands of the commanding officer there, that he should get for himself the best horse he could obtain and call on the Marquis La Fayette for special instructions. …

“General La Fayette’s instructions to Captain Ogden were, that he should if possible, get within the British Post at Paulus hook, and continue there during the night, and that he should privately assure the Commanding officer there, without taking him aside for the purpose, that he, Captain Ogden, was instructed to say, that if Sir Henry Clinton would in any way whatever suffer General Washington to get within his power General Arnold, then Major André should be immediately released.

“Captain Ogden so managed as to get into the post where he was politely offered accommodation for the night; no opportunity presented itself untill supper, when he was seated next to the Commanding officer there, who on receiving the communication, immediately arose from the table, and returned in about two hours from the City of New York, being the headquarters of Sir Henry Clinton, with a laconic answer from him ‘that a deserter was never given up’ and that my horse would be ready for my departure early the next morning. Thus this benevolent experiment of General Washington in favor of the unfortunate André failed and this accomplished scholar and gentleman suffered an ignominious death, while the infamous Arnold was receiving the reward of his treachery to his General and his treason to his country” (Ogden, Autobiography description begins Autobiography of Col. Aaron Ogden, of Elizabethtown. An Original Document written by Col. Aaron Ogden for his children. Paterson, N.J., 1893. description ends , 11–12; see also Lossing, Pictorial Field-Book description begins Benson J. Lossing. The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution; or, Illustrations, by Pen and Pencil, of the History, Biography, Scenery, Relics, and Traditions of the War for Independence. 2 vols. New York, 1851–52. description ends , 2:200–203, and Document X, n.2).

10See Document XIII. For André’s specific locations and movements between 20 Sept. and his execution on 2 Oct., see “Route of André,” in Magazine of American History description begins Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries. 30 vols. New York, 1877–93. description ends , 3 (1879):756–59.

11Ford, Journals of Hugh Gaine description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed. The Journals of Hugh Gaine, Printer. 1902. Reprint. [New York] 1970. description ends , 2:100–101. Lt. Johann Ernst Prechtel of the Anspach Regiment, then in camp at Harlem, N.Y., recorded in his diary entry for 9 Oct.: “The unhappy fate which the English Major André, the Adjutant General for the General-in-Chief Clinton, received from the enemy was reported here and made known to the army today” (Prechtel, Diary description begins Johann Ernst Prechtel. A Hessian Officer’s Diary of the American Revolution. Translated and edited by Bruce E. Burgoyne. Bowie, Md., 1994. description ends , 190). In his dispatch written at New York City on 29 Oct., Hessian major Carl Leopold Baurmeister remarked on the aftermath of André’s execution: André’s “servant brought back his uniform and a watch, redeemed for forty guineas. … His death has caused many tears to be shed, and the fact that every British officer wears crêpe is an indication how much his death is lamented” (Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 388; see also Ewald, Diary description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends , 250; Rosengarten, “Popp’s Journal,” description begins Joseph G. Rosengarten. “Popp’s Journal, 1777–1783.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 26 (1902): 25–41, 245–54. description ends 36–37; and Döhla, Hessian Diary description begins Johann Conrad Döhla. A Hessian Diary of the American Revolution. Translated and edited by Bruce E. Burgoyne. Norman, Okla., and London, 1990. description ends , 139).

12Simcoe, Operations of the Queen’s Rangers description begins John Graves Simcoe. Simcoe’s Military Journal: A History of the Operations of a Partisan Corps, Called the Queen’s Rangers, Commanded by Lieut. Col. J. G. Simcoe, during the War of the American Revolution . . .. 1844. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 292–95.

13For a contention that Clinton displayed caution in the immediate aftermath of André’s execution and suppressed a pamphlet containing pertinent documents and an argument that GW had murdered the British officer, see J. C. Stockbridge, “The Case of Major André,” Magazine of American History description begins Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries. 30 vols. New York, 1877–93. description ends 3 (1879):739–42.

Loyalist newspaper publisher James Rivington printed The Case of Major John André, Adjutant-General to the British Army, Who was put to Death by the Rebels, October 2, 1780, Candidly Represented: With Remarks on the said Case (New York, 1780). The preface of this work, datelined “NEW-YORK, Nov. 28, 1780,” reads: “THE Public was much distressed at Major André’s Death; and by that Distress, gave the highest Testimony of his Merit. The Inhabitants, within the British Lines, were equally affected with the Army; whilst their joint Indignation manifestly shewed the general Sense of the Injustice and Inhumanity with which that amiable and gallant Officer was treated by the Rebels. Those who were so much interested in his Behalf, are probably desirous of seeing his Case properly stated—this is done in the following Papers.

“The Letters that were written during the Transactions which proved so fatal to Major Andre, will best elucidate his Views and Conduct… Justice to Major André’s Memory, required that these Matters should be placed in a true Light; especially as the Account of his Case and Trial, lately published by the Rebels (which is very imperfect and partial) evidently tends to tarnish his Character, as well as to justify, or at least to palliate, their barbarous Treatment of him. To relate Truth, is, in this as in many other Cases, the same as to refute Falsehood and Misrepresentation.” See also Proceedings of a Board of General Officers Held by Order of His Excellency Gen. Washington … Respecting Major John Andre … September 29, 1780 (Fishkill, N.Y., 1780). For the several printings of this title, see Evans, American Bibliography description begins Charles Evans et al. American Bibliography and Supplement. 16 vols. Chicago, Worcester, Mass., and Charlottesville, Va., 1903–71. description ends , 6:106–7.

Subsequent commentary in the Rivington pamphlet reads: “I. Major André was put to death, by the rebels, as a spy; but it is freely submitted to the candid, unprejudiced Reader, after he has perused the preceding Case, whether the charge was not groundless.

“Spies are persons who insinuate themselves among an enemy, pry into their designs, and view their army, camp, or fortifications. The character of spies necessarily implies, and the nature of their business requires, that they should act clandestinely, without the knowledge or privity of the enemy, especially of their principal Commanders; and they are generally allured to undertake this service by pecuniary rewards. Now every thing of this sort was foreign to Major Andre’s design. His station placed him above such service; his business was of quite a different nature. He had been invited to a conference by Major General Arnold; and to hold that conference was his only obj[e]ct in going ashore from the Vulture. The place appointed for their interview was without the enemy’s posts; Major Andre went ashore in his uniform, and in a boat au[t]horised as a flag of truce by General Arnold, the Commanding Officer of the district, to carry him; and he went with the intention of immediately returning when the conference was ended. Do any of t[h]ese circumstances indicate the spy? Do they not evidently shew that the character did not belong to Major Andre?

“But the rebels assert that Major Andre did not go ashore in a flag of truce. …

“But there is the clearest evidence from the express testimony of General Arnold, Colonel Robinson, and Captain Sutherland, that Major Andre went ashore under the sanction of a flag. The boat indeed might not have had a white flag displayed; but the reason was, that it came in the night, when a white flag could not be seen, and was therefore use[l]ess.

“Mr. Joshua Smith, who commanded the boat, was authorised by General Arnold, to go to the Vulture, and bring ashore the persons specified in his commission. This commission he produced on board the Vulture; it was written by General Arnold, the officer who commanded on shore; and it constituted his boat a real flag of truce, whether it came by day or by night; whether it had, or had not, a white flag displayed. …

“Besides these, there are other circumstances which clearly prove that the boat in question was considered as a true, proper flag of truce. It is evident that Mr. Smith, was not privy to General Arnold’s designs, and that he knew nothing of Major Andre’⟨s⟩ business. In this case, would he have ventured to go to an enemy’s ship of war, had he not conceived himself to be under the sanction of a flag? Colonel Robinson intended to accompany Major Andre, but as his name was not mentioned in General Arnold’s flag, he was left behind. When it was proposed to man the Vulture’s boat, and assist in towing Mr. Smith’s boat, which had but two men to row it; Major Andre, and Mr. Smith, strongly objected to it, as not consistent with the character of a flag. Can any thing be more evident than that this boat was a flag of truce, and was considered as such by all parties?

“Major Andre himself neither had, nor could have any other sentiments of the matter at the time. He, equally with Mr. Smith, objected to the proffered assistance in towing them ashore by the Vulture’s boat; he went in his uniform, and expressed the fullest confidence in his safety. In all this, did he not evidently act on the principle, and on a firm belief, that he went under the sanction of a flag, duly authorised by General Arnold?”

The pamphlet continues: “The boat in which he went ashore, was certainly a flag of truce, and no subsequent expression or declaration of his [GW’s] could make it otherwise. It only shews that Major Andre reasoned ill from unquestionable facts, and admitted consequences which did not justly follow. This could only proceed from the embarrassment of his situation, and of which his enemies ungenerously availed themselves to effect his ruin. The candid heart of Major Andre, was too little versed in the mazy labyrinths of deceit, to deal with such adversaries. The drawing wrong conclusions to his own disadvantage, was a certain proof of his candour. With men of honour and generous sentiments, this should have operated in his favour—with his judges it had the contrary effect.

“It would be needless to dwell minutely on the other circumstances which are adduced by the rebels to support their charge against Major Andre, viz. that under a feigned name, and in a disguised habit, he passed their works at Stoney and Verplank’s Points.

“I shall just observe, that the feigned name had been assumed by Major Andre, long before he left New-York; and for the purpose of carrying on a correspondence, not of acting the part of a spy—that the change of dress, so far as it took place, (for it was only partial) was made by the express order of General Arnold, when Major Andre was in a district where that Gentleman commanded—that in passing the rebel works at Stoney and Verplank’s Points, Major Andre did no more than cross the North River at a common, public ferry. …

“To refute these, and other allegations of the sort urged by the rebels, no more is necessary than to declare the simple truth.—First; that all those circumstances took place, not onl[y] with the knowledge, but by the positive orders of General Arnold, who commanded in that district; which wholly exculpates Major Andre from the charge of a spy. I would beg leave to ask—Did not General Arnold command there at the time? While he was possessed of the command, had he not a right to issue his orders? Were not his orders and authority a just warrant and protection for Major Andre? And did they not exclude every idea of a spy? However the rebels might disapprove of General Arnold’s conduct, could this affect Major Andre? When they are engaged in such a contest as the present, which threatens this country with utter ruin, and servitude from France; can they think otherwise than that some of their Generals—influenced by principles of humanity and freedom, and desirous of averting that ruin and servitude—will abandon so infamous a cause, and return to their natural and rightful Sovereign, who offers peace, security, and freedom to this country? And is it right, that on these occasions, the innocent should suffer for those whom they may be pleased to deem guilty?

“In the next place; that Major Andre neither intended, nor employed, any of those alleged circumstances to serve the purposes of a spy. He did not, in truth, view the rebel army; he did not visit or enter into any rebel post; he did not confer with any person except General Arnold, to confer with whom was the sole object of his going ashore; neither did he do any thing else to serve or act as a spy. On the contrary, there is the clearest evidence, that his business and designs were wholly different from those of spies, and consequently, that he was no spy. General Washington and the Board of rebel officers were no strangers to that evidence; let the world then judge of the equity of their decision and procedure. …

“II. From the preceding case it appears that there was not only much precipitancy in the execution of Major Andre; but a vein of low duplicity runs through the whole of the rebel proceedings in this business. …

“Such duplicity and tergiversation is very unbecoming men of honour in any case—in so serious a matter, where the life of a most worthy, innocent man, and the cause of humanity, were deeply concerned, it was highly criminal. The guilt on this occasion was the more aggravated, as the charge was falsely founded; and those who brought it, must have known it to be so. Every judicious, unprejudiced person must be clearly of opinion, that General Washington and the Board of rebel o[f]ficers did not, and cou’d not believe that Major Andre was really a spy—unless it be urged in their behalf, that through habitual duplicity, and resigning themselves to the influence of prejudice and resentment, they lost, as sometimes happens, the power of distinguishing between appearances and reality, between truth and fals[e]hood. If they, or their friends, chuse to avail themselves of this plea, I have no objection. …

“III. From General Washington’s letters to the Board of officers, and to his Excellency, the Commander in Chief, it appears that he (Washington) had prejudged Major Andre’s case. … If this was the case, what need of the trial by a Board of officers? Why was that farce acted? The commander of an army is certainly competent to order the execution of an acknowledged spy. And had Gen. Washington proceeded thus summarily, it had been infinitely more pardonable, than the manner in which he has acted. In the former case, he would perhaps be charged with rashness and passion—the world will find a name for the latter.

“General Washington is a very prudent man—he does those things with deliberation, which others do in heat. Conscious that the putting Major Andre to death, circumstanced as that gentleman was, must be attended with much blame; the prudent, deliberate General judged it best that others should take a share of that blame. In the Board of General Officers, he knew he had willing instruments for his purpose; and he thought that blame or guilt, when portioned out among many, like a divided stream, becomes less. Some people in the transports of rage, or disappointment, or on some trying emergency, will do what they would shudder at in the calm hour of reflection; but commend me to the man, who with affected moderation, steady tranquility, and cool deliberation, can do what no rage, however violent, no emergency, however trying, can justify!

“It may be fairly concluded, that General Washington was unalterably determined on Major Andre’s death, from the beginning. He seems to have hurried on the execution, lest something should have intervened to thwart his purpose, and save that unfortunate gentleman—there was an interval of only two days between the trial and execution. …

“In addition to all this, it should be observed, that the report of the Board of officers laid no necessity on General Washington to hurry Major Andre’s execution, or to put him to death; he had it fully in his power to save him, notwithstanding their report; and there is no evidence that the Congress interfered in the matter, or gave any order that Major Andre should be put to death. So that General Washington should be considered as the Murderer of Major Andre. This, I may venture to say, is the opinion of every Loyalist in America—it must be the opinion of all impartial people, in every part of the world, who know or read Major Andre’s Case.

“Whatever may be the consequences of Major Andre’s execution, (and many that are bad may follow) one is certain—it has fixed an indelible stain on General Washington’s character—a stain which no time can efface. The reflection that he doomed this innocent and worthy Gentleman to death, merely to serve the views of ambition and policy, must imbitter all his future enjoyments. His name will be transmitted to posterity with this hateful circumstance—that he was the unrelenting Murderer of Major Andre.

“IV. It is inconceivable that personal resentment against this Gentleman could instigate Gen. Washington to act thus. Nothing of this sort appears; and so far as any thing that was personal might interfere, the gentle and winning manners of Major Andre would disarm, rather than provoke resentment, had he been a prisoner among the most savage of mankind. Some other cause therefore must have operated, and produced so base a conduct.

“Major Andre himself has hinted that ‘he was the victim of policy.’ But of what policy? Not of any certainly that tended to the honour of the American army, or advantage of the American colonists. It was no proof of valour in the former, or that they were engaged in a just cause; neither was the doing an ill and cruel thing any indication of fortitude in their leaders. True valour and fortitude are always generous and humane; cowardice is the reverse—it is cruel and unforgiving. The tears shed by the rebel soldiers on the occasion, did them honour, and exculpated them from any share in the guilt: and after thus sympathizing with this brave man, unjustly put to death, how can they be attached to the leader who is stained with his blood?

“With regard to the Colonists at large, this affair must prove injurious, by its tendency to raise a spirit of retaliation in the British army. Who can tell what numbers of the Colonists in rebellion may suffer death on this account, who might otherwise be spared? An incensed soldiery cannot always be restrained; to say nothing of the retaliation which this step will not only justify, but demand.—On the other hand, much good and many benefits both to the rebel army and Colonists would have accrued from lenity, or even shewing justice to Major Andre. It would have given rise to acts of mutual humanity, have prevented the effusion of blood, and thereby softened the horrors of this unnatural war.

“If then there was policy in the case, as undoubtedly there was, it could only relate to General Washington. What the object was which this political stroke aimed at, we are now to enquire; and probably the letter of Colonel Hamilton (General Washington’s aide de camp) to Captain Sears, lately intercepted, may lend a clue that will guide us to the true object. Many a dark scheme of policy has been unravelled and brought to light by such accidents. That letter is dated in October, near the time when Major Andre was executed; it was written by General Washington’s confidential friend, and therefore we cannot doubt of its containing that General’s sentiments; and it is written to a man who, from the beginning of this rebellion, is well known to have been a tool, employed by abler heads, to carry on the schemes of revolt, and forward measures that were new and difficult in the execution; by bellowing at popular meetings, and preparing people’s minds for the reception of those schemes and measures.

“From that letter we learn, that the leaders of this rebellion find themselves still in want of many things which are essential to their system, and necessary to accomplish their purpose; for the Colonel declares ‘it is impossible the contest can be much longer supported on the present footing.’ The articles they have not yet, but must have soon, are many; though one seems particularly necessary; and to prevent any alarm by the proposal of it, it is very dexterously disguised, diversified, and shuffled in among others which are seemingly harmless. The Colonel asserts,‘we must have a government with more power—we must have an administration different from Congress, and in the hands of single persons under their orders.’

“Affairs in America, are now verging to that point which had long since been foreseen; and which the experience of mankind, in similar situations, had taught us to expect. Popular licentiousness has scarcely ever failed to end in the despotism of ONE. This is the natural course of things, and is unavoidable. The power that is dispersed among the people, is feeble, because it is divided. To exert it with effect, it must be collected, like the rays of the sun in a focus, and concentrated in one. The circumstances which casually rise in such struggles as the present, point out the necessity of the measure; and this again gradually reconciles some people, however averse from it in the beginning; and imposes on others the necessity of submission, having no other alternative to chuse. This was the case in Rome, in England; and it would be the case in America, were the present rebellion to succeed.

“General Washington has sagacity enough to perceive this, and that matters cannot long remain as they now are. The prudent General avails himself of the confusions in which he has kindly assisted to involve his country. To support the present contest, some one person must be vested with supreme power; a power that will pervade all the American States, and call forth their united force; which, in their present democratic, disjointed form, cannot be so vigorously exerted. …

“But who can with more propriety, or greater probability of success, look up for an investiture in that authority, power or administration, whether under the name of King, Protector, or Dictator, than General Washington himself? In these times however, when so many are shaken in their attachment to Congress, by the pressure of calamities, that are still increasing; and by the prospect of inevitable ruin and slavery to America, on the rebel plan; it was necessary for General Washington to give the Congress, and the determined rebels out of Congress, on whom he more depends, the fullest proof of his firm adherence to their cause: It might also be convenient to create a further necessity for the office of King or Dictator, by pushing matters to greater extremities. Now what can be conceived more happily adapted to all these purposes, than the putting Major Andre, Adjutant-General of the British army, to death? On this view of the matter, his innocence and rank, instead of saving him, pleaded strongly against him; they were incentives to punish, and insured his destruction. For according to the well known maxim of the rebels, the greater sacrifice a man makes of loyalty, honour, justice, gratitude, &c. in their behalf, he is deemed so much the more meritorious, and a truer friend to their cause.

“If all those circumstances are duly weighed, compared, and laid together, they will fairly account for the treatment that Major Andre met with; and this inference will naturally follow, that he fell a victim to General Washington’s ambition.

“V. The execution of Major Andre gave general disgust even to the rebels. It is a certain fact, that many of them have pronounced it a rash, ill-judged step; and that the evidence against him even according to their own account, did not justify such severity. They have also expressed their apprehensions of retaliation, and other bad consequences, without any visible benefit, or probable advantage from such unrelenting rigour. And although General Washington, took prudent measures to impart a share of the blame to others, and shift it as much as he could from himself; yet still he was considered as the principal actor in the tragedy, and the most guilty in this dark business.

“The prudent General and his adherents were conscious of this, and have used some expedients to ward off the inconveniences that might arise from it. Among other advocates, a trusty friend (supposed to be Colonel Hamilton) stepped forth, and wrote a letter which was artfully calculated for the purpose, and has been circulated by the rebel news-papers, through every part of the continent that owns the sway of Congress*.

“The letter-writer attempts to justify all the proceedings against Major Andre; he affects to treat with ridicule the arguments that were offered in his behalf; but we must beg his pardon for not being complaisant enough to be laughed out of the principles of humanity, justice and truth. At the same time, he says many handsome things of Major Andre, and is even lavish in his praise. Another letter-writer, who figures under the signature of Z, and is embarked in the same design with the former, bestows many encomiums on Major Andre; and tells us—‘General Washington admired Major Andre, and shed tears at his death.’

“Now all this was to do wonders among the credulous populace. Their scruples and imputations must instantly vanish; for how could they imagine that General Washington, whose Aide de Camp, and other friends, said such fine things of Major Andre, could treat that gentleman with cruelty or injustice? Or that he could weep, like the Crocodile, over the victim he had destroyed? …

“This, I presume, is one of those ‘authorised maxims of war, which are the satire of human nature,’ a most keen satire indeed on all who dare avow and practice such; ambition is their only guide, the sword their law, arbitrary will their rule of justice, superior force their right, and self-interest the spring of all their actions. Were such maxims universally adopted, all honour, justice, gratitude and integrity, would soon be banished from the earth. In truth, this gentleman undertook a task which was above his, or any other man’s abilities, viz. To vindicate General Washington from the charge of injustice and cruelty to Major Andre; and yet do justice to Major Andre.

“VI. The letters and proceedings which have been brought to public view in Major Andre’s Case, throw much light on the state of things here. Among other matters deserving of notice, we perceive how very different the spirit and principles are, which actuate the Commander in Chief and the British officers, from those which influence the Rebel Chief and his associate leaders. How striking a contrast is the humane procedure on the one side, to the outrage and barbarity on the other! The one, pleading for, and asserting the rights of humanity and justice; the other, insulting and trampling on those rights! The one, urging that a mutual exchange of kind offices might take place to soften the horrors of war; the other, spurning those overtures, and persisting to do what must increase these horrors! The one demonstrating the sincerity of their professions by sparing lives that were forfeited to justice; the other, evincing their unfeigned malignity, by putting those to death who were innocent! …

“If the reader would see another instance of the humane and generous procedure on the King’s side, let him look into the Appendix that is annexed. A man who has any sentiments of delicacy will probably be surprized, that immediately after the execution of Major Andre, Gen. Washington should apply to the Commander in Chief, and request a favour. Yet this was actually done four days only after that tragical event!—If the mind is disgusted at such a request under those circumstances; it must also be filled with admiration at the answer that was returned. The neglect shewn by General Washington to prior applications from the Commander in Chief, and on a subject very interesting to him, would have justified the latter in shewing an equal neglect on this occasion. But where the cause of humanity was concerned, all difficulties instantly vanished.

“An answer was immediately returned to General Washington’s letter … These assurances, I say, whilst they reflected the highest honour on the author, must have stung General Washington to the heart, since his own conduct had lately been just the reverse of all this; the blush of conscious guilt must have reddened his cheek, whilst he read them.

“The difference, so manifest in all those cases, should not be referred to causes that are personal only; although they have very great weight, as might be evinced, did not delicacy forbid me to enlarge on them. One cause is obvious, and should not be passed over. The Commander in Chief acts by the orders, and is the representative, of a most amiable Sovereign, who wishes to reclaim, and not destroy, his deluded subjects: His antagonist is an usurper, raised by the caprice of fortune to a station which he could not have reasonably aspired to—his conduct is such as might be expected from that character; and from one who is in the pay and service of France;* and by the assistance of France, aims at sovereignty. The claims of rightful sovereigns are founded in justice and truth; to assert those claims, they need not depart from the rules of honour and humanity; for these will best serve, and are most suitable to their purpose: Usurpers invade the rights of others; breach of faith, persecution, carnag⟨e⟩ and cruelty must therefore mark their progress; for these only can insure success to their ambitious views.

“Every friend to humanity must lament that the mild and generous spirit of Government has not met with more deserving objects—that hitherto its advances towards reconciliation and peace have been lost on the rebels, who have ascribed them to fear and pusilanimity. In this, they probably judge of others by themselves; for those who have no generous sentiments of their own, will scarcely recognize them in others. With their loyalty, the leaders of this rebellion seem to have renounced all regard to humanity, justice and truth; as might be proved by a thousand instances, besides the case of Major Andre. To those who are not acquainted with their principles and proceedings, a just character of them would appear little better than satyr and invective. But it may be averred with the strictest truth—that insolence in prosperity, or where they have power—crouching meanness in adversity, and duplicity in both, are their established characteristics. On such men, there can be no other tie than that of Fear.—Nothing else can restrain or bind them. …

“Among other amiable qualities, Major Andre had the nicest feelings of honour and decorum. Though perfectly resigned, when his doom was announced, yet he was shocked at the thought of dying on a gibbet. Provided he was put to death, and made the victim of policy, he did not conceive that the mode of his death could be an object of any moment to his enemies. Filled with this fond opinion, he wrote to General Washington the following letter, in which we recognize the delicacy of sentiment, and manly fortitude which distinguished the author. …

“The perusal of this letter awakens every tender emotion of the heart. The time, the subject, the request, the manner in which it is made, and the person who makes it, all conspire to interest us. What must we think of the heart that was impenetrable to such a request! And how must every feeling of humanity be shocked when we learn that this last request was barbarously refused—this indulgence cruelly denied—an indulgence which had been granted a thousand times before on similar occasions! The letter was not even answered; and Major Andre was not apprized that he must undergo the only thing he dreaded, till the moment he was led forth to execution! …

“That dignity and firmness which accompanied him through every former stage of life, forsook him not in his last moments. …

“Although Major Andre was thus praised by the rebels, (as he had been put to death) to serve the purposes of ambitious policy; yet this ⟨cou⟩ld not detract from the testimony here given; because it was extorted by the force of truth and conviction. His tranquillity and intrepid behaviour at the approach of death, were suitable to his character and greatness of mind; and what all who knew him, would naturally expect. For in few individuals were so many amiable qualities—in few were so many and great virtues, united” (pp. 16–27; see also n.5 above, and Documents II, VII, VIII, XIII, and XIV; The Smith Family and Major General Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 26 Sept.–30 Oct. 1780, editorial note; and GW to Clinton, 6 Oct., and n.3 to that document). The first asterisk in the passage from the pamphlet draws attention to a footnote: “See a very long letter, which common fame gave to this gentleman, and from many circumstances the presumption is strong that it was his. … In general, facts are stated in this letter with tolerable candour, but they are tortured to conclusions which they will not bear” (p. 23; see Alexander Hamilton to John Laurens, c.11 Oct., in Document I, n.2). The second asterisk in the passage from the pamphlet points to a footnote: “General Washington is a Lieutenant Ceneral and an Admiral in the French service” (p. 25). The pamphlet also references Hamilton to Isaac Sears, 12 Oct. (see Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 2:472–73).

14Willcox, American Rebellion description begins William B. Willcox, ed. The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775–1782, with an Appendix of Original Documents. New Haven, 1954. description ends , 217–18 (square brackets in source); see also Document XV. Clinton announced André’s demise in an order from New York dated 8 Oct.: “THE Commander in Chief does with infinite regret, inform the army of the death of the Adjutant General, Major Andre.

“The unfortunate fate of this officer, calls upon the Commander in Chief to declare his opinion, that he ever considered Major Andre as a gentleman, as well as in the line of his military profession, of the highest integrity and honour, and incapable of any base action, or unworthy conduct.

“Major Andre’s death is very severely felt by the Commander in Chief, as it assuredly will by the whole a[r]my; and m[u]st prove a real loss to his country, and to his Majesty’s service” (Case of Andre description begins The Case of Major John Andre, Adjutant-General to the British Army, Who was put to Death by the Rebels, October 2, 1780, Candidly Represented: With Remarks on the said Case. New York, 1780. description ends , 16).

15Steuart, Last Journals of Walpole description begins A. Francis Steuart, ed. The Last Journals of Horace Walpole During the Reign of George III From 1771–1783, with Notes by Dr. Doran. 2 vols. London, 1910. description ends , 2:334–35. Walpole, who misidentified André’s rank and father, elaborated on Arnold when he wrote Anne Fitzpatrick, countess of Upper Ossory, from London on 16 Nov.: “A good courtier yesterday sang the praises to me of that atrocious villain Arnold, who, he said, till he heard of Andrée’s execution, would not discover the persons at New York, with whom Washington was in secret correspondence; then indeed he did. Christ Jesus! only think of the monster! I hope he will be a Privy Councillor! betraying to Sir Harry Clinton in the height of his indignation for Andrée the wretched poor souls cooped up in New York, who are guilty of that correspondence. When I expressed my horror at such bloody treachery, and said I did not doubt but Lord Cornwallis’s savage executions had hurried on Andrée’s fate, and were, besides cruel, indiscreet; the same apologist said, ‘Oh! we have more prisoners of theirs, than they have of ours.’—How tender to their own friends, who they do not care if hanged, provided they can spill more buckets of blood! I know nothing of poor Andrée—he is much commended, but so he would be, if as black as Arnold” (Lewis, Walpole’s Correspondence description begins W. S. Lewis et al., eds. The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence. 48 vols. New Haven, 1937–83. description ends , 33:237–40, quote on 239–40).

Samuel Romilly wrote his sister Catherine Roget from London on 12 Dec. with comments about André: “The fate of this unfortunate young man, and the manly style of his letters, have raised more compassion here than the loss of thousands in battle, and have excited a warmer indignation against the Americans than any former act of the Congress. When the passions of men are so deeply affected, you will not expect to find them keep within the bounds of reason. Panegyrics on the gallant André are unbounded. … Certainly no man in his situation could have behaved with more determined courage; but his situation was by no means such as to admit of these exaggerated praises” (Romilly Correspondence description begins Memoirs of the Life of Sir Samuel Romilly, Written by Himself; with a Selection from His Correspondence. Edited by His Sons. 3 vols. London, 1840. description ends , 1:138–44, quotes on 143).

16Seward, Letters description begins Letters of Anna Seward: Written Between the Years 1784 and 1807. 6 vols. Edinburgh, Scotland, 1811. description ends , 6:3–6. Henry B. Dawson noted when he republished Seward’s letter: “There is a grave doubt of the correctness of this story, so far as General Washington is said to have participated in the transaction” (Dawson, Papers Concerning André description begins Henry B. Dawson, comp. Papers Concerning the Capture and Detention of Major John André. Yonkers, N.Y., 1866. description ends , 216–18, quote on 217).

In her “Monody on Major André,” Seward’s first stanza on GW reads: “Oh Washington! I thought thee great and good,/ Nor knew thy Nero—thirst of guiltless blood!/ Severe to use the pow’r that Fortune gave,/ Thou cool determin’d Murderer of the Brave!/ Lost to each fairer Virtue, that inspires/ The genuine fervor of the Patriot fires!/ And You, the base Abettors of the doom,/ That sunk his blooming honours in the tomb,/ Th’ opprobrious tomb your harden’d hearts decreed,/ While all he ask’d was as the Brave to bleed!/ Nor other boon the glorious Youth implor’d/ Save the cold Mercy of the Warrior-Sword!/ O dark, and pitiless! your impious hate/ O’er-whelm’d the Hero in the Ruffian’s fate!/ Stopt with the Feloncord the rosy breath!/ And venom’d with disgrace the darts of Death!” (Monody on André description begins Miss [Anna] Seward. Monody on Major André. To which are added Letters Addressed to Her by Major André, In the Year 1769. 2d ed. Lichfield, England, 1781. description ends , 24–25; slashes designate line breaks). A second paragraph envisioned GW’s death clouded by his injustice toward André (see Monody on André description begins Miss [Anna] Seward. Monody on Major André. To which are added Letters Addressed to Her by Major André, In the Year 1769. 2d ed. Lichfield, England, 1781. description ends , 25–26; see also Dawson, Papers Concerning André description begins Henry B. Dawson, comp. Papers Concerning the Capture and Detention of Major John André. Yonkers, N.Y., 1866. description ends , 246–47).


Map 5. The extraordinary events surrounding Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold’s treason unfolded along both sides of the Hudson River, including at the Robinson House (see fig. 3). (Illustrated by Rick Britton. Copyright Rick Britton 2019)

Index Entries