George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major John André, 24 September 1780

From Major John André

Salem [N.Y.] the 24th Sept. 1780.1


What I have as yet Said concerning myself was in the justifiable attempt to be extricated; I am too little accustomed to duplicity to have Succeeded.

I beg your Excellency will be persuaded that no Alteration in the Temper of my Mind or Apprehension for my Safety, induces me to Take the Step of Adressing you, but that it is to rescue myself from an imputation of having assumed a mean Character for treacherous purposes or Self Interest, a Conduct incompatible with the principles that actuate me, as well as with my Condition in Life.

It is to vindicate my Fame that I Speak and not to Sollicit Security.

The person in your possession is Major John André Adjutant General to the British Army.

The influence of one Commander in the Army of his Adversary is an Advantage taken in War. A Correspondence for this purpose I held; as confidential (in the present Instance) with His Excellency Sir Henry Clinton.

To favour it I agreed to meet upon ground not within posts of either Army a person who was to give me Intelligence; I came up in the Vulture M. of War for this Effect and was fetched by a Boat from the Shore to the beach; Being there I was told that the Approach of day would prevent my return and that I must be concealed until the next night. I was in my Regimentals and had fairly risked my person.

Against my Stipulation my Intention & without my Knowledge before hand I was conducted within one of your posts. Your Excellency may conceive my Sensations on this Occasion & will imagine how much more I must have been affected, by a refusal to reconduct me back the next night as I had been brought. Thus become a prisoner I had to concert my Escape. I quitted my Uniform & was passd another way in the Night without the American posts to Neutral ground, inform’d I was beyond all arm’d parties and left to press for N: York. I was taken at Tarry Town by some Volunteers.2

Thus as I have had the honour to relate was I betrayd (being Adjutant General of the B. Army) into the Vile Condition of an Enemy in disguise within your Posts.

Having avowd my Self a British Officer I have nothing to reveal but what relates to myself which is true on the honour of an Officer and a Gentleman.

The Request I have to make to Your Excellency and I am conscious I address myself well, is that in any rigor, policy May dictate a decency of Conduct towards me may mark that tho’ unfortunate I am branded with nothing dishonorable as no motive could be mine but the Service of my King and as I was involuntarily an impostor.

Another request is that I may be permitted to write an Open Letter to Sir Henry Clinton and another to a friend for Clothes & Linnen.3

I take the Liberty to mention the Condition of some Gentlemen at Charlestown who being either on parole or under protection were engaged in a Conspiracy against us. Tho’ their Situation is not Similar, they are objects who may be Set in Exchange for me or are persons whom the Treatment I receive might affect.4

It is no less Sir in a Confidence in the Generosity of your mind than on account of your Superior Station that I have chosen to importune you with this Letter. I have the hono⟨ur⟩ to be with great Respect Sir Your Excellencys Most obedt & Most humble Servant

John André Adj. Genl

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, ScCC.

Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, who had escorted André from North Castle, N.Y., to Salem, recalled how the prisoner came to write this letter and his own reaction: “I was constantly in the room with him, and he soon became very conversable and extremely interesting. It was very manifest that his agitation and anxiety were great. After dinner on the 24th, perhaps by three o’clock P.M., he asked to be favored with a pen, and ink, and paper, which I readily granted, and he wrote the letter to Gen. Washington. …

“When I received and read the letter (for he handed it to me as soon as he had written it), my agitation was extreme, and my emotions wholly indescribable.” Tallmadge then related how he conveyed André to Tappan: “I took on Major Andre, under a strong escort of cavalry, to West Point, and the next day I proceeded down the Hudson to King’s Ferry, and landed at Haverstraw, on the West side of the Hudson, where a large escort of cavalry had been sent from the main army at Tappan, with which I escorted the prisoner to Head-Quarters” (Tallmadge, Memoir description begins Memoir of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge, Prepared by Himself, at the Request of his Children. 1858. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 36–37). Tallmadge also wrote Jared Sparks from Litchfield, Conn., on 16 Nov. 1833: “No Circumstances during that eventful period made a deeper Impression on my mind than those which related to Arnold, the Traitor, & Major André, the Sufferer. I proceed then to remark that the 2d Regt of Light Dragoons, Commanded by Col. Sheldon, was stationed in advance of the Army, near North Castle, & Col. Sheldon being absent, I think at Salem, Lt Col Jameson was the Commanding officer, and I was the Major. Early in the morning of the 23d of Sept., 1780, I marched with a large Detachment of Dragoons to reconnoitre the Country below the white plains, down to East Chester, which was a sort of neutral Ground, from which Tour I did not return until late in the Evening of the same day. Soon after I halted, & had disposed of my Detachment, I was informed that a prisoner had been bro’t in that day, who called himself John Anderson.

“His Excellency Gen Washington had made an appointment to meet the Count Rochambeau … at Hartford, in Conn, about the 18th or 20th of September, and was on his return to the Army at the time of Anderson’s Capture. When I reached Lt Col Jameson’s Qrs late in the Evening of the 23d of Sept, and had learned the Circumstances relating to the Capture of sd Anderson, I was much surprised to learn that he was sent on by Lt Col Jameson to Arnold’s Head Qrs at West Point, accompanied by a Letter of Information respecting his Capture. At the same time he despatched an Express with the papers found on John Anderson to meet Gen Washington, then on his return to West Point.

“I felt very much surprised at the Course which had been taken in this business, & did not fail to state the glaring Inconsistency of their Conduct to Lt Col Jameson in a private and most friendly manner. He appeared greatly agitated, more especially when I suggested to him a plan which I wished to pursue, offering to take the entire responsibility on myself, & which, as he deemed it too perilous to permit, I will not further disclose. Failing in this purpose, I instantly set about a plan to remand the Prisoner to our Qrs again, which I finally effected, altho’ with reluctance on the part of Lt Col Jameson. When the order was about to be despatched to the Officer to bring back the Prisoner, strange as it may seem, Lt Col J——n would persist in his purpose of sending his letter to Gen Arnold—The Letter did go on, & was the first Information that Arch Traitor recd that his plot was blown up. The Officer returned with his Prisoner early the next morning. As soon as I saw Anderson, & especially after I saw him walk across the floor (which he did almost constantly), I became impressed with the belief that he had been bred to arms. I communicated my suspicion to Lt Col J——n, & requested him to notice his Gait, & especially when he turned on his heel to retrace his Course across the room. We soon concluded that the safest Course was to take the Prisoner to Salem to Col Sheldon’s Qrs, & I was appointed to take Charge of him. After we reached Salem, it was manifest that his Agitation & Anxiety greatly increased, & in the afternoon he asked to be furnished with pen, ink & paper, which were readily furnished, when he penned the Letter to Gen Washington. …

“I very soon rec’d an order to bring Andre on to West Point, under a strong escort of Cavalry; & the next day I proceeded down the Hudson to King’s ferry and landed at Haverstraw, where a large detachment of Dragoons had been sent from the main Army at Tappan, with which I escorted the Prisoner to Head Qrs.—After our arrival at Tappan, I reported the fact to Gen’l Washington, who ordered a Court. …

“Without further Comment on the measures pursued by the Enemy to obtain his release, I will only remark that on the 2d of October he was executed. I walked with him to the place of execution, and parted with him under the gallows, entirely overwhelmed with Grief, that so gallant an officer, & so accomplished a Gentleman should come to such an ignominious End” (Magazine of American History description begins Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries. 30 vols. New York, 1877–93. description ends 3 (1879):748–50; see also Documents I, VIII, and XIII).

In response to a request for further information, Tallmadge again wrote Sparks from Litchfield on 17 Feb. 1834, recalling a conversation with Lt. Col. John Jameson: “When I inquired where the Prisoner was, he informed me that he had sent him on, under Guard to Gen’l Arnold at West point. I expressed my astonishment at such a Course & immediately entered on a course of measures to frustrate what I considered so unjudicious a procedure. My first proposal was to give me leave of absence for official object which I fully explained to Col Jameson & which for special reasons I have not disclosed, as no public benefit could result from it. Failing in this request my next plan was to remand the Prisoner, then probably 8 or 10 Miles on his way to West point, which I did not accomplish until late in the Evening. After the Order was despatched for the officers & Guard to return with the Prisoner, I waited impatiently for the coming morning, when for the first time I saw the face of John Anderson.

“What influenced Col Jameson to send on Major Andre to Arnold, I cannot tell, not being present with him when he sent him off; but I well remember that he expressed great Confidence in him as I believe was the Case thro’ the Army. Until the papers were found on Anderson, I had no suspicion of his lack of patriotism or political Integrity myself.

“To your 3d enquiry, I remark that the non arrival of Col Jameson’s Letter at Arnold’s Qrs at an earlier period, is accounted for by the Countermarch of the Officer who had it in Charge with his Guard & Prisoner. I do not now recollect the distance from North Castle to West Point, but should think it was between 40 or 50 Miles.

“4th. I do not perfectly remember whether I waited for an order from Gen Washington to bring on Major Andre, or whether we judged it best to have him sent on, so as to arrive soon after the Commr in Chief, who reached West Point on the 25th of Septr. The last case is the most probable, as it was deemed unsafe to keep such a Prisoner on an advanced post, & as I think I reached West Point with Andre the 26th or 27th, & Tappan on the Day following.

“5th. When I arrived at W Point, after answering many Enquiries made by Genl Washington, I think I asked him whether he would see the Prisoner, to which he answered in the negative; nor do I believe he ever saw him while he was our Prisoner.

“When I arrived at Tappan I reported myself directly to Hd Qrs, and was informed that there was a house near to Head Qrs & a Guard of Officers ready to receive the Prisoner. In their hands I left him, and in a short time, at his own request, I returned to him, & continued with him almost the whole time until he was executed, which was on the 2d of Octr, 1780.

“I was well acquainted with Genl Wayne (Mad Anthony, as we used to call him), but do not remember to have seen him while I was at Tappan. The Commr in Chief selected the Board of Genl Officers to investigate the Case of Major Andre, & report the same with their Opinion to him, & no one took upon him the liberty to enquire why A. was Appointed a Member of the Board & B. omitted. From the time I first recd Major Andre into Custody until I deliv’d him at Tappan he was cloathed in a plain Country man’s Dress, with a Surtout overall (rather shabby), which I think he told me was J. Smith’s, at Haverstraw, where he was concealed. Soon after we reached Tappan his Regimentals were sent out from New York, in which he constantly appeared, in which he walked to the Gallows, & was executed, & in which I saw him laid in his Coffin. … I believe I have now attended to all your Queries, so far as my recollection serves me. I will now close with a few remarks, which you seem to request, and as a Historian may be entitled to receive—

“I begin then by remarking that with Arnold’s Character I became acquainted while I was a Member of Yale College & he residing at New Haven, & I well remember that I was impressed with the belief that he was not a man of Integrity. … When he was put in Command of West point, I had official Communications with him, particularly as it related to my private Correspondence with persons in N. York … When he turned Traitor, & went off, I felt for a time extremely anxious for some trusty friends in N. York, but as I never gave their names to him, he was not able to discover them, altho’ I beleive he tried hard to find them out. …

“With your Indulgence then I will add one more Anecdote of this Arch Traitor, & I shall have done with him, I hope, forever.

“After he had got settled down in his new Situation at N York, he addressed a letter to me by flag, in which he said many more flattering things as an officer than I should have dared to say of myself; and then advised me to quit the American cause & join the British Standard, assuring me that America could not succeed in her Rebellion against her Parent Country. To induce me to take this Step, he said he was authorized to offer me the same rank in the British Army that I held in the American. At first I confessed I felt somewhat mortified that my Patriotism could be even suspected by this most consummate Villain. I took the Letter, however, immediately to Genl Washington, who consoled me abundantly on the Occasion.

“I come now to treat of a very different Character, whose name will shine with Lustre & Glory, while that of the Traitor will be handed down with Infamy & disgrace to the latest posterity.

“From the moment that Major Andre made the Disclosure of his name & true Character, in his Letter to the Commander in Chief, dated Sepr 24th, 1780, which he handed to me as soon as he had written it, to the moment of his Execution, I was almost constantly with him. The Ease and affability of his manner, polished by the refinement of good Society & a finished Education, made him a most delectable Companion. It often drew tears from my Eyes to find him so pleasant & agreeable in Conversation on different Subjects, when I reflected on his future fate, & that too, as I believed, so near at hand—

“Since you ask for private Anecdotes, I would remark that soon after Acquaintance, being mutually disposed to have the most unreserved & free Conversation, & both being soldiers of equal Rank in the two Armies, we agreed on a Cartel, by the terms of which each one was permitted to put any Question to the other, not involving a third Person. This opened a wide field for two inquisitive young Officers, & we amused ourselves on the march to Head Quarters not a little. …

“My principal object was to learn the late plot. On every point that I enquired, when any other person was concerned, he maintained most rigidly the rule, so that even where that most infamous Traitor Arnold was concerned (& he out of our control), so nice was his sense of honour, that he would disclose nothing. When we left West Point for Tappan early in the morning, as we passed down the Hudson river to King’s ferry, I placed Major Andre by my side, on the after seat of the Barge.

“I soon began to make Enquiries about the expected Capture of our fortress, & begged him to inform me whether he was to have taken a part in the military attack, if Arnold’s plan had succeeded. He instantly replied in the affirmative, & pointed me to a table of Land on the West Shore, which he said was the spot where he should have landed at the head of a select Corps. He then traversed in idea the Course up the mountain into the rear of Fort Putnam, which overlooks the whole Parade of West Point, & with much greater exactness than I could have done; & as the Traitor Arnold had so disposed of the Garrison that little or no opposition could have been made by our Troops. Major Andre supposed he should have reached that important Eminence without difficulty. Thus that important key of our Country would have been theirs, & the Glory of so splendid an Atchievment would have been his. The Animation with which he gave the Account I recollect perfectly delighted me, for he seemed as if he was entering the fort, sword in hand. To complete the Climax, I then enquired what was to have been his reward if he had succeeded. He replied that military Glory was all he sought, & that the thanks of his General, & the approbation of his King, was a rich reward for such an Undertaking.

“I think he further remarked that if he had succeeded (&, with the aid of the opposing General, who would doubt of success?) he was to have been promoted to the rank of Brigdr General.

“As we progressed on our way to Tappan, before we reached the Clove, where we dined, Major André was very inquisitive to know my Opinion as to the result of his Capture. In other words, he wished me to give him my Opinion as to the light in wh he would be viewed by Genl Washington, & a Military Tribunal, if one should be ordered. I endeavored to evade the Question, unwilling to give him a true answer. When I could no longer evade this Importunity, I said to him that I had a much loved Class mate in Yale College by the name of Nathan Hale, who entered the Army with me in the year 1776. After the British Troops had entered N. York, Genl Washington wanted Information respecting the strength, position & probable movements of the Enemy. Capt. Hale tendered his services, went into N. York, & was taken just as he was passing the out posts of the Enemy; said I, with Emphasis, do you remember the sequel of this Story; Yes, said André; he was hanged as a Spy; but you surely do not consider his Case & mine alike. I replied, precisely similar, & similar will be your fate. He endeavored to answer my remarks, but it was manifest he was more troubled than I had ever seen him before—

“We stoped at the Clove to dine & to let the Horse Guard refresh; while there Andre kept reviewing his shabby Dress, & finally remarked to me that he was positively ashamed to go to the Head Qrs of the American Army in such a plight. I called my Servant, & directed him to bring my Dragoon Cloak, which I presented to André. This he refused to take for some time, but I insisted on it, & he finally put it on & rode in it to Tappan. …

“P.S. Altho’ my views & Col Jameson’s differed so widely respecting the disposal of John Anderson, I feel it to be due to his Character & Memory to declare that I never entertained a Doubt of his Patriotism & Devotedness to his Country’s Cause. In sending the Prisoner & his Letter of Information to Arnold, his Head was in fault, & not his heart. His Confidence in his Commanding General outweighed the Influence of prudent precautionary Measures” (Magazine of American History description begins Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries. 30 vols. New York, 1877–93. description ends 3 (1879):752–56; see also Tallmadge to GW, 11 Oct. 1780). For narratives of Tallmadge’s relationship with Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold and interactions with André, see Hall, Tallmadge description begins Charles Swain Hall. Benjamin Tallmadge: Revolutionary Soldier and American Businessman. New York, 1943. description ends , 56–64, and Welch, Tallmadge description begins Richard F. Welch. General Washington’s Commando: Benjamin Tallmadge in the Revolutionary War. Jefferson, N.C., 2014. description ends , 78–89, 157–61.

Joshua King, who served in 1780 as a lieutenant in the 2d Continental Dragoons, wrote Charles Hoadley from Ridgefield, Conn., on 9 June 1817 about his time with André. King’s letter, which differs from Tallmadge’s recollections, reads: “I was the first, and only officer, who had charge of him [André] whilst at the Head Quarters of the 2d Regiment of Light Dragoons, which was then at Esq. Gilbert’s in South Salem. He was brought up by an adjutant and four men, belonging to the Connecticut Militia. … He looked somewhat like a reduced gentleman. His small clothes were Nankeen, with handsome white-top Boots—in fact his undress military Clothes. His Coat purple, with gold lace, worn somewhat threadbare, with a small brimmed, tarnished Beaver on his head. He wore his hair in a queue, with long black beard, and his clothes somewhat dirty. In this garb I took charge of him. After breakfast my Barber came in to dress me, after which I requested him to undergo the same operation, which he did. When the ribbon was taken from his hair I observed it full of powder; this circumstance, with others that occurred, induced me to believe I had no ordinary person in charge. He requested permission to take the Bed whilst his Shirt and Small Clothes could be washed. I told him that was needless, for a Shirt was at his service, which he accepted. We were close pent up in a bed-room, with a Vidette at the door and window. There was a spacious yard before the door, which he desired he might be permitted to walk in with me. I accordingly disposed of my guard in such a manner as to prevent an escape. While walking together, he observed he must make a confident of somebody, and he knew not a more proper person than myself, as I had appeared to befriend a stranger in distress. After settling the point between ourselves, he told me who he was, and gave me a short account of himself. … He requested a pen and ink, and wrote immediately to Gen. Washington, declaring who he was. About midnight the express returned with orders from Gen. Washington to Col. Sheldon to send Major Andre immediately to Head Quarters. I started with him, and before I got to North Salem Meeting House met another Express with a Letter directed to the Officer commanding the party who had Major Andre in charge. This Letter directed a circuitous route to Head Quarters, for fear of recapture; gave an account of Arnold’s desertion, &c., with directions to forward the Letter to Col. Sheldon, and I did so; and before I got to the end of my journey I was joined by Capt.——and, after, by Maj. Tallmadge and Capt. Rogers” (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 , 45–50, quotes on 46–48).

1Col. Israel Angell wrote in his diary entry for this date: “Clowdy, but Soon Cleard away hot and Remaind Exceeding hot for the Season of the year till the afternoon when it began to thunder and was a Considerable of thunder and lightening, and rain” (Field, Angell Diary description begins Edward Field, ed. Diary of Colonel Israel Angell, Commanding the Second Rhode Island Continental Regiment during the American Revolution, 1778–1781. Providence, 1899. description ends , 122).

2See Document I, and n.2.

3For these letters, see Document X, source note.

4For the detained South Carolinians, see GW to Henry Clinton, 6 Oct., and notes 2 and 3 to that document.

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