George Washington Papers

To George Washington from General Henry Clinton, 26 September 1780

From General Henry Clinton

New York, Septr 26th 1780.


Being informed that the King’s Adjutant General in America has been stopt under Major General Arnold’s passports, and is detained a prisoner in your Excellency’s Army, I have the honor to inform You, Sir, that I permitted Major André to go to Major General Arnold at the particular request of that General Officer; You will perceive, Sir, by the inclosed paper that a Flag of Truce was sent to receive Major André, and passports granted for his return,1 I therefore can have no doubt but Your Excellency will immediately direct that this Officer has permission to return to my Orders at New York.2 I have the honor to be Your Excellency’s Most obedient and Most humble Servant

H. Clinton

LS, DLC:GW; LS (duplicate), DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, P.R.O.: 30/55, Carleton Papers; copy, P.R.O.: C.O. 5/100.

GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman commented on this letter when he wrote Lt. Col. John Laurens, then at Philadelphia, from Orangetown on 27 Sept.: “Sir Henry Clinton and Arnold have, by a contrivance which would have disgraced Children for its folly, fixed the Rope upon poor Andre, had there not been sufficient evidence before—Arnold writes a letter to Sir Harry and informs him that Major André came up to West point by virtue of his passport to see him on special business respecting himself, and to convey confidential papers to Sir Harry—That after the interview he was returning with his pass; but that for certain reasons it was thought best for Mr André to assume the name of Jno. Anderson. This letter is inclosed to Genl Washington under a very polite one from Sir Harry, who makes no doubt but Major André will be permitted to return after the foregoing circumstances are known—You shall have the sequel of his fate in my next—but without being a prophet you may devine it” (“Army Correspondence of Col. John Laurens,” S.C. Hist. Mag. description begins South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine. Charleston, 1900–. description ends 3 [1902]: 20–23, quotes on 22–23).

1Clinton enclosed a letter that Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold had written him from New York on this date: “In answer to Your Excellencys message Respecting Your Adjutant General Major André and desiring my Idea of the reasons why He is detained, being under my Passports, I have the honor to inform You Sir, that I apprehend a few hours must return Major Andre to Your Excellencys Orders, as that Officer is assuredly under the protection of a Flag of Truce sent by me to him for the purpose of a Conversation which I requested to hold with him, relating to myself, and which I wished to Communicate, through that Officer to Your Excellency.

“I Commanded at the Time at West Point, had an undoubted right to Send my Flag of Truce for Major André, who came to me under that protection, and having held my Conversation with him, I delivered him Confidental Papers in my Own hand writing, to deliver to Your Excellency thinking it much properer he should return by land, I directed him to make use of the Feigned Name of John Anderson, under which He had by my direction come on Shore, and gave him my Passports to go to the White Plains on his way to New York: This Officer cannot therefore Fail of being immediately Sent to New York as He was invited to a Conversation with me for which I sent him a Flag of Truce, & finally gave him Passports for his Safe return to Your Excellency; all which I had then a right to do being in the Actual service of America, under the Orders of General Washington, and Commanding General at West Point and its Dependencies” (DLC:GW).

2For GW’s reply, see Document X.

William Smith, royal chief justice of New York, wrote in his memoirs for 28 Sept.: “Sir H. Clinton sends for me. An Hour with him. He opened with his Anxiety for André, and concluded with thanking me for the Consolation I had given him in the Opinion that he was no Spy which he said agreed with all the others who had been consulted.

“He told me he had corresponded for a considerable Time with Arnold. That he gave him the Intelligence the French were coming to Rhode Island. That it was his Wish to retake it before they arrived, but Arbuthnot would not believe his Information good. … Thus he said he had lost his Advantages of ruining the French.

“He lamented the last Disappointment—blamed Arnold for not sending André back by Water. … That he had every Thing ready for seizing the Highlands and putting an End, he owned, to the War; for he had Boats of all Draughts for proceeding to Albany. That the Interview with Arnold was absolutely necessary to ascertain whether he had really been corresponding with Arnold. Arnold was desirous to favor the Capture, but he had insisted upon his being an Agent in it, and he was to have paid a great Price for the Acquisition. He regretted this Disappointment as the Loss [of] his Hope of an Instantaneous Termination of the War; said he should have had both Washington and Rochambeau Prisoners, for they were both there now.

“He should have seized the Forts with 5000, and had 5000 more ready, for he thought the Militia sufficient to take Care of this Place. I guess there was Design in this Enumeration.

“He said he had revealed the Secret only to Sir G. Rodney. Of whom he spoke favorably, and of the Force he brought with him. … He told me of his masking the Enterprize up the River by giving out a Design on the Chesapeak. That he should go there yet. Washington had not sent a Man to the Southward since Gates’s Affair. He could not. But he should, and despised his Attack upon this Place. He thought Virginia a weak Country from its being cut to Peices by deep Waters, and the Number of Slaves. He did not care whether Washington knew of his Design upon the Chesapeak or not.

“I said little for he spoke much. Except what related to André, I inlarged upon the Idea he now had of the Importance of the Hudson, and the Acquisition of it as the End of the War. …

“I almost suspect that he still has Designs upon the Hudson. There are other Generals like-minded with Arnold. On my assenting to it as probable, he questioned me as to the Person. I mentioned Bob Howe. He would not countenance nor gainsay my Suspicions, but asserted that he knew of others” (Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs [1971] description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs from 26 August 1778 to 12 November 1783 of William Smith. . .. New York, 1971. description ends , 335–36, square brackets in source; see also Willcox, 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 , 213–14).

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