George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Nathanael Greene, 27 September 1780

To Major General Nathanael Greene

Robinson’s House Sepr 27th 1780

Dr Sir

I have concluded to send Major André of the British Army and Mr Joshua Smith who has had a great hand in carrying on the business between him & Arnold to Camp tomorrow. They will be under an escort of Horse1 and I wish You to have Separate Houses in Camp ready for their reception, in which they may be kept perfectly secure and also strong Trusty Guards trebly2 officered & that a part may be constantly in their rooms with them. They have not been permitted to be together and must be still kept apart. I would wish the room for Mr Andr⟨é⟩ to be a decent one and that he may be treated with civility3—but that he may be so guarded as to preclude a possibility of his escaping, which he will certainly attempt to effect if it shall seem practicable in the most distant degree. Smith must also be as carefully secured and not treated with asperity.4

I intend to return to morrow morning and hope to have the pleasure of seeing You in the course of the day. You may keep these several matters secret.5 I write to Mr Tilghman.6 I am Dr Sir With great regard & esteem.

Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton wrote Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne on 28 Sept.: “The General desires you on receipt of this to send a party of fifty men to proceed ten miles down the River road beyond the [King’s] ferry to give security to the guards who are conducting the prisoner’s to Head Quarters on an upper route” (Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 2:445). Pvt. Elijah Fisher’s journal entry dated 25 Sept. evidently summarized later events because he wrote that Maj. John André and Joshua Hett Smith were “brought to Head Quarters at Oringetown … garded by sixty men and Eight Commishened offisers and Eighteen sentreys” (Fisher’s Journal description begins Wm. B. Lapham, ed. Elijah Fisher’s Journal while in the War for Independence, and Continued Two Years After He Came to Maine. 1775–1784. Augusta, Maine, 1880. description ends , 16).

Wayne had written a congressional delegate on 27 Sept.: “I am confident that the perfidy of General Arnold will astonish the public; the high rank he bore, the eclat he had obtained, whether deservedly or not, justified the world in givi[n]g it him. But there were a few gentlemen who, at a very early period of this war, became acquainted with his true character. When you asked my opinion of that officer last winter, I gave it freely, and, I believe, you thought it rather strongly shaded.

“I think that I informed you I had the most despicable idea of him, both as a gentleman and a soldier, and that he had produced a conviction to me, in 1776, that honour and true virtue were strangers to his soul; and however contradictory it might appear, that he never possessed either genuine fortitude or personal bravery, and that he rarely went in the way of danger, but when stimulated by liquor, even to intoxication.

“I shall not dwell upon his military character, or the measures he had adopted for the surrender of West Point; the latter have, no doubt, been already fully mentioned by the Commander-in-chief in his despatches. But I will give you a small specimen of his peculate talents.

“What think you of his employing sutlers to retail the public liquors for his private emolument, and furnishing his quarters with beds and other furniture, by paying for them with pork, salt, flour, &c. drawn from the magazines: he has not stopped here; he has descended much lower, and defrauded the veteran soldier who has bled for his country in many a well-fought field, during five campaigns, among others, an old sergeant of mine has felt his rapacity. By the industry of this man’s wife they had accumulated something handsome to support themselves in their advanced age, which, coming to the knowledge of this cruel spoiler, he borrowed a large sum of money from the poor credulous woman, and left her in the lurch. The dirty, dirty acts which he has been capable of committing, beggar all description; and they are of such a nature as would cause the infernals to blush, were they accused of the invention and execution of them.

“The detached and debilitated state of the garrison on West Point insured success to the assailants; the enemy were all in perfect readiness for the enterprise, and only waited the return of Andre to carry it into execution. The 26th was the day fixed on for this exploit, and the discovery of Arnold’s treachery was not made until late on the 25th. At 12 o’clock of the morning of the 26th an express reached General Greene from his Excellency, who had fortunately arrived at West Point on his return from Hartford, to push on the nearest and best disciplined troops, with orders to gain the defile or pass over the Dunderburg before the enemy. The First Pennsylvania Brigade moved immediately, and on the arrival of the second express, I was speedily followed by our gallant friend, General Irvine, with the Second Brigade[.] Our march of sixteen miles was performed in four hours, during a dark night, without a single halt or a man left behind. When our approach was announced to the General he thought it fabulous; but when assured of the reality of his Tenth Legion being near him, he expressed great satisfaction and pleasure.

“The protection of this important place is committed to the Division under my command, until a proper garrison arrives. We will dispute the approaches to the works, inch by inch, at the point of the bayonet, and if necessary, decide the fate of the day in the gorge of the defiles at every expence of blood. You may rest assured that whatever may be the issue, neither the conduct of myself nor gallant assistant will ever require the palliation of a friend or cause a blush on the cheek of any affectionate acquaintance” (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 , 69–71; see also GW to Wayne, 26 Sept., and Nelson, Wayne description begins Paul David Nelson. Anthony Wayne: Soldier of the Early Republic. Bloomington, Ind., 1985. description ends , 113–14). Wayne apparently wrote a similar letter when at Haverstraw, N.Y., on 30 Sept. (see 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 , 91; see also Wayne to Hugh Shiell, 2 Oct., and Shiell to Wayne, 22 Oct., in Stillé, Wayne description begins Charles J. Stillé. Major-General Anthony Wayne and the Pennsylvania Line in the Continental Army. 1893. Reprint. Port Washington, N.Y., 1968. description ends , 235–38).

Lt. Enos Reeves had written an unidentified friend from Haverstraw on 26 Sept. that on that date “at half past one in the morning Gen. Wayne rode through the Brigade in great haste and gave Orders for us to get under Arms immediately, which we did and march’d off with the greatest secrecy and haste, and took the nearest route to King’s Ferry over the Mountains. …

“As we were on our march it was whispered among the officers, that a Spy was taken the morning of the preceeding day, and that Genl Arnold had deserted to the Enemy that evening, and that the Enemy was expected to be up as far as Haverstraw that morning … and that we were to move with all speed, and run all hazards to save West Point” (Reeves, “Letter-Books,” description begins John B. Reeves, contributor. “Extracts from the Letter-books of Lieutenant Enos Reeves, of the Pennsylvania Line.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 20 (1896): 302–14, 456–72; 21 (1897): 72–85, 235–56, 376–91, 466–76. description ends 20:306).

Writing from West Point on 1 Oct., Maj. Gen. William Irvine began a letter to Joseph Reed, president of the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council: “I was ordered here with my Brigade on the alarm that was occasioned by Arnolds Villainous business.

“I made a rapid march and found the place on my arrival in a most miserable situation in every respect—1800 Militia had been at the Post, but were chiefly Detached on various pretences, those who remained had no post assigned them, nor knew nor had a single order what to do. I have not heard from Head Quarters to day—but I have reason to believe major Andre & Smith must be Hung” (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 8:578–79). For Maj. John André’s execution on 2 Oct., see Document XIII, source note.

2Harrison initially penned “doubly” but struck out that word and wrote “trebly” above the line.

3André claimed to have received good treatment when he wrote Gen. Henry Clinton on 29 Sept. (see Document X, source note).

4Harrison initially wrote “well treated” to end the sentence but struck out “well” before writing “not” above the line and adding the final two words.

Joshua Hett Smith later wrote that he had been “closely guarded” but “shall ever retain, in grateful remembrance, the tender and sympathising consolations, which I received from a very young gentleman of the name of Edwards, from Massachuset’s-Bay government, who often commanded the guard, under whose care I was confined” (Smith, Narrative description begins Joshua Hett Smith. An Authentic Narrative of the Causes which Led to the Death of Major Andrè, Adjutant-General of His Majesty’s Forces in North America. 1808. Reprint. New York, 1969. description ends , 127–28; see also The Smith Family and Major General Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 26 Sept.–30 Oct., editorial note, especially n.12).

5Greene wrote his wife, Catharine, from Tappan on 28 Sept.: “I have only a moment to inform you by the post that General Arnold has fled to the enemy. He was about delivering the fortifications of West Point into the hands of the enemy. Happily for this country the treason was discovered before the plan was ripe for execution. Major André, the British Adjutant-general, who had been with Arnold settling the plan, was taken on his return to New York, which brought out the whole scene of villainy. Arnold got intelligence of André’s being taken just time enough to make his escape. General Washington was on his return from Hartford (to whom the capture of André was reported) and arrived at West Point a few minutes after Arnold got off. Half an hour’s stay longer would have prevented his escape and subjected him to the punishment due to his crimes. His escape was so sudden that he had only time to say to Mrs. Arnold, who had arrived in camp but a few days before, ‘I have this moment received two letters which oblige me to leave you and my country forever.’ After making this dreadful declaration, he rode off and left her in the most awful situation that imagination can form. Two days she was raving distracted.

“I expect the General into camp to-day and Major André with him in close confinement. Joshua Smith, where you lodged on your return home, near King’s Ferry, is concerned in the treason. …

“The discovery appears to have been providential, and convinces me that the liberties of America are the object of divine protection. God grant that all such perfidy may come to light. …

“You shall have a more full account of this matter in a day or two. I would have written to the Governor, but am not yet possessed of all the particulars necessary to give a full and satisfactory account. If you please you may give the Governor this short account until I can send him a more perfect one” (Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 6:319–21; see also The Discovery of Major General Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 25 Sept.–24 Nov., editorial note, especially Document I, n.2; and Nathanael Greene to William Greene, 2 Oct., in Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 6:328–33). Greene again wrote his wife on 29 Sept.: “General Washington is arrived in camp, and the British Adjutant-general and Joshua Smith, both of which are kept under strong guards. … Mr André is a very accomplished character, and while we abhor the act we cannot help pitying the man. From his apparent cheerfulness he little expects his approaching fate.

“His Excellency says Arnold has been guilty of the greatest meanness imaginable, such as cheating the sutlers of the garrison and selling the public stores. From all I can learn Arnold is the greatest villain that ever disgraced human nature. I had but a few minutes conversation with the General, the marquee being crowded with people of all characters. To-day I expect to learn more. I expect it will fall to my lot to sit as president of the court which will decide upon the crimes of Smith and André. It will be a disagreeable business, but it must be done.

“I am very apprehensive the people will be fired with jealousy from this instance of treason, and that it will be productive of mischievous consequences. God grant it may not. My pride and feelings are greatly hurt at the infamy of this man’s conduct. Arnold being an American and a New Englander, and of the rank of Major-general, are all mortifying circumstances. The event will be a reproach to us to the latest posterity. Curse on his folly and perfidy” (Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 6:321–22; see also Documents VII and VIII).

6This letter from GW to his aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman has not been found.

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