George Washington Papers

To George Washington from General Henry Clinton, 30 September 1780

From General Henry Clinton

New York Septr 30th 1780.


From Your Excellency’s Letter of this date, I am persuaded the Board of General Officers, to whom You referred the case of Major André, can’t have been rightly informed of all the circumstances on which a Judgement ought to be formed.1 I think it of the highest Moment to Humanity that your Excellency should be perfectly apprized of the State of this Matter before you proceed to put that Judgement in Execution.

For this reason I shall send His Exy Lt General Robertson and Two other Gentlemen, to give you a true State of facts, and to declare to You my Sentiments and Resolutions. They will set out tomorrow as early as the Wind and Tide will permit, and wait near Dobb’s Ferry for Your permission and safe Conduct to meet Your Excellency, or such persons as You may appoint to converse with them on this Subject. I have the honor to be Your Excellency’s Most Obedient and Most humble Servt

H. Clinton

P.S. The Honble Andrew Elliot Esqr. Lieut. Governor, & The Honble William Smith Chief Justice of this Province will attend His Excy Lieut. General Robertson.2


LS, DLC:GW; LB, MiU-C: Clinton Papers; copy, P.R.O.: 30/55, Carleton Papers; copy, enclosed in GW to Samuel Huntington, 7 Oct. (Document XVI), DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, P.R.O.: C.O. 5/100. GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison docketed the LS: “2 Letter about Major Andrés … recd 1st Octr & Interview rejected, except as to permittg Lt Genl Robertson to land & converse with Genl Greene” (see Document XIV).

A record exists of this letter’s composition. Clinton held a meeting with several British officers and civilian officials on Saturday evening, 30 Sept., to review correspondence received concerning André and determine whether he should be considered a spy. After some discussion, the assembled men decided such a designation inappropriate. One of the participants, William Smith, royal chief justice of New York, wrote in his memoirs: “After various Suggestions respecting a Letter to be sent in Answer to Washington, Sir Henry retired; and after some Time came in with a Draft. …

“It was in general approved except as to a Compliment on Washington’s Humanity. General Robertson made a Proposition for a shorter and more peremptory Letter and with the General’s Leave went out to frame it, and it was approved. …

“This Draft being approved, Chief Justice [Frederick] Smyth whispered to me that I ought to accompany General Robertson who was to go out in the Morning to Dobbs’s Ferry, and the Letter this Night by Washington’s Flag from Poulus Hook by Land.

“Soon after, General Robertson wished me to be one of the Persons who was to assist him, and upon my approaching the General he asked it. I replied that I had no other Objection than, as the Question and Business was important, it seemed fit to imploy Persons of the highest Rank in it. He replied that he could nominate none of more unexceptionable Character. I thank’d him and declared my Readiness to obey his Commands.

“The Secretary was now gone to copy the Letter, and we had Orders to direct a P.S. that the two Assistants were Mr. Elliot and myself. The Company broke up, and we agreed to breakfast with the Governor, and go off in the Greyhound in the Morning by 7 or 8 o’Clock” (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 , 336–37; see n.2 below).

1See Document X.

2This letter supplanted a draft from Clinton to GW of the same date, 9:00 P.M.: “I have this instant received your Exys letter of this days date in answer to mine to you, Sir, of the 26th instant, and I am led to observe that your Excellency does not express in your letter at what time the Board of your General Officers delivered their report, or whether the letter from Major General Arnold to me was offered to their consideration—indeed, you do not, Sir, intimate to have received it and yet give me leave to observe it must appear to be a letter containing declarations of the greatest and most serious consequences in what relates to the Adjutant General Major Andrè.

“I must take a liberty of assuring you, Sir, that I differ entirely in opinion from the decision of the American General Officers, nor can I on any account consider Major André according to the custom of Armies to ⟨have⟩ been a Spy, and consequently by no means liable from the laws of Arms, or Nations, at War to suffer Death.

“I have not any the least doubt but your Excellency will be cautious of putting to Death an Officer of the British Army under my command, and I am perfectly convinced of the real humanity which governs your conduct on all occasions and it will assuredly lead you, Sir, to not suffer too sudden an operation of so violent a measure.

“In order to have the matter respecting Major André fully discussed and investigated I would propose a meeting of three persons from each of us to converse upon the subject in question and upon their deliberations and investigations may be collected matter and facts for both our informations—the Principal officer I shall send on this occasion will be Lieut. Genl Robertson attended by two Gentlemen, to meet an equal number from you, Sir, when from the candour which may be expected from such Characters every good may be supposed to arise.

“I shall send Lt Genl Robertson and the two persons who will attend him early to morrow as Winds and Tide will allow to Dobb’s Ferry in a Flag of Truce Vessel where they will wait for any message from you, Sir, and passports for admitting the Lt Genl on Shore to the proposed conference” (P.R.O.: 30/55, Carleton Papers).

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