George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Lieutenant General James Robertson, 30 September 1780

To Lieutenant General James Robertson

Tapaan Sepr 30th 1780


I have just received your letter of the 29th.1 Any delay which may have attended your flags has proceeded from accident and the peculiar circumstances of the occasion—not fr⟨om⟩ intentional neglect or violation. The letter that admitted o⟨f⟩ an answer has received one as early as it could be given with propr⟨iety,⟩ transmitted by a flag this morning. As to messages, I am uninformed of any that hav⟨e⟩ been sent.

The necessaries ⟨for⟩ Major André will be delivered to him agreeable to your request.2 I am Sir Your most Obed⟨t⟩ & huml. serv⟨t⟩.

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; copy, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Samuel Huntington, 7 Oct. (Document XVI), DNA:PCC, item 152; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Mutiliated material on the draft is supplied in angle brackets from the copy in DLC:GW.

The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia) for 10 Oct. 1780 printed an extract from a letter written at the Continental army camp at Tappan on 2 Oct.: “You have had the particulars of Traitor Arnold’s conduct, before his getting on board the Vulture sloop of war, which lay near Stoney-Point: but his conduct, since he went into New York, is a still greater proof of his villainy, (if greater villainy was possible) At his arrival with the British, he had upwards of fifty of our warmest friends in New York taken up, and put into dungeons and other places of confinement. But there is a providence attending the unhappy friends to their country, that puts it out of his power to injure them, other than imprisonment. Such was the precipitate flight he made, to save his neck from the halter, that he had no time to move off a single paper, or any other matter which can be a testimony against those he would otherwise ruin in person and estate. General Robertson came up yesterday to Dobb’s Ferry with a flag, which was soon dismissed, it being of so trite a nature, viz. to intreat his Excellency General Washington, at the request of Sir Harry Clinton, to use lenity to Major Andrie—it had the effect to respite him for some hours, as the flag did not return till after five o’clock, which was the hour fixed in general orders for his execution: This day at 12 o’clock it took place, by hanging him by the neck. Perhaps no person (on like occasion) ever suffered the ignominious death, that was more regretted by officers and soldiers of every rank in our army; or did I ever see any person meet his fate with more fortitude and equal conduct. When he was ordered to mount the waggon under the gallows, he replied, ‘He was ready to die, but wished the mode to have been in some more elligible way, prefering to be shot*.’ After he opened his shirt collar, fixed the rope, and tied his handkerchief over his eyes, he was asked by the officer commanding the troops, if he wished to say any thing? He replied, ‘I have said all I had to say before, and have only to request the gentlemen present, to bear testimony that he met death as a brave man.’

“The flag mentioned to have came out with General Robertson, was received by General Greene and Colonel Hamilton; and what is curious, Arnold sent his resignation, by desire, that General Washington should forward it to Congress; with an insolent letter, intimating he never would serve Congress any more, nor need they expect it. And moreover, that if Major Andrie should be executed by order of General Washington, that he would strike a blow on some of his friends on the Continent, that should sufficiently retaliate, for his loss to his Prince. General Greene, when he read the letter, treated it with contempt, and threw it on the ground, before General Robertson, which he might return to the Traitor, if he thought proper. The hanging of Major Andrie, one of the most eminent officers and polite men in the British army, and the second life of Clinton, shews we are not detered by great menaces, but determined to extirpate our enemies one by one, until peace shall be restored to our country.” The asterisk points to a footnote: “He [André] was dressed in full uniform; and after the execution his servant demanded his cloathing, which he received. His body was buried near the gallows” (see also Benjamin Tallmadge to GW, 11 Oct., and n.2 to that document). James McHenry was present with GW during the events following the discovery of Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold’s treachery and may have written this letter (see the source note to Document VII in the editorial note on that subject; see also Documents XIV and XV below).

GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton shared similar thoughts when he wrote Lt. Col. John Laurens circa 11 Oct.: “The infamy of Arnold’s conduct previous to his desertion ⟨is⟩ only equalled by his baseness since. Besides the folly of writing to Sir Henry Clinton; assuring him that André had acted under a passport from him and according to his directions, while commanding officer at a post, and that therefore he did not doubt he would be immediately sent in; he had the effrontery to write to General Washington, in the same spirit, with the addition of a menace of retaliation, if the sentence should be carried into execution. He has since acted the farce of sending in his resignation. This man is in every sense despicable. Added to ⟨the sc⟩ene of knavery and prostitution during his command in Philadelphia, which the late seizure of his papers has unfolded; the history of his command at West Point is a history of little, as well as great, villainies. He practiced every dirty art of peculation; and even stooped to connections with the suttlers of the garrison to defraud the public” (Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 2:460–70, quotes on 469–70, angle brackets in source; see also Document V above, and Documents XII and XIII in The Discovery of Major General Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 25 Sept.–24 Nov., editorial note).

1See Document IX above.

2Hamilton struck out his original start to this paragraph: “Sir Henry Clinton is info⟨rmed⟩ of Major Andrés situation.”

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