George Washington Papers

To George Washington from General Henry Clinton, 4 October 1780

From General Henry Clinton

New York October 4th 1780


I conceived I could not better or more fully explain my Sentiments in Answer to your Excellency’s Letter of the 30th September, respecting Major Andrè, than by Sending Lieutenant General Robertson to converse if possible with you Sir, or at least with some confidential Officer from You.1 I Cannot think Lieutenant General Robertson’s Conversation with General Green has entirely answered the purposes for which I wished the Meeting. General Green’s Letter of the 2d Instant to General Robertson expresses that he had reported to You, Sir, as far as Memory served, the Discourse that had passed between them, and that it had not produced any Alteration in your Opinion or Determination concerning Major André.2

I have, Sir, most carefully reperused your Letter of September 30th, which contains indeed an Opinion of a Board of Your General Officers; but in no Respect any Opinion or Determination of your Excellency. I must remain therefore altogether at a Loss what they may be, until you are so good to inform me, which I make no doubt of Your Excellency’s doing immediately. I will, Sir, in the mean Time very freely declare my Sentiments upon this Occasion; which positively are, that under no Description Major André can be considered as a Spy, nor by any Usage of Nations at War, or the Custom of Armies, can be treated as such. That Officer went at Major General Arnolds Request from me to him, at that Time in the American Service & commanding Officer at West Point. A Flag of Truce was sent to receive Major André, with which he went on shore and met Major General Arnold. To this Period he was acting under my immediate Orders as a Military Man. What happened after, was from the entire Direction & positive Orders of Major General Arnold, your Officer commanding at West Point. And Major Andrè travelled in his Way to New York with Passports from that American General Officer, who had an undoubted Right to grant them. And here it may be necessary to observe, that Major André was stopt upon the Road and on neutral Ground, and made a Prisoner two days prior to Major General Arnolds quitting the American Service at West Point. From all which I have a Right to assert that Major André can merely be considered as a Messenger and not as a Spy. He visited no Posts, made no Plans, held no Conversation with any Person except Major General Arnold; and the Papers found upon him were written in that General Officers own hand writing, who directed Major André to receive & deliver them to me. From these Circumstances I have no doubt but You, Sir, will see this Matter in the same Point of View with me, and will be extremely cautious of producing a Precedent which may render the future Progress of this unfortunate War liable to a Want of that Humanity, which I am willing to believe Your Excellency possesses, and which I have always pursued. I trust, Sir, to your good Sense, and to your Liberality for a speedy Release of Major André, who I am free to own is an officer I extremely value, and a Gentleman I very sincerely regard.3

I inclose to You, Sir, a List of Persons, among whom is a Gentleman who acted as the American Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina. A discovered Conspiracy & Correspondence with General Gates’s Army have been a Reason for removing these Persons from Charlestown to St Augustine. Being desirous to promote the Release of Major Andrè upon any reasonable Terms, I offer You, Sir, this Lieutenant Governor, Mr Gadsen, for my Adjutant General, or will make a Military Exchange for him, should you, Sir, prefer it.4 Lieutenant General Robertson in his Report to me mentions his having requested from your Excellency a Copy of Major Andrès Letter to You, Sir, upon which seems to be grounded great Matter of Charge against him, given as if that Letter might be considered as a Confession of his Guilt as a Spy. I have waited until this Evening with Some Impatience for the Copy of the Letter I mention, not doubting but your Excellency would send it to me. I have now to request you will, Sir, do so; and I shall pay to it every due Consideration, & give your Excellency my Answer upon it immediately.5 I have the Honor &c.

H. Clinton

LB, MiU-C: Clinton Papers; copy, P.R.O.: C.O. 5/100; copy, P.R.O.: 30/55, Carleton Papers.

Clinton wrote his sisters on 4–9 Oct. about “our late extraordinary Adventure … Notwithstanding every argument has been used W[ashington]. will Consider M. André as a Spy, for my own part I have given the affair all the examination I can & I look upon it deserving no such appellation. … I can say nothing except upon this horrid subject, W[ashington]. seems a moderate man all my friends say he will not incline nor if he did will dare execute the sentence, but till he assures me he will not I shall be in distress, and entre nous I wish I may obtain leave to resign this command or to go home on leave I will make use of neither without Circumstances should turn out such as to make my remaining in the command distressfull to me … the defection of such a man as Arnold will appear important, I think it is so, & that the Ice once broke many will follow his example but I shall be affraid to undertake them. I am of course in very bad Spirits, the weather bad also, once assured that poor Andre is & will be safe I shall revive & endeavour to improve this otherwise lucky event to the utmost and then if the Spaniards make peace with us by Xmas which I expect the business here may be soon finished, and the very instant it is I depend on my friends to release me from the most irksome command in every respect that ever officer was placed in. …

“Octr 9th

“The horrid deed is done W[ashington]. has committed premeditated murder, he must Answer for the dreadfull Consequences I feel beyond words to describe but I cannot reproach myself in the least. The first burst of passion is over, I am calm, and deliberate in my resentment, as you will observe by my Corespondence with W[ashington]. since he is become a murderer & a Jesuit, God grant me patience Make peace with Spain & give me 10000 men more” (Van Doren, Secret History description begins Carl Van Doren. Secret History of the American Revolution: An Account of the Conspiracies of Benedict Arnold and Numerous Others drawn from the Secret Service Papers of the British Headquarters in North America now for the first time examined and made public. New York, 1941. description ends , 477–80, brackets in source).

British captain John Peebles wrote in his diary entry for 6 Oct.: “This day we hear the melancholly story of poor Major André’s death … we are told that he behaved through the whole of his tryal, confinement & execution with great fortitude &, Manly Spirit; he wrote to the Comr. in Chief, begging his Commission might be sold for the benefit of his sisters, as his last request. the Genl. much afflicted & the whole army sorry for the untimely death of that promising young man” (Gruber, Peebles’ American War description begins Ira D. Gruber, ed. John Peebles’ American War: The Diary of a Scottish Grenadier, 1776–1782. Mechanicsburg, Pa., 1998. description ends , 411; see also Document X, source note).

A British officer who served with the grenadiers at New York, writing an unnamed correspondent on 12 Oct., commented on Clinton’s reaction to news of André’s death: “You may remember I have often mentioned to you Major Andre, our late Adjutant General; that he was the first Man with our Leader, and was, in truth, the Person who put in motion the whole Machine of the War. For my own Part, I shall only say, that I thought him a very promising young Officer, and that the General did not favour him above his Des[s]erts. …

“I shall only add, that his unhappy Fate caused the utmost Sorrow, Consternation and Horror throughout the Army, and the General is so much affected that none chuse to speak to him except on Affairs of Consequence.—So fell poor Andre!” (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 , 68–69).

Clinton wrote Lord George Germain from New York on 12 Oct.: “In my separate letters of yesterday’s date, I had the honour of informing your Lordship, that the American Major-general Arnold had quitted the rebel service, and joined the King’s standard; and I at the same time gave your Lordship a circumstantial detail of the reasons that induced him to take this step, as well as of the unfortunate failure of a plan which I had the most sanguine hopes, if carried into execution, would have been productive of the greatest good consequences to his Majesty’s service, but which terminated most fatally for Major Andree my Adjutant-General, who, being taken prisoner, was tried by a Board of Rebel General Officers, and condemned by their sentence to suffer death; which sentence was ordered by the Rebel General Washington to be carried into execution upon this unhappy gentleman on the 2d instant. I sincerely lament the melancholy fate of the officer, who was a very valuable assistant to me, and promised to be an honour to his country, as well as an ornament to his profession” (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 , 240–41; see also The Discovery of Major General Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 25 Sept.–24 Nov., editorial note).

GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton, in a letter to Lt. Col. John Laurens circa 11 Oct., commented on Clinton’s efforts to save Maj. John André’s life: “Several letters from Sir Henry Clinton and others were received in the course of the affair, feebly attempting to prove, that André came out under the protection of a flag, with a passport from a general officer in actual service, and consequently could not be justly detained. Clinton sent a deputation composed of Lt General Robinson [Robertson], Mr. [Andrew] Elliot and Mr. William Smith to represent as he said the true state of Major André’s case. General Greene met Robinson & had a conversation with him, in which he reiterated the pretence of a flag, urged André’s release as a personal favour to Sir Henry Clinton, and offered any friend of ours in their power in exchange. Nothing could have been more frivolous than the plea which was used. The fact was that besides the time, manner, object of the interview, change of dress, and other circumstances, there was not a single formality customary with flaggs and the passport was not to Major André, but to Mr. Anderson. But had there been, on the contrary, all the formalities, it would be an abuse of language to say, that the sanction of a flag for corrupting an officer to betray his trust ought to be respected. So unjustifiable a purpose would not only destroy its validity but make it an aggravation.

“André himself has answered the argument by ridiculing and exploding the idea in his examination before the board of officers. It was a weakness to urge it.

“There was in truth no way of saving him. Arnold or he must have been the victim; the former was out of our power.

“It was by some suspected, Arnold had taken his measures in such a manner, that if the interview had been discovered in the act it might have been in his power to sacrifice André to his own security. This surmise of double treachery made them imagine Clinton might be induced to give up Arnold for André, and a Gentleman took occasion to suggest this expedient to the latter, as a thing that might be proposed by him. He declined it. The moment he had been capable of so much frailty, I should have ceased to esteem him” (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 468–69; see also Document VIII and n.2 below).

1See Documents X, XI, XII.

2See Document XIV, especially n.1.

3André had been hanged on 2 Oct. (see Document XIII, source note).

4The enclosed list has not been identified, but it presumably was similar to, or the same as, “a correct list of the conspirators and incendiaries, sent on board the Lord Sandwich, on the 28th of August,” printed in The Royal Gazette (New York) for 20 September.

Hessian major Carl Leopold Baurmeister described the conspiratorial correspondence with Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates in a dispatch from New York dated 6 Oct.: “Among General de Kalb’s papers was found an authoritative list of thirty-eight of the most prominent citizens of Charleston, who had been in correspondence with General Gates and had pledged themselves to set the city on fire, open the prisons, and attack the busy garrison as soon as Lord Cornwallis is defeated and routed. These traitors have all been seized and taken to St. Augustine” (Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 383; see also GW to Clinton, 6 Oct.).

For the initiative to exchange South Carolina lieutenant governor Christopher Gadsden, see James Cannon to GW, 28 August.

5For André’s confession, see Document XIII, n.14; see also Document II.

William Smith, royal chief justice of New York, wrote in his memoirs for 10 Oct.: “Major De Lancey and General Robertson bring me the Papers respecting André, with a Draft of his Case, by Order of Sir Henry Clinton, and he submits the latter to my Correction. It is to go Home. The Packet detained for it. A Copy is to be published here. I percieve by a Letter he had prepared 5 Inst. for Washington that General Robertson[’s] Agency with Greene had not intirely pleased him” (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 , 339, brackets in source; Smith presumably meant Clinton’s letter to GW dated 4 Oct., found at Document XV).

Smith then wrote in his memoirs for Wednesday, 11 Oct.: “Delivered the Corrected Draft to De Lancey this Morning to be shewn to the General. …

“I mentioned to General Robertson what I have observed concerning his Dissatisfaction with his Report, and he takes it up as a Proof of a Want of Confidence. …

“How shameful that a Packet should be detained for such a Cause and that this should also stop the Sailing of the Troops that have been imbarked since Sunday for the Southward.

“Among the Materials for André’s Case there were several Letters that passed between Beverley Robinson and Arnold. One of the sealed Letters was directed by Arnold to me, and that was inclosed in another to Robinson with a Note that he might open that directed to me. It was brought by a Capt. Lieut. Archibald with a Flag to the Vulture. This sealed Letter so directed, if Archibald saw it, might give rise to a Suspicion that I had an Agency in Arnold’s Business, of which I knew Nothing, and affect my Brother Joshua’s Life. Under the Cover so directed to me was a Confidential Letter to Robinson and another to André, and it was this brought him up to the Vulture on the 20 of [September]. Joshua boarded her for André the next Day or rather about Midnight of the 21” (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 , 339–40; see also The Smith Family and Major General Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 26 Sept.–30 Oct., editorial note).

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