George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Samuel Huntington, 7 October 1780

To Samuel Huntington

Paramus [N.J.] October the 7th 1780


I had the honor on the 1st Instant to receive Your Excellency’s dispatches of the 24th Ulto addressed to Major General Greene—and since, Your very obliging Letter of the 29th, for which I beg leave to return You my acknowledgements. I have written to Sir Henry Clinton in consequence of the former and requested him to make the desired communications. When these are received, they shall be transmitted.1

I have the honor to inclose Congress a Copy of the proceedings of a Board of General Officers (No. 1) in the case of Major André, Adjutant General to the British Army. This Officer was executed in pursuance of the opinion of the Board, on Monday the 2d Instant at 12 OClock, at our late Camp at Tappan. He acted with great candor, from the time he avowed himself after his capture, untill he was executed. Congress will perceive by a Copy of a Letter I received from him of the 1st Instant, that it was his desire to be shot, but the practice & usage of war, circumstanced as he was, were against the indulgence. At the bottom of the 6th page of the proceedings, an explanatory note is added, to prevent any suspicions being entertained injurious to Colonl Sheldon, who otherwise, from the Letter addressd to him, might be supposed to have been privy to the measures between General Arnold & Major André. If it should be the pleasure of Congress to publish the case, and which I would take the liberty to suggest may not be improper, it will be necessary for the explanatory note to be annexed.2 Besides the proceedings, I transmit in the Inclosure No. 2, Copies of Sundry Letters respecting the matter, which are all that passed on the subject, not included in the proceedings.3 I would not suffer Mr Elliot & Mr Smith to land, who came up to Dobbs’s ferry agreable to Sir Henry Clinton’s Letter of the 30th of September. Genl Robertson was permitted to come on shore—was met by Major Genl Greene, and mentioned substantially what is contained in his Letter of the 2d Instant. It might not perhaps be improper to publish the Letters or a part of them in this Inclosure, as an Appendix to the proceedings of the Board of General Officers.4

I had the honor to mention in my Letter of the 24th of August, that an interview was in contemplation between General Lincoln & General Phillips, to take place at Elizabeth Town, and that I should direct Mr Skinner, the Commissary, to attend and endeavour to effectuate an exchange of prisoners on the principles & to the extent mentioned by Congress in their Act of the 7th. The Inclosure No. 3 contains my Instructions to Mr Skinner—No. 4 & 5 his Report & Major General Lincoln’s of the result of the meeting, which happened on the 20th Ulto at the place appointed, and to which I beg leave to refer Congress.5 As it is now become certain that we can not operate against New York this Campaign, and it was the expectation of this event’s happening that prevented the release of our private prisoners—it appears to me that the exchange of those in that place, should be immediately attempted, especially as the liberation of a great many of our Officers is made to depend upon it and is otherwise wholly rejected. From these considerations I have ventured to close with the terms of Mr Lorings Letter to Mr Skinner of the 22d of Sepr, respecting the exchange of our Officers & privates at New York & Long Island and have written to Sir Henry Clinton accordingly.6 I hope Congress will approve the measure. As to the exchange proposed between the Convention & the Southern prisoners—Congress will be pleased to decide on it themselves. They have the fullest knowledge of the present—and of what will be the future situation of our Affairs—and can best judge of the conduct which the public good & humanity require to be pursued in the matter. For a variety of reasons I am—and profess myself wholly incompetent to determine in the case.

I have now the pleasure to communica⟨te⟩ the names of the Three persons who captured Major André and who refused to release him notwithstanding the most earnest importunities and assurances of a liberal reward on his part. Their conduct merits our warmest esteem and I beg leave to add, that, I think, the public will do well to make them a handsome gratuity. They have prevented in all probability our suffering one of the severest strokes that could have been meditated against us. Their names are John paulding—David Williams and Isaac Van Wart.7

For the present I have detached the Jersey—New York—& New Hampshire Brigades with Stark’s to the Highland posts. They marched this morning from Orange Town and will relieve the Pennsylvania line, which was thrown in at the moment General Arnold went to the Enemy. Major Genl Greene has marched with these four Brigades and will command at West point and its dependencies ’till a further disposition.8 The main body of the Army, the forage about Orange town and the lower Country being exhausted, also moved this morning and is now arrived here. We have had a cold—wet—and tedious march on account of the feeble state of our Cattle—and have not a drop of rum to give the Troops. My intention is to proceed with them to the Country in the neighbourhood of passaick falls.9 I have the honor to be with the most perfect respect Yr Excellency’s Most Obt servant

Go: Washington

P.S. I have added a Note at the foot of Sir Henry Clintons Letter of the 30th of Septr and one at the foot of Major Andre’s Letter to me of the 1st of October, which are in the Inclosure No. 2, which, if the Letters are published I request may be published also.10

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

Congress read GW’s letter on 12 Oct. and referred it to a three-member committee: John Sullivan, Theodorick Bland, and John Mathews. Congress ordered “the proceedings of the board of general officers on the case of Major André be referred to the Committee of Intelligence” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 18:918).

1For Huntington to Nathanael Greene, 24 Sept., see GW to Henry Clinton, 6 Oct., and n.2 to that document.

For Huntington to GW, 29 Sept., see Document XI with The Discovery of Major General Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 25 Sept.–24 Nov., editorial note.

2See Document VIII, especially n.11, and Document XIII.

4For the congressional publication, see Proceedings of a Board of General Officers … Respecting Major John André, Adjutant General of the British Army. September 29, 1780 (Philadelphia, 1780). This pamphlet contains an appendix with “several Letters which passed to and from New-York on the Occasion” (see pp. 14–21). The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia) for 21 Oct. announced its publication.

5For these enclosures, see GW to Abraham Skinner, 17 Sept.; Skinner to GW, 24 Sept.; and Benjamin Lincoln to GW, 25 Sept.; see also GW to Huntington, 24 Aug., and JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 17:704–6.

6See GW to Henry Clinton, 7 Oct., found at GW to Skinner, same date, n.1.

7A Continental soldier had written in his diary entry for 30 Sept.: “The three heroes who took Mr. Andrie yesterday came to the Army and were conversed with by many” (Nichols, “Doughboy of 1780,” description begins James R. Nichols, ed. “The Doughboy of 1780: Pages from a Revolutionary Diary.” The Atlantic Monthly: A Magazine of Literature, Science, Art, and Politics 134 (July–December 1924): 459–63. description ends 460; see also Document I, n.2).

John Paulding (1758–1818) was a New York militia private who escaped from British custody at New York City in September 1780 disguised in a Hessian uniform. He may have worn that uniform when he accosted Maj. John André on 23 September. Wounded and captured near Sing Sing, N.Y., in early 1783, Paulding settled after the war on a farm confiscated from a Loyalist near Crom Pond, New York. He fathered twenty-one children over three marriages. For a biographical sketch, see Reynolds, Family History of Southern New York description begins Cuyler Reynolds, ed. Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York and the Hudson River Valley: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Building of a Nation. 3 vols. New York, 1914. description ends , 3:1281–84.

David Williams (c.1755–1831), of Tarrytown, N.Y., served in Canada as a New York militia private in 1775. He continued in the militia from spring 1776 until late 1779 and returned informally by summer 1780 after his feet recovered from frostbite. He married Nancy Benedict in 1782 and moved in 1805 to Schoharie County, N.Y., where the couple lived on a farm formerly owned by Daniel Shays of Shays’ Rebellion notoriety. For additional biographical details, see Simms, Schoharie County description begins Jeptha R. Simms. History of Schoharie County, and Border Wars of New York; Containing Also A Sketch of the Causes Which Led to the American Revolution; and Interesting Memoranda of the Mohawk Valley; Together with Much Other Historical and Miscellaneous Matter, Never Before Published. Albany, 1845. description ends , 646–57, 672, and Marcius D. Raymond, David Williams And the Capture of Andre: A Paper Read before the Tarrytown Historical Society (Jan. 15, 1903).

Isaac Van Wart (1762–1828) was a cousin of Williams and also served as a New York militia private. Fellow residents of Westchester County, N.Y., later characterized him as “a respectable freeholder of the town of Mount Pleasant,” adding “we do not hesitate to declare our belief, that there is not an individual in the county of Westchester, acquainted with Isaac Van Wart, who would not hesitate to describe him as a man of sober, moral, industrious, and religious life;—as a man whose integrity is as unimpeachable as his veracity is undoubted” (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 , 122).

Following a report from the committee that received GW’s letter, Congress found on 3 Nov. 1780 that Paulding, Williams, and Van Wart, “three young volunteer militia men of the State of New York, did, on the 23d day of September last, intercept Major John André, adjutant general of the British army, on his return from the American lines, in the character of a spy; and, notwithstanding the large bribes offered them for his release, nobly disdaining to sacrifice their country for the sake of gold, secured and conveyed him to the commanding officer of the district, whereby the dangerous and traitorous conspiracy of Benedict Arnold was brought to light, the insidious designs of the enemy baffled, and the United States rescued from impending danger.” In recognition of their “virtuous and patriotic conduct,” Congress ordered that each man “receive annually, out of the public treasury, 200 dollars in specie, or an equivalent in the current money of these states, during life; and that the Board of War procure for each of them a silver medal … and forward them to the Commander in Chief, who is requested to present the same, with a copy of this resolution, and the thanks of Congress for their fidelity and the eminent service they have rendered their country” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 18:1009–10; see also source note above, and Huntington to GW, 8 Nov., DNA:PCC, item 15, and GW to Huntington, 20 Nov., postscript, DNA:PCC, item 152). The medal was described as “about as large again as a silver dollar. On one side is represented the United States coat of arms, bearing the simple inscription, ‘Fidelity.’ On the other side is inscribed the Latin sentence, ‘Vincit Amor Patriæ’—the love of country conquers” (Simms, Schoharie County description begins Jeptha R. Simms. History of Schoharie County, and Border Wars of New York; Containing Also A Sketch of the Causes Which Led to the American Revolution; and Interesting Memoranda of the Mohawk Valley; Together with Much Other Historical and Miscellaneous Matter, Never Before Published. Albany, 1845. description ends , 655).

The recognition extended the men who captured André prompted Hessian major Carl Leopold Baurmeister to write in his dispatch from New York City on 14 Dec. 1780: “The three militiamen who arrested the unfortunate Major André are to receive two hundred piasters a year in coin as long as they live. Moreover, they have been advised to wear a medal struck in their honor, describing their merit and the gratitude of their country. The 6th of this month was celebrated as a day of general thanksgiving over this incident” (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 , 396).

In early 1817, Congress denied Paulding’s appeal for an increase in his annuity. Connecticut congressman Benjamin Tallmadge spoke forcibly against the measure, claiming that Paulding and his companions “brought in Major Andre, only because they should probably get more for his apprehension than for his release” (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 30:474–75; see also 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 , 124–26). For a refutation of Tallmadge, see Egbert Benson, Vindication of the Captors of Major Andre (1817; reprinted, New York, 1865). For a broader assessment, see Robert E. Cray, Jr., “Major John André and the Three Captors: Class Dynamics and Revolutionary Memory Wars in the Early Republic, 1780–1831,” Journal of the Early Republic 17 (1997): 371–97.

8See Nathanael Greene to GW, 5 Oct. 1780, and GW to Greene, 6 Oct. (both letters [letter 1; letter 2]).

9Huntington acknowledged this letter when he wrote GW on 14 October.

10GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison wrote these notes on enclosures with the LS. The one with Clinton to GW, 30 Sept., reads: “Lt General Robertson Mr Elliot & Mr Smith came up in a Flag Vessel to Dobbs’s ferry agreable to the above Letter. The Two last were not suffered to land. General Robertson was permitted to come on shore and was met by Major General Greene, who verbally reported that General Robertson mentioned to him in substance what is contained in his Letter of the 2d of October to Genl Washington.” The one with André to GW, 1 Oct., reads: “The time which elapsed between the capture of Major André, which was on the morning of the 23 of Septr, and his execution, which did not take place till 12 OClock on the 2d of October—The mode of trying him—His Letter to Sir Henry Clinton, K.B. on the 29th of September, in which he said—‘I receive the greatest attention from His Excellency, Genl Washington, and from every person, under whose charge I happen to be placed’—not to mention many other acknowledgements which he made of the good treatment he received, must evince, that the proceedings against him were not guided by passion or resentment. The practice & usage of War were against his request and made the indulgence he solicited, circumstanced as he was, inadmissible” (see n.4 above; the remarks appear on pages 17 and 21 of the pamphlet; see also Documents X and XIII).

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