George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Benedict Arnold, 1 October 1780

From Major General Benedict Arnold

New York Octr 1st 1780


The Polite attention shown by Your Excellency and the Gentlemen of Your Family to Mrs Arnold when in distress, demand my grateful acknowledgement and thanks which I beg leave to present.1

From Your Excellencys Letter to Sr Henery Clinton, I find a Board of General Officers have given it as their Opinion that Major André comes under the description of a Spy:2 my good Opinion of the Candor, and Justice of these Gentlemen leads me to believe that If they had been more fully acquainted with every Curcumstance respecting Major André, that they would by no means have considered Him in the light of a Spy, or even of a Prisoner: In Justice to him I think it my Duty to declare that He came From on board the Vulture at my Particular request, by a Flag sent on purpose for him, by Joshua Smith Esqr. Who had permission to go to Dobbs’s Ferry to Carry Letters, and For other purposes not mentioned and to return; This was Done as a blind to the Spy Boats: Mr Smith at the Same time had my possitive directions to go on board the Vulture, and bring on Shore, Colonel Robinson or Mr John Anderson, which was the Name I had requested Major André to Assume: At the Same time I desired Mr Smith to Inform him, That He should have my Protection, and a safe Passport to return in the same Boat as soon as our business was compleated;3 as several accidents intervened to prevent his being sent on Board, I gave him my Passport to return by land, Major André came on Shore in his Uniform (without Disguise) which with much Reluctance at my particular and pressing Instance He Exchanged for another Coat, I furnished Him with a Horse and Saddle and pointed out the Route by which He was to return, And as Commanding Officer in the Department I had an undoubted right to transact all these Matters, which If wrong Major André ought by no Means to suffer for them.4

But if after this Just and Candid Representation of Major Andre’s Case The Board of General Officers Adhere to their former Opinion, I shall suppose it Dictated by Passion and Resentment, and If that Gentleman Should Suffer the Severity of their Sentence, I shall think myself bound by every tie of Duty and honor to retaliate on such unhappy Persons of Your Army as may fall within my power, that the Respect due to Flags and to the Law of Nations may be better understood, and Observed.

I have further to observe that Forty of the Principle Inhabitants of South Carolina, have Justly forfeited their Lives, which have hitherto been Spared by the Clemency of His Excellency Sir Henery Clinton, Who Cannot in Justice extend his Mercy to them any longer, if Major André Suffers,5 which in all probibility will open a Scene of blood at which Humanity will Revolt.

Suffer me to Intreat Your Excellency For Your Own and the honor of Humanity, and the Love You have of Justice, that You suffer not an Unjust Sentence to touch the Life of Major André.

But If this warning should be disreguarded and He should suffer, I call Heaven and Earth to Witness that Your Excellency will be Justly answerable for the torrent of blood that may be spilt in Consequence.6 I have the honor to be with due Respect Your Excellencys most Obedient and Very Humble Servt

B. Arnold

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Samuel Huntington, 7 Oct. (Document XVI with Major John André’s Capture and Execution, 23 Sept.–7 Oct., editorial note), DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, P.R.O.: 30/55, Carleton Papers; copy, P.R.O.: C.O. 5/100; copy, MiU-C: Clinton Papers. GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison noted on the docket of the ALS that this letter was “transmitted by Lt Genl Robertson.” For the discretion given Lt. Gen. James Robertson to “withold or deliver” Arnold’s letter, see 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 , 337; see also Document XIV, n.4, with the André editorial note.

1See Document I, n.2 above.

6The journal entry for 7 Oct. of a Hessian jager reads: “Major General Arnold has been made a brigadier general and has received a new corps of foot and mounted personnel called the American Legion” (Burgoyne, Enemy Views description begins Bruce E. Burgoyne, ed. Enemy Views: The American Revolutionary War as Recorded by the Hessian Participants. Bowie, Md., 1996. description ends , 419). Arnold subsequently led a force that “embarked on an expedition to Virginia” in December (Burgoyne, Enemy Views description begins Bruce E. Burgoyne, ed. Enemy Views: The American Revolutionary War as Recorded by the Hessian Participants. Bowie, Md., 1996. description ends , 421–22).

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