Major John Andre
British spy of American Revolution
1750 - 1780
John André, British soldier executed as a spy during the American Revolution, was born in London, May 2, 1750, of a Genevese father and Parisian mother. He was a younger friend of the poet Anna Seward and became engaged to her friend, the beautiful Honora Sneyd. When the engagement was terminated, without heartbreak on either side, André bought a commission in the army in January, 1771. He studied military engineering at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and traveled on the continent until 1774 when he joined his regiment in Quebec.
Taken prisoner in the surrender of Fort St. John's on November 3, 1775, André was interned in central Pennsylvania until exchanged at the end of 1776. He then went to New York, was promoted to captain and became aide to the notorious General Charles Grey. He Was active in the successful Philadelphia campaign, 1777, and during the winter occupation of the city promoted various entertainments and wrote light verse. After the British forces evacuated Philadelphia and returned to New York, André became aide to General Sir Henry Clinton, the new commander-in-chief.
In May 1779 the American general Benedict Arnold offered his services to the British in return for pay and equal rank. As André was in charge of intelligence and knew Mrs. Arnold, he carried on the secret correspondence. It was broken off in October because the British would not commit themselves on payments. André became deputy adjutant general with the rank of major. He sailed to Charleston, South Carolina, with General Clinton in December and took part in the siege of that city. Upon his return to New York in June 1780 he found a new note from Arnold stating that he expected to obtain the command of West Point.
André arranged to meet Arnold under the misuse of a flag of truce. They met up the Hudson river on the night of September 21 and agreed on the sum of £20,000 for the surrender of West Point, including the garrison and supplies. Half that amount was to be paid if Arnold should fail and join the British empty-handed. As the British sloop Vulture which brought André to the rendevous was fired upon and forced to drop downstream, André was compelled to pass the night within American lines. The next day he was persuaded to exchange his uniform for a civilian disguise and to set out overland for New york, carrying a pass provided by Arnold. Suspicious American militiamen stopped and searched him on the morning of September 23 and found papers about West Point in his boot. They held him while word was innocently sent to the fort, enabling Arnold to to escape down river to the British lines.
The stunning disclosure left André as scapegoat. Out of uniform and in disguise, he was clearly acting the role of a spy and could be executed immediately, but General Washington moved cautiously. He convened a board of officers which included Major General Marquis de Lafayette to examine the prisoner. The board concluded that André "ought to be considered a spy, and that, agreeable to the law and usuage of nations, it is their opinion he ought to suffer death." During the few days' delay, word was carried to Clinton that André could be saved if Arnold were given up. Clinton refused the tempting proposition. Washington's chief aide, Alexander Hamilton, who had met several times with André and was impressed with the charm and sincerity of the British officer, asked Washington to honor André's request and the propriety of the times and place the prisoner before a firing squad instead of hanging. But whether it was Washington's anger at Arnold or his recollections of Nathan Hale, he would not relent. André was hanged at Tappan, New York, on October 2, 1780.
André had literary talent and personal charm, and his fate excited sympathy among several American officers who attended him. A memorial to him was placed in Westminster abbey, and his brother was made a baronet. André's military journal of June 1777 to the close of 1778 was taken to England by General Grey and finally published in 1904.
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