British spy John André is court-martialed, found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging on this day in 1780.
Benedict Arnold and John Andre
André, an accomplice of Benedict Arnold, had been captured by Patriots John Paulding, David Williams and Isaac Van Wart six days earlier on September 23, after they found incriminating papers stashed in his boot.
Capture of Major John Andre by John Paulding, David Williams and Issac Vanwart
It was the discovery of these papers that revealed the traitorous actions of Benedict Arnold to the U.S. authorities. Upon hearing of André’s capture, Arnold fled to the British warship Vulture and subsequently joined the British in their fight against his country.
Royal Navy sloop-of-war of the late 18th century. These were unrated ships, which meant they carried less than 20 guns. They were used extensively in the Revolutionary War because of their small size and speed. One of the (the HMS Vulture) was used to carry Major John Andre to his meeting with Benedict Arnold. Another (the HMS Nautilus) was used to deliver Gage’s orders to put down the rebellion in Massachusetts
After being sentenced to death, André was allowed to write a letter to his commander, British General Henry Clinton.
Sir Henry Clinton
Click on each page of the letter to see the translation.
Tapaan, September 29th, 1780 / Sir, / Your Excellency is doubtless / already apprized of the manner in which / I was taken and possibly of the serious / light in which my Conduct is Considered / and the rigorous determination that is impending. — Under these Circumstances / I have obtained General Washington’s / permission to send you this Letter, the / object of which is to remove from your
Breast any Suspicion that I could imagine / that I could imagine that I was bound by your Excellencys Orders to / expose myself to what has happened. The / Events of coming within an Enemys posts / and of Changing my dress which led / me to my present Situation were contrary / to my own Intentions as they were to your / Orders; and the circuitous route which / I took to return was imposed (perhaps / unavoidably) without alternative upon / me. I am perfectly and tranquil in / mind and prepared for any Fate to / which an honest Zeal for my Kings / Service may have devoted me.
In addressing myself to your / Excellency on this Occasion, the force of all / my Obligations to you and of the Attachment / and Gratitude I bear you, recurrs to me. / With all the Warmth of my heart I give / you thanks for your Excellencys profuse / kindness to me, and I send you / the most earnest Wishes for your Welfare / which a faithfull affectionate and / respectfull Attendant can frame. I have a Mother and Three / Sisters to whom the value of my Commission / would be an object as the loss of Granada / has much affected their income. It is needlesss / to be more explicit on this Subject; I am
persuaded of your Excellencys Goodness. / I receive the greatest Attention / from his Excellency General Washingotn / and from every person under whose charge / I happened to be placed. / I have the honor to be with / the most respectfull Attachment / Your Excellencys Most obedient and most humble Servant John Andre Adj Gen His Excellency Sir Henry Clinton K.B.
André also wrote a letter to General George Washington in which he asked, not that his life be spared, but that he be executed by firing squad. Death by firing squad was considered a more “gentlemanly” death than hanging.
Even members of the Continental Army respected André’s bravery, including General Washington, who wanted to find a way to spare André’s life. Believing that André committed a lesser crime than Benedict Arnold, Washington wrote a letter to Clinton, stating that he would exchange André for Arnold, so that Arnold could be hanged instead.
When he did not receive a reply to his offer by October 2, Washington wrote in his “general order” of the day, “That Major Andre General to the British Army ought to be considered as a spy from the Enemy and that agreeable to the law and usage of nations it is their opinion he ought to suffer death. “The Commander in Chief directs the execution of the above sentence in the usual way this afternoon at five o’clock precisely.”
John André was executed by hanging in Tappan, New York, on October 2, 1780. He was 31 years old.