Most of you have heard of Benedict Arnold and know that he was a General in the Continental Army under George Washington who turned traitor and spied for the British. However, how many of you are familiar with the name John André, or Major John André?
In 1750, a French couple living in London welcomed a son whom they named John.
Around 1764-65, young John André was sent to Geneva, Switzerland, the home of his father, to be educated. By the end of his education, André was an artist who also wrote lyrics and verses, some of which were considered comic. He was also fluent in English, French, German and Italian. He was known as a very well-mannered and somewhat charismatic young man.
In 1767, André returned to London.
In 1769, André’s father died. His father was a merchant who owned a counting business. Although André longed for a military career, he could not afford to purchase a commission which was the practice of the time, so he began working in his father’s counting house in order to provide for his family. However, the merchant life was short lived and he joined the military British Army before the year’s end after a young woman broke his heart.
On March 4, 1771, André was commissioned as an officer and sent to Germany for special training.
In 1774, Lieutenant André was sent to Canada as a member of the Royal English Fusiliers. On his journey to St. Johns in Canada, he traveled through Boston and Philadelphia, making himself somewhat familiar with the cities.
On November 2, 1775, Continental forces captured St. Johns after a long siege that lasted for two months. André was taken prisoner and transferred to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The custom of the time allowed for captured officers to reside in inns or with private families instead of being held in barracks. André moved in with Caleb Cope family, where he gave art lessons to one of their sons. Lancaster at the time was largely populated by German immigrants and his fluency in Germany made him right at home in the community.
In 1776, the British and Americans exchanged prisoners. André was part of the exchange and was returned to the service of British General Howe who was occupying part of New York at the time. Howe was impressed by the young officer and made him a Captain and assigned him to the service of Major General Charles Grey.
In August 1777, 17,000 British invaded Head of Elk, Maryland and André was part of the invasion force. He served in the Battle of Brandywine as well as the Paoli Massacre, Battle of Germantown, battle of Monmouth and the occupation of Philadelphia. André kept a journal which was later used as a valuable reference to some of these battles and massacres, including the brutal raids by Grey in 1778 Massachusetts and New Jersey.
During the winter of 1777-78, André passed the time in Philadelphia by writing poetry and impressing the ladies. He also planned the Mischianza Extravaganza which took place on May 18, 1778 as a tribute to General Howe’s pending departure. During this time and the occupation of Philadelphia, André took up residence in the home of Benjamin Franklin. Just before the British evacuated Philadelphia, André looted Franklin’s home, much to the shock of many local loyalists who still revered Franklin as one of the greatest men of the day. Among the items that André took from Franklin’s home were many of his books, musical instruments, a portrait of Franklin and at least one of his scientific apparatuses. It was later learned that General Grey had ordered André to loot the Franklin house.
In November 1778, André was promoted to Major and appointed as the Deputy Adjunct General of Sir Henry Clinton’s staff. Clinton had succeeded Howe as the British Commander in Chief. After gaining the confidence of Clinton, André was assigned to coordinate British intelligence activities in the colonies. Among his many intelligence duties, he made a list of which American officers he believed could be corrupted by the British.
In 1779, American General Benedict Arnold made it known to the British that he was willing to surrender West Point to the British for the fee of £10,000. The fort at West Point guarded the Hudson Valley and New England. One of Arnold’s stipulations was that he was receive his payment regardless if the British were successful or not in moving against Washington. Clinton refused and demanded that payment would only be made upon British success. André was placed in charge of the long negotiations with Arnold since the original offer to surrender West Point has been made to André.
In early 1780, Arnold again reached out to André and told him that French forces lead by Rochambeau were heading to Newport, Rhode Island. Clinton, who was on his southern campaign at the time, left General Cornwallis in charge of the British forces in Virginia and he took the rest of his army and headed back to New York with the intention of stopping the French forces. By this time, Arnold had upped his price to £20,000.
On September 21, 1780, André met with Arnold where Arnold handed over a number of documents. André had been on board the British sloop, Vulture, which had anchored in the Hudson River. American artillery began shelling the Vulture, forcing it to pull anchor and move to safety. Meanwhile, André found himself stranded behind American lines and decided to exchange his British uniform for an American uniform to help him travel through the American lines so he could reach the Vulture. After being escorted part of the way back, André believed he had reached safety when he came upon three men in British uniforms. He ordered them to let him pass but in fact they were three Americans disguised in British uniforms. When they searched André, they discovered the documents that Arnold had given him, hidden in his boots, causing them to immediately arrest André.
On September 29, 1780, André was found guilty of using a foreign name and wearing a disguise and in possession of what was believed to be stolen American documents.
On this day, October, 2, 1780, British Major John André was hanged for being a spy. It was later learned from his journal of his involvement with the traitorous act of Benedict Arnold.