André, John

views updated

André, John

ANDRÉ, JOHN. (1750–1780). British army officer and spymaster. Son of a Genoese merchant settled in London, André was born on 2 May 1750 and educated at home, at St. Paul's School, and in Geneva before joining the family business. In December 1770 his fiancée suddenly ended their engagement, which may explain why early in 1771 he bought a lieutenant's commission in the Twenty-third Regiment. In 1772 he was granted leave to study mathematics in Göttingen but rejoined the army (as lieutenant in the Seventh Foot) in Quebec in 1774. André was captured when St. John's fort surrendered to the invading Americans on 2 November 1775, and he spent a year on parole in Pennsylvania before being released. In 1776 he was promoted to captain in the Twenty-sixth Foot and returned to Pennsylvania with Howe's invasion force the following year. He was at the Battles of Brandywine (11 September 1777), Paoli (21 September), and Germantown (4 October) and became aide-de-camp to Major General Sir Charles Grey in Philadelphia. There he proved himself both able and diligent. He took part in the overland withdrawal from the city in 1778 and fought at Monmouth (28 June). On Grey's recommendation he then became aide-de-camp to Sir Henry Clinton in New York. He participated in the Connecticut coast raid in September 1779 and on 23 October became a major and Clinton's deputy adjutant general. In both Philadelphia and New York he took a leading part in putting on plays, wrote poetry, revealed a marked artistic talent, and was popular among Loyalist women. In Philadelphia he courted young Peggy Shippen, who afterwards married Benedict Arnold, only weeks before Arnold's first approach to the British.

As deputy adjutant general, André corresponded with Clinton's informers, spies, and potential defectors, the most important of whom was Arnold. This task was punctuated only by Clinton's Charleston expedition of 1780, in which André acted as full adjutant general. Back in New York, André judged it time to meet Arnold, and at a secret rendezvous on the night of 21 September, Arnold handed over the details of West Point's defenses. Unfortunately, André's transport, the sloop Vulture, was fired on and driven back down the Hudson. André, determined to get his prize home, took the enormous risk of disguising himself in civilian clothes, knowing that he could be executed as a spy. The gamble almost came off. André was in sight of British lines when he was arrested by three American militiamen. Taking them for Loyalists he did not show them Arnold's pass, whereupon they searched him and found the crucial papers hidden in his boots. Arnold heard the news just in time to flee to the British army, but his unfortunate handler was tried by court-martial as a spy. On 29 September he was sentenced to death by hanging. Despite Clinton's intervention, Washington would neither pardon André nor grant his petition to be shot as a soldier. André spent his last days sketching a portrait of Peggy Shippen and engaging the admiration of his captors. He died calmly on the gallows on 2 October 1780.

SEE ALSO Arnold's Treason.


André, John. Major André's Journal. New York: New York Times, 1968.

Hatch, Robert H. Major John André: A Gallant in Spy's Clothing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986.

Van Doren, Carl. Secret History of the American Revolution: An Account of the Conspiracies of Benedict Arnold and Numerous Others. New York: Viking, 1941.

                                    revised by John Oliphant