Champe, John

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Champe, John

CHAMPE, JOHN. (c. 1756–1798). Continental soldier who attempted to kidnap Benedict Arnold. Virginia. On 20 October. 1780, Washington directed Henry Lee to select volunteers from his legion to capture Benedict Arnold and also to check on intelligence that other high ranking American officers were dealing with the enemy. Lee picked John Champe, who was then serving as sergeant major in Lee's cavalry. Lee describes Champe as being of a "saturnine countenance, grave, thoughtful, and taciturn, of tried courage and inflexible perseverance." (Lee, p. 272.) Champe "deserted" at about 11 p.m. on the same day, and on 23 October he was accepted by the British as a bona fide deserter. He then joined the legion of Loyalists and deserters being raised by Arnold and learned enough about the latter's habits to make a plan to capture him. Meanwhile, he established communications with Lee, sending back word that he had found no evidence that other American officers were dealing with the enemy and informing Lee when the attempted abduction would take place.

Champe had learned that every night at about midnight, Arnold walked in the garden of his quarters, which were near the Hudson River. Having secretly loosened some fence pickets between this garden and an alley, Champe and one accomplice planned to grab and gag Arnold and hustle him to the river. A boat would be waiting there to take Arnold to Hoboken, New Jersey. Before the attempt could be made, however, Champe was ordered to embark with Arnold's legion for operations in Virginia. Sergeant Champe was unable to escape safely from the legion until Arnold had completed his raids in Virginia. Eventually effecting his escape, Champe rejoined Henry Lee in the Carolinas. Champe's comrades did not know until his return that his desertion to the Loyalist cause had been faked. Champe was rewarded and discharged from the service to protect him from British retaliation if he were captured. When Washington again became commander in chief in 1798 he proposed to commission Champe a captain, but he learned that Champe had recently died along the Monongahela River.

SEE ALSO Arnold, Benedict.


Lee, Henry. Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States. Revised Edition. New York: B. Franklin, 1970.

                              revised by Michael Bellesiles

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Champe, John

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