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American Revolution: Major John Andre


American Revolution: Major John Andre

Capture of Major John Andre

Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

John Andre - Early Life & Career:

John Andre was born May 2, 1750, in London, England. The son of Huguenot parents, his father Antione was a Swiss-born merchant while his mother, Marie Louise, hailed from Paris. Though initially educated in Britain, Andre's father later sent him to Geneva for schooling. A strong student, he was known for his charismatic manner, skill at languages, and artistic ability. Returning in 1767, he was intrigued by the military, but lacked the means to purchase a commission in the British Army. Two years later, he was compelled to enter business following the death of this father.

During this period, Andre met Honora Sneyd through his friend Anna Seward. The two were engaged, though the wedding could not occur until he had built his fortune. In this time their feelings cooled and the engagement was terminated. Having accumulated some money, Andre elected to return to his desire for a military career. In 1771, Andre purchased a lieutenant's commission in the British Army and was sent to the University of Göttingen in Germany to study military engineering. After two years of courses, he was ordered to join the 23rd Regiment of Foot (Welsh Regiment of Fusiliers).

John Andre - Early Career in the American Revolution:

Traveling to North America, Andre arrived in Philadelphia and moved north via Boston to reach his unit in Canada. With the outbreak of the American Revolution in April 1775, Andre's regiment moved south to occupy Fort Saint-Jean on the Richelieu River. In September, the fort was attacked by American forces led by Brigadier General Richard Montgomery. After a 45-day siege, the British garrison surrendered. Among the prisoners, Andre was sent south to Lancaster, PA. There he resided with the family of Caleb Cope until formally exchanged in late 1776.

John Andre - A Rapid Rise:

During his time with the Copes, he gave art lessons and compiled a memoir regarding his experiences in the colonies. Upon his release, he presented this memoir to General Sir William Howe who was commanding British forces in North America. Impressed by the young officer's skills, Howe promoted him to captain in the 26th Foot on January 18, 1777 and recommended him as an aide to Major General Charles Grey. Taken onto Grey's staff, Andre saw service at the Battle of Brandywine, Paoli Massacre, and Battle of Germantown.

That winter, as the American army endured hardship at Valley Forge, Andre enjoyed life during the British occupation of Philadelphia. Living in Benjamin Franklin's house, which he later looted, he was a favorite of the city's Loyalist families and entertained numerous ladies such as Peggy Shippen. In May 1778, he planned and executed the elaborate Mischianza party given in honor of Howe before the commander's return to Britain. That summer, the new commander, General Sir Henry Clinton, elected to abandon Philadelphia and return to New York. Moving with the army, Andre took part in the Battle of Monmouth on June 28.

John Andre - A New Role:

After a series of raids in New Jersey and Massachusetts later that year, Grey returned to Britain. Due to his superb conduct, Andre was promoted to major and made adjutant-general of the British Army in America. Reporting directly to Clinton, Andre proved to be one of a few officers who could penetrate the commander's prickly demeanor. In April 1779, his portfolio was expanded to include overseeing the British Secret Intelligence network in North America. A month later, Andre received word from noted American commander Major General Benedict Arnold that he wished to defect.

John Andre - Plotting with Arnold:

Arnold, then commanding at Philadelphia, had married Peggy Shippen who used her prior relationship with Andre to open a line of communications. A secret correspondence ensued in which Arnold expressed a desire for equal rank and pay in the British Army in exchange for his loyalty. While Arnold negotiated with Andre and Clinton regarding compensation, the he began providing a variety of intelligence. That fall communications were broken off when the British balked at Arnold's demands. Sailing south with Clinton late that year, Andre took part in the operations against Charleston, SC in early 1780.

Returning to New York late that spring, Andre resumed contact with Arnold who was to take command of the key fortress at West Point in August. The two men began corresponding regarding a price for Arnold's defection and the surrender of West Point to the British. On the night of September 20, 1780, Andre sailed up the Hudson River aboard HMS Vulture to meet with Arnold. Slipping ashore on the night of the 21st, he met the American in the woods near Stony Point, NY and traveled to the house of Thomas Smith to complete the deal. Talking through the night, Arnold agreed to sell his loyalty and West Point for £20,000.

John Andre - Capture:

Dawn arrived before the deal was completed and American troops began firing on Vulture forcing it to retreat down the river. Trapped behind American lines, Andre was compelled to return to New York by land. To aid in his journey, Arnold provided him with civilian clothes and a pass for getting through the American lines. He also gave Andre a set of papers detailing West Point's defenses. Using the name "John Anderson," he rode south and fared well until around 9:00 AM on September 23 when he was stopped near Tarrytown, NY by three militiamen.

Questioned by John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart, and David Williams, Andre was tricked into revealing that he was a British officer. Upon being told that he was under arrest, he denied this and offered Arnold's pass. Despite this document, the three men searched him and found Arnold's papers regarding West Point in his stocking. Attempts to bribe the men failed and he was taken to Armonk, NY before arriving at the American headquarters at Tappan, NY where he was imprisoned in a local tavern. Lieutenant Colonel John Jameson, failing to grasp the full situation, initially decided to send Andre and the papers to Arnold at West Point. He was blocked in removing Andre by American intelligence chief Major Benjamin Tallmadge, but forwarded on the papers. Their arrival tipped Arnold that he had been compromised and allowed him to escape capture.

Having been captured behind the lines wearing civilian clothes and using a false name, Andre was immediately considered to be a spy and treated as such. Tallmadge, a friend of executed American spy Nathan Hale, informed Andre that he expected that he would hang. Though the rules of war would have allowed for Andre's immediate execution, General George Washington moved deliberately as he investigated the scope of Arnold's betrayal. To try Andre, he convened a board of officers headed by Major General Nathanael Greene and including notables such as Brigadier General Henry Knox and Baron Friedrich von Steuben. In his trial, Andre claimed that he had been unwillingly trapped behind enemy lines and that as a prisoner of war was entitled to attempt escape in civilian clothes. These arguments were dismissed and on September 29, he was found guilty of being a spy sentenced to hang.

Though he wished to save his favorite aid, Clinton was unwilling to meet Washington's demand of turning over Arnold. Requests that Andre be executed by firing squad were also denied. Though liked by his captors, he was taken to Tappan on October 2 and hung. His body was initially buried under the gallows but was removed at the Duke of York's behest in 1821 and re-interred at Westminster Abbey in London. In reflecting on Andre, Washington wrote, "He was more unfortunate than criminal."

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