Written by Peter Fitzgerald
History of War - Spies
John Andre was a British Army Officer who fought and died in the American Revolutionary War. What is interesting about the story of John Andre is that he didn’t die in battle; he was actually hanged as a spy by the Americans when he tried to gain their surrender at West Point, New York.
At his time of death John Andre was 30 years of age and was a Major in the British Army.
Many do not know of John Andre and those that do, only know him for the fact he was hung as a spy. Today we will talk about John Andre from his upbringing to his death while carrying out his duties in the British Army.
Prior to the American Revolutionary War
John Andre was born on the 2nd of May in the year 1750. Andre was born in London; his parents were rich Huguenots with his father being Swiss and mother French.
Andre enjoyed a great life as a young man in London from a wealthy family, but he longed for more and at the age of 20 years enrolled in the British Army.
The year was 1770 when Andre joined the British Army, a full 5 years prior to the start of the American Revolutionary War.
The first five years in the British Army were quiet and information is scant on what Andre did during this period.
Andre in the American Revolutionary War
In the early stages of the American Revolutionary War Andre started out as a lieutenant. His first battle was at Fort Saint-Jean in Canada where the Americans captured him and kept him prisoner until the end of 1776 when he was traded for American prisoners.
After the exchange Andre was promoted to Captain in early 1777, only a year later in 1778 he was then promoted again to Major. By 1779, still at the rank of Major, Andre took control and became adjutant-general.
In April 1779 Andre changed his stance in the British Army and took control of the intelligence arm of the armed force. Once in control he set about trying to arrange for West Point to be surrendered by the Americans.
To do this Andre used the power of a friendship, possibly even a previous romance which he had developed a few years previous in Philadelphia. This friendship was with a lady called Peggy Shippen who had gone on to marry American General Benedict Arnold.
General Benedict Arnold said he would surrender his command of West Point for twenty thousand British Pounds (over a million in American Dollars today). This move would have been greatly advantageous to the British because of the location of West Point in relation to the American Army.
It was the 20th September 1780 when Major John Andre made his way up the Hudson to meet Arnold at a rendezvous point; here they went to Thomas Smith House. Once at the house they made their discussions and then Andre was given commoners clothing to make his way back through American lines to the British.
After three days on the move Andre had been okay. This changed when he hit a checkpoint near Tarrytown, New York three militia men called John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart and David Williams decided to take notice of this young man.
Andre thought they were loyalists because of their clothing and set about in code asking if they were in his lower party, a comment that means British, they said they were. After being told this Andre said he was a British officer and should not be stopped...it was at this point he was told they were American.
Andre tried to get himself out of the situation by saying he was an American officer but it was no good, the three men’s suspicions were aroused. Even trying to bribe them with his horse and pocket watch did not work.
The three militia men checked Andre and found papers given to him from Arnold in his boot. Only one of the militia men could read but it was enough for them to know he was a spy and take him into custody.
At first Andre was kept at Sands Mill in Armonk, New York, before then being taken on to the American Army HQ at Tappan. Initially the Americans were going to send Andre to Arnold for Arnold to sort out this spy, but when the Continental Army Intelligence head officer arrived, he said to take Andre back to Continental Army Intelligence as they understood a high ranking American officer was involved.
The papers written by Arnold for Andre were sent back to Arnold making him understand the situation and go to the British, this meant Andre was alone.
A court made up of American officers chosen by George Washington decided that "Major André, Adjutant-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."
As a spy the only means of death was hanging, even though Andre had pleaded to the firing squad. On the day of hanging Andre declined the blindfold and put his own noose around his neck, he was then hung and died. The date was October 2nd 1780.