Lot 2
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André, John

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Autograph letter signed ("Your dutifull s[on] JAndré"), 5 pages (8 3/4 x 7 1/4 in.;  223 x 185 mm), Headquarters, New York City, 1 September 1780, to his mother, discussing his meteroric rise in the British Army as Adjutant General to Sir Henry Clinton; seal tear with manuscript fragment preserved.


Elsie O. and Philip D. Sang Foundation (Sotheby Parke Bernet, 26 April 1978, lot 27)


Autograph letter signed ("Your dutifull s[on] JAndré"), 5 pages (8 3/4 x 7 1/4 in.; 223 x 185 mm), Headquarters, New York City, 1 September 1780, to his mother, discussing his meteroric rise in the British Army as Adjutant General to Sir Henry Clinton; seal tear with manuscript fragment preserved.
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Catalogue Note

"Good fortune follows me." André proudly writes to his mother, unaware of the dreadful fate that awaited him before the month of September 1780 was through. He drops hints about the significance of his promotion: "The Commander in chief has raised me to the first Office in the Army, if that of most confidence and least proffit is to be stiled so. I am Adjutant General."   

After special training in Germany, André arrived in America in 1774. He quickly proved himself to be an officer of exceptional ability.  In 1777 André served as an aide to Major General Charles Grey, and accompanied him on his campaign to the Head of Elk, which led to the occupation of Philadelphia.  He also was present at the Battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth as well as Grey's bloody night raid known as Paoli's Massacre.

"I can hardly look back on the steep progress I have made without being giddy." On Grey's recommendation, André was appointed deputy adjutant general to the British commander-in-chief, Sir Henry Clinton, with the rank of major; a year later he would be promoted to a full Adjutant General. André explains to his mother "The Rank of Lieutentant Colonel which usually attends this Post is not given me on account of the difficulties made at giving me rank of Major, but I may nourish hope of obtaining it hereafter. I am full of gratitude towards the General for so much Kindness and impressed with the greatest zeal to deserve it, but can hardly look back at the steep progress I have made without being giddy." While a Deputy Adjutant General, André held the rank of Captain. Clinton undoubtedly would have approved promotion to rank of Major for André in 1779 if the necessary commission could be bought from a retiring officer.  The cost would have been about £2,000 (Flexner, The Traitor and the Spy, p. 297).

The traitor and the spy. Benedict Arnold had first bruited his treasonable overtures to Sir Henry Clinton in May or June 1779, when he found himself seriously in debt and resentful of an accusation that he used his military office for private gain. Over that summer, Arnold gave military information of the highest importance to Clinton such as troop movements, number of troops, dispositions of supplies.  By early summer of 1780, Arnold, cleared of the charges leveled against him, had obtained as a concession from Washington command of West Point. On 12 July 1780, Arnold wrote to André: "I have accepted the command at West Point as a post in which I can render the most essential services." West Point was vital for keeping control of  the Hudson River and the New England colonies; British control of the fort and the river would be certain to drive a wedge between American forces and lead to their defeat.

Finally in  late August 1780, shortly after Clinton announced André's appointment as A. G., Arnold received news that the British had agreed to his demands:  £20,000 if he succeeded in his treachery, £10,000 if he came over without being able to deliver the fort.  As Clinton's A.G., André was entrusted with handling the General's intelligence with his secret agents and informers. The mission to meet with Arnold would fall to André, who harbored the greatest confidence in a glorious outcome.  To his mother he boasts: "The having exercised the duties I am called to, for near a twelvemonth gives me a greater confidence in myself than I should else have and the thought that in acquiring thus much experience I have not been guilty of great omission, etc. makes me trust in my ability to fill the place with reputation."  With feigned humility, André continues: "I do not desire great power from my situation but what openings it gives me to provide for, or oblige in a good cause I shall avail myself of at your nod."

A series of mishaps fells André's ascending star. After unsuccessful attempts to meet on 11 and 20 September, Arnold's go-between, Joshua Hett Smith, rowed out to the armed British sloop Vulture and returned with a merchant named "John Anderson," for a clandestine meeting with Arnold. By the time the two had concluded their business, it was too late for André to return to the Vulture under the cover of darkness.  It was decided that he would return to Smith's house near Haverstraw on the west side of the river and wait until Friday night (22-23 September) to regain the sloop. To their horror, American artillery recently relocated to Teller's Point fired on the Vulture, forcing it to drop down river several miles. Had he conducted his interview with Arnold on the Vulture, he would have remained in uniform and safely escaped downriver. André was now compelled to travel back to British lines overland. In direct violation of Clinton's orders, he changed out of uniform, concealing the compromising documents in his stocking. André had incontrovertibly made himself a spy.

Captured behind American lines.  Furnished with a pass from Arnold, André successfully crossed American works at Stony and Verplanck's points, but on the morning of the 23rd, he was accosted by three rogue militiamen who were more interested in the contents of his purse than in the Patriot cause.  Fearing discovery he produced his pass from Arnold, but suspicion was already aroused that he was an enemy agent. They searched him and discovered the incriminating documents. His captors conveyed him to the American outpost at North Castle and into the hands of Lt. Col. John Jameson.

Arnold had earlier notified Jameson that, should a "Mr. Anderson" appear from the British lines, he was to be sent on to Arnold at headquarters. Even though André had been caught coming from behind American lines carrying papers of "a very dangerous tendency," Jameson would be guilty of insubordination had he not obeyed Arnold's order; so André was to be returned to Arnold. Benjamin Tallmadge returned later that day and learned of the situation. Seeing that the handwriting of the documents matched that of Arnold's pass, he countermanded the order and had André returned to North Castle. In the meantime, Jameson sent a note to Arnold notifying him of Anderson's capture; the documents themselves he sent to Washington, who was at that very moment en route for Arnold's headquarters for an inspection of West Point. On the morning of the 25th Jameson's message reached Arnold, who fled his headquarters at the Beverley Robinson house in Garrison, New York, leaving behind a hysterical wife and a note for his chief that he had urgent business at the Point. He hurried to his barge and made his way to safety aboard the Vulture.

"He was more unfortunate than criminal" wrote Washington to Comte de Rochambeau on 10 October 1780 (Fitzpatrick, 20:151). André was delivered to Mabie's Tavern in Tappan, New York, on 28 September. The following day he was interrogated by the Board of General Officers which included Nathaniel Greene, Henry Knox, Lafayette, and von Steuben. Surprisingly André offered up the most damning evidence against himself:  he admitted to arriving on shore without a flag of truce, under a feigned name, and to the disguise he later adopted. The Board concluded that "Major André Adjutant General to the British Army ought to be considered a Spy from the Enemy, and that agreable to the Law and usage of Nations it is their opinion he ought to suffer death" (Washington to Sir Henry Clinton, 30 October 1780 in Fitzpatrick, 20:103-104).  Washington ignored Clinton's entreaties to pardon André as well as André's request for death before a firing squad as befitted an officer and gentleman and not on a gibbet as befitted a common criminal or spy. He was hanged in Tappan 2 October 1780.

In closing this letter to his mother a month earlier he regrets the gap in their correspondence which was due to "The loss of the Mercury packet taken by the Rebels has I suppose deprived me of accounts from you but I hope for some by the first opportunity." That opportunity was now lost, as was he.  This is possibly one of the last letters written by him to his family. Dr. John Thacher of the American army recorded in his journal for 2 October 1780: "Major Andre is no more among the living. I have just witnessed his exit. During his confinement and trial, he exhibited those proud and elevated sensibilities which designate greatness and dignity of mind. ... Having left a mother and two sisters in England, he was heard to mention them in terms of the tenderest affection, and in his letter to Sir Henry Clinton, he recommended them to his particular attention (The American Revolution from the Commencement to the Disbanding of the America Army Given in the Form of a Daily Journal, 1823; see http://americanrevolution.org/thacher.html).