It’s been a wild week at the RedState Department of History. With staff and researchers scrambling for historical (or in the case of liberals, hysterical) parallels between conservative Supreme Court nominees smeared by the left, there was a lot to do.
This leads to today’s anniversary — in which someone who betrayed his cause was found out. The entry isn’t so much about the individual who did the betraying, but rather the person who helped him.
Major John Andre was the head of Great Britain’s Secret Service, if you will, during the American Revolution. He came to what were then the brand-new United States of America to find whatever advantage he could for his country in the war against its former colonies.
He found a helper in General Benedict Arnold, who was looking for a way to surrender the fort at West Point to the British. This would have allowed the British to strategically cut off New England from the rest of the new nation.
Today’s anniversary is the day it all went wrong for Andre, in 1780.
After a series of discussions with Arnold, Andre left a secret meeting with six pieces of paper shoved inside one of his boots. The papers contained information, written in Arnold’s own hand, on how the British could best conquer the fort.
Andre also received papers allowing him to travel under an assumed name, but they didn’t fool three militiamen named John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart and David Williams. On September 23, 1780, Arnold’s treason was discovered.
The three men stopped Andre, who figured the three for allies since one of the men was wearing a Hessian greatcoat. He told the men, “I hope you belong to our party,” meaning the British. When the men agreed, Andre identified himself as a British officer needing safe passage — at which time the three men revealed themselves to be Americans and arrested Andre.
Lieutenant Colonel John Jameson, who commanded the fort at which Andre was held, refused to believe his commander, Arnold, could be a traitor. So even as he passed over the information Andre carried to General George Washington, he also sent a note to Arnold informing him of the situation. At this point, Arnold escaped and fled to England.
Andre, however, was not so fortunate. He was tried by the Americans, found guilty of being behind American lines “under a feigned name and a disguised habit” and was sentenced to hang on October 2.
But it was how the 30-year old Andre faced his fate that made the story remarkable. As a soldier, he appealed to Washington to be executed by firing squad but this request was denied since he was also a spy.
Unfortunately for Andre, he didn’t discover this fact until he was actually led to the gallows. In 1860, the memoirs of American surgeon James Thatcher were published, and among then was his recollections of Andre’s reaction. The book, published after his death, carried the unwieldy title of The American Revolution: From the Commencement to the Disbanding of the American Army Given in the Form of a Daily Journal, with the Exact Dates of all the Important Events; Also, a Biographical Sketch of the Most Prominent Generals:
“At the moment, therefore, when suddenly he came in view of the gallows, he involuntarily started backward, and made a pause. “Why this emotion, sir?” said an officer by his side. Instantly recovering his composure, he said, “I am reconciled to my death, but I detest the mode.” While waiting and standing near the gallows, I observed some degree of trepidation; placing his foot on a stone, and rolling it over and choking in his throat, as if attempting to swallow. So soon, however, as he perceived that things were in readiness, he stepped quickly into the wagon, and at this moment he appeared to shrink, but instantly elevating his head with firmness he said, “It will be but a momentary pang,” and taking from his pocket two white handkerchiefs, the provost-marshal, with one, loosely pinioned his arms, and with the other, the victim, after taking off his hat and stock, bandaged his own eyes with perfect firmness, which melted the hearts and moistened the cheeks, not only of his servant, but of the throng of spectators. The rope being appended to the gallows, he slipped the noose over his head and adjusted it to his neck, without the assistance of the awkward executioner. Colonel Scammel now informed him that he had an opportunity to speak, if he desired it; he raised the handkerchief from his eyes, and said, “I pray you to bear me witness that I meet my fate like a brave man.” The wagon being now removed from under him, he was suspended, and instantly expired; it proved indeed “but a momentary pang.”
Andre was 30 years old at the time of his death. In remembrance, Washington himself wrote to Comte de Rochambeau eight days after the sentence was passed that Andre was “more unfortunate than criminal.”
In 1821, the Duke of York requested that Andre’s remains be repatriated to Britain, and he was reinterred in Westminster Abbey alongside his nation’s kings and poets.
Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!