1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/André, John

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ANDRÉ, JOHN (1751–1780), British soldier, was born in London in 1751 of Genevese parents. Accident brought him in 1769 to Lichfield, where, in the house of the Rev. Thomas Seward, whose daughter Anna was the centre of a literary circle, he met the beautiful Miss Honora Sneyd. A strong attachment sprang up between the two, but their marriage was disapproved of by Miss Sneyd’s family, and André was sent to cool his love in his father’s counting-house in London and on a business tour to the continent. Commerce was, however, too tame an occupation for his ambitious spirit, and in March 1771 he obtained a commission in the Seventh (Royal Fusiliers), which, after travel in Germany, he joined in Canada in 1774. Here his character, conduct and accomplishments gained him rapid promotion. Miss Sneyd in 1773 married R. L. Edgeworth, the father of the novelist, Maria Edgeworth, having previously refused Thomas Day, the author of Sandford and Merton; but André remained faithful to his love for her. In a letter to Anna Seward, written shortly after being taken prisoner by the Americans at the capitulation of St John’s on the 3rd of November 1775, he states that he has been “stripped of everything except the picture of Honora, which I concealed in my mouth. Preserving this I yet think myself fortunate.” Exchanged towards the close of 1776, André became in succession aide-de-camp to General Grey and to the commander-in-chief of the British forces, Sir Henry Clinton, who raised him to the rank of major and appointed him adjutant-general of the forces in 1778. Early in 1780 the American general, Benedict Arnold (q.v.), thinking himself injuriously treated by his colleagues, made overtures to the British to betray to them the important fortress of West Point on the Hudson river, the key of the American position, of which he was commandant. This seemed to Sir Henry Clinton a favourable opportunity for concluding the war, and Major André was appointed to negotiate with Arnold. For this purpose he landed from a vessel bearing a flag of truce and had an interview with Arnold, who delivered to him full particulars and plans of the fortress of West Point, and arranged with him to co-operate with the British during an attack which was to be made in a few days. Unfortunately for André, the British vessel was fired on before the negotiations were finished and obliged to drop down the river. André, therefore, could not return by the way he came and was compelled to pass the night within the American lines. After making the fatal mistake of exchanging his uniform for a civilian disguise, he set out next day by land for New York, provided by Arnold with a passport, and succeeded in passing the regular American outposts undetected. Next day, however, just when all danger seemed to be over, André was stopped by three American militiamen, to whom he gave such contradictory answers that, in spite of Arnold’s pass, they searched him and discovered in his boots the fatal proofs of his negotiations for the betrayal of West Point. Notwithstanding his offer of a large sum for his release, his captors delivered him up to the nearest American officer. Washington, although admitting that André was “more unfortunate than criminal,” sent him before a court-martial, by which, notwithstanding a spirited defence, he was, in consequence of his own admissions, condemned to death as a spy. In spite of the protests and entreaties of Sir Henry Clinton and the threats of Arnold he was hanged at Tappan on the 2nd of October 1780. Arnold, warned by the unfortunate André, escaped by flight the punishment he so richly merited. The justice of André’s execution has been a fruitful theme for discussion, but both British and American military writers are agreed that he undoubtedly acted in the character of a spy, although under orders and entirely contrary to his own feelings. Washington’s apparent harshness in refusing the condemned man a soldier’s death by shooting has also been censured, but it is evident that no other course was open to the American commander, since a mitigation of the sentence would have implied a doubt as to its justice. Besides courage and distinguished military talents, Major André was a proficient in drawing and in music, and showed considerable poetic talent in his humorous Cow-chase, a kind of parody on Chevy-chase, which appeared in three successive parts at New York, the last on the very day of his capture. His fate excited universal sympathy both in America and Europe, and the whole British army went into mourning for him. A mural sculptured monument to his memory was erected in Westminster Abbey by the British government when his remains were brought over and interred there in 1821; and a memorial has been erected to him by Americans on the spot where he was taken. André’s military journal, giving an interesting account of the British movements in America from June 1777 to the close of 1778, was taken to England in 1782 by General Grey, whose descendant, Earl Grey, discovered it in 1902 and disposed of it to an American gentleman.

See The Life and Career of Major John André, &c., by Winthrop Sargent (new ed., New York, 1902); André’s Journal (Boston, Mass., The Bibliophile Society, 1904).