American Revolution: Major John Andre

John Andre at the time of his capture, 1780
Capture of Major John Andre. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Major John Andre was a noted British Army intelligence officer during the American Revolution. Initially captured during the American invasion of Canada in 1775, he was exchanged in late 1776 and became a staff officer in General Sir William Howe's army. Taking part in the successful campaign against Philadelphia in 1777, Andre was known for his charismatic manner and gift for languages. In 1779, he assumed oversight of secret intelligence for the army and soon opened contact with famed American traitor Major General Benedict Arnold.

Cultivating this asset over the next year, Andre traveled north from New York to meet with Arnold in September 1780. Captured following the encounter, he was held in Tappan, NY before facing a board of senior American officers. Found guilty of being a spy, Andre was hung on October 2.

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).

Fast Facts: Major 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.

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.

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.

Plotting with Arnold

Arnold, then commanding at Philadelphia, had married Peggy Shippen who used her prior relationship with Andre to open a line of communication. 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, 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.

Concerned about his prize aide' safety, Clinton instructed Andre to be extremely careful and instructed him to remain in uniform at all times. Reaching the appointed rendezvous point, he slipped ashore on the night of the 21st and he met the Arnold in the woods near Stony Point, NY. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Arnold took Andre to the house of Joshua Hett Smith to complete the deal. Talking through the night, Arnold agreed to sell his loyalty and West Point for £20,000.


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. Extremely concerned about traveling by this route, he voiced his concerns to Arnold. 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. Additionally, it was agreed that Smith would accompany him for the majority of the journey. Using the name "John Anderson," Andre rode south with Smith. The two men encountered little difficulty through the day, though Andre made the fateful decision to remove his uniform and don the civilian clothes. 


That evening, Andre and Smith encountered a detachment of New York militia who implored the two men to spend the evening with them. Though Andre desired to press on through the night, Smith felt it prudent to accept the offer. Continuing their ride the next morning, Smith left Andre's company at the Croton River. Entering neutral territory between the two armies, Andre felt increasingly comfortable until around 9:00 AM 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 North Castle, NY where he was presented to Lieutenant Colonel John Jameson. Failing to grasp the full situation, Jameson reported Andre's capture to Arnold.

Jameson was blocked in sending Andre north by American intelligence chief Major Benjamin Tallmadge who instead had him held and forwarded the captured documents to Washington who was en route to West Point from Connecticut. Taken to the American headquarters at Tappan, NY, Andre was imprisoned in a local tavern. The arrival of Jameson's letter tipped Arnold that he had been compromised and allowed him to escape capture shortly before Washington's arrival.


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. Held in Tappan, Andre proved exceptionally polite and charmed many of the Continental officers he met. He had a particular effect on the Marquis de Lafayette and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton. The latter later commented, "Never perhaps did any man suffer death with more justice, or deserve it less."

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 Lafayette, Lord Stirling, Brigadier General Henry Knox, Baron Friedrich von Steuben, and Major General Arthur St. Clair.

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 with the board stating that he was guilt of being behind the American lines "under a feigned name and in a disguised habit." Having rendered its verdict, the board sentenced Andre 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."