John André was head of the British Army’s Secret Service in North America as the Revolutionary War entered its most bitter and, ultimately, decisive phase. In 1780, he masterminded the defection of a high-ranking American officer—General Benedict Arnold. Arnold—his name for ever synonymous with treason in American folklore—had recently been appointed commander of West Point and agreed, through André, to turn over to the British this strategically vital fort on the upper reaches of the Hudson River. Control of the fort would interrupt lines of communication between New England and the southern colonies, seriously impeding military operations against the British. The plan was also to simultaneously kidnap General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. By these two masterstrokes, the British believed they could end rebel resistance.
The secret negotiations between Arnold and André were protracted and fraught with danger. Arnold’s new wife, Peggy became the go-between in the negotiations. Arnold insisted that, to complete negotiations, he and André must meet face to face. At the dead of night on September 21st 1780 the two rendezvoused in no-man’s-land. Sir Henry Clinton, commander of British forces in North America and André’s immediate superior, agreed to this meeting but with three strict conditions: that André not go within the American lines; that he remain in uniform; and that he carry away from the meeting no incriminating papers. Thus, if caught, André could not be treated as a spy.
Yet, when André was captured forty-eight hours later, he was within American lines, had changed into civilian clothes and was carrying maps of West Point hidden in his boots. The Americans had no option other than to treat him as a spy, especially when he himself admitted this. He was convicted by military tribunal and hanged—his death lamented both in America and England.
While biographers agree on the facts of this tragic episode, they disagree on André’s motives and why he chose to sacrifice himself. This new biography of André puts forward a new answer to this mystery—not only why he acted as he did, but how he wished others to see his actions.
“Ronald offers a detailed look at the British officer best known for having persuaded Benedict Arnold to betray the American Revolution.”
“Dr. D. A. B. Ronald has done an admirable job of constructing a biography of John Andre … one fascinating aspect of Ronald’s text is that it is written from the British perspective, rarely the case in literature about the American Revolutionary War.”
“This is a nicely balanced work that takes time to assess what in André’s psychology and background led him to make the choices he did. The biography is well researched, and it’s clear Ronald is passionate about his subject.”
“The unfortunate Major André’s life was short, and I had thought that every aspect of it had been discussed many times before. However Dr Ronald’s research has been painstaking and meticulous, and he has uncovered crucial new information regarding influences on Andre’s life; the misfortunes of his father; the patronage of Colonel Prescott early in his military career, and his time in Germany. Though there will always be controversy on how much Benedict Arnold engineered events at Stony Point and subsequent occurrences, this book must surely be the definitive account of André’s life. His name will ever be linked with that of Arnold in a juxtaposition of Honour and Ignominy.”
“A valuable picture of a fine young officer, with some interesting insights into the events and a look at English and American military, social, and cultural life in the period.”