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From your Excellency's letter to Sir Henry Clinton, I find a Board of General Officers have given it as their opinion, that Major André comes under the description of a spy. My good opinion of the candor and justice of those gentlemen leads me to believe, that if they had been made fully acquainted with every circumstance respecting Major André, that they would by no means have considered him in the light of a spy, or even of a prisoner. In justice to him, I think it my duty to declare, that he came from on board the Vulture at my particular request, by a flag sent on purpose for him by Joshua Smith, Esq., who had permission to go to Dobb's Ferry, to carry letters, and for other purposes not mentioned, and to return. This was done as a blind to the spy boats. Mr. Smith at the same time had my private instructions, to go on board the Vulture, and bring on shore Colonel Robinson, or Mr. John Anderson, which was the name I had requested Major André to assume; at the same time I desired Mr. Smith to inform him that he should have my protection, and a safe passport to return in the same boat, as soon as our business was completed. As several accidents intervened to prevent his being sent on board, I gave him my passport to return by land. Major André came on shore in his uniform (without disguise), which with much reluctance, at my particular and pressing instance, he exchanged for another coat. I furnished him with a horse and saddle, and pointed out the route by which he was to return. And as commanding officer in the department, I had an undoubted right to transact all these matters, which, if wrong, Major André ought by no means to suffer for them.
But if, after this just and candid representation of Major André's case, the Board of General Officers adhere to their former opinion, I shall suppose it dictated by passion and resentment; and if that gentleman should suffer the severity of their sentence, I shall think myself bound, by every tie of duty and honor, to retaliate on such unhappy persons of your army as may fall within my power, that the respect due to flags, and to the law of nations, may be better understood and observed.
I have further to observe, that forty of the principal inhabitants of South Carolina have justly forfeited their lives, which have hitherto been spared by the clemency of his Excellency Sir Henry Clinton, who cannot in justice extend his mercy to them any longer, if Major André suffers; which, in all probability, will open a scene of blood at which humanity will revolt.
Suffer me to intreat your Excellency for your own and the honor of humanity and the love you have of justice, that you suffer not an unjust sentence to touch the life of Major André.
But if this warning should be disregarded and he suffer, I call heaven and earth to witness, that your Excellency will be justly answerable for the torrent of blood that may be spilt in consequence.
I have the honor to be, with due respect, Your Excellency's most obedient and very humble servant,
His Excellency General Washington.
Tappan, October 1, 1780.
Buoyed above the terror of death, by the consciousness of a life devoted to honorable pursuits, and stained with no action that can give me remorse, I trust that the request I make to your Excellency at this serious period, and which is to soften my last moments, will not be rejected.
Sympathy towards a soldier will surely induce your Excellency and a military tribunal, to adapt the mode of my death to the feelings of a man of honor.
Let me hope, Sir, that if aught in my character impresses you with esteem towards me, if aught in my misfortune marks me as the victim of policy and not of resentment, I shall experience the operation of these feelings in your breast, by being informed that I am not to die on a gibbet.
I have the honor to be, Your Excellency's most obedient and most humble servant,
His Excellency General Washington.
John André, Adj. Gen. to the British Army.
At the Dutch Village of Tappan (Orangetown), Major André was hanged at noon today. He was dressed in the uniform of a British staff officer. The particulars have been preserved by Dr. Thacher who was an eye-witness, in these words:
"The principal guard officer who was constantly in the room with the prisoner, relates, that when the hour of his execution was announced to him in the morning, he received it without emotion, and while all present were affected with silent gloom, he retained a firm countenance, with calmness and composure of mind. Observing his servant enter the room in tears, he exclaimed, 'Leave me till you can show yourself more manly.' His breakfast being sent to him from the table of General Washington, which had been done every day of his confinement, he partook of it as usual, and having shaved and dressed himself, he placed his hat on the table, and cheerfully said to the guard officers, 'I am ready at any moment gentlemen, to wait on you.' The fatal hour having arrived, a large detachment of troops was paraded, and an immense concourse of people assembled; almost all our general and field officers, excepting his excellency and his
24 Thacher's Military Journal, p. 22.
staff, were present on horseback; melancholy and gloom pervaded all ranks; the scene was affecting and awful.
"I was so near during the solemn march to the fatal spot, as to observe every movement and participate in every emotion, which the melancholy scene was calculated to produce. Major André walked from the stone house, in which he had been confined, between two of our subaltern officers, arm in arm; the eyes of the immense multitude were fixed on him, who, rising superior to the fear of death, appeared as if conscious of the dignified deportment which he displayed. He betrayed no want of fortitude, but retained a complacent smile on his countenance, and politely bowed to several gentlemen whom he knew, which was respect fully returned. It was his earnest desire to be shot, as being the mode of death most conformable to the feelings of a military man, and he had indulged the hope that his request would be granted. 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 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 executioner. Colonel Scammell 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."
THE TRIAL OF JOSHUA H. SMITH FOR ASSISTING THE ENEMY, TAPPAN, NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER, 1780.
After the capture of Major André and the escape of Benedict Arnold, the commander-in-chief of the American army took decisive and energetic measures to ascertain how far the defection extended, and to punish all who had been in any manner cognizant of the traitor's designs. It was soon proved that no just ground of suspicion could be entertained against any of the American officers, although the conduct of Major Varick and Major Franks, the aides-de-camp of General Arnold, was investigated by a court of inquiry, at their own request. There was one person, however, who had been loud in his professions in favor of the cause of liberty, against whom there were violent suspicions of a want of good faith in his connection with the affair. This was Joshua H. Smith,2 who went on board the Vulture sloop of war for André, and in whose house the unfortunate officer spent the night and day after it was determined not to return to the ship. Indeed, André had on a suit of Smith's clothes when he was taken prisoner. But little doubt was at that time entertained, that Smith was cognizant of the whole plot, and he was arrested at Fishkill, in the night of the 25th of September, 1780, by Colonel Gouvion, a French officer, whom Washington sent for that purpose. He was conducted, under guard, to West Point,
1 See ante, p. 438.
2 SMITH, JOSHUA HETT. (1736-1818.) Born New York City. He was by profession a lawyer and was a man of substance and well connected, though members of his family were suspected of disaffection to the cause of the Colonists. His eldest brother, afterwards a High Court Justice in Canada, had been banished within the British lines at New York, and another brother was generally deemed an enemy to the revolution. Smith was appointed a delegate from the county of Orange to oppose in the Convention of 1776 the measure of independence then recommended and adopted by Congress.
where he was brought before General Washington and some of the principal officers of the army, when his account of his knowledge of and connection with the proceedings of Arnold was so confirmed, as to give strength to the suspicions that already existed in regard to him. He acknowledged that he went on board of the Vulture; and that André returned with him, and that he entertained that officer at his house and accompanied him a part of the way towards the City of New York, but he denied that he was present at any interview between Arnold and André or that he had the slightest suspicion of Arnold's plans.
Smith was sent to Tappan and kept in confinement there until tried by a Court Martial which assembled the day after the examination of André and continued by adjournment for four weeks. Among the distinguished witnesses were Lafayette, Knox and Hamilton and all the developments of the conspiracy as well as the incidents of the capture of André which had not been gone into on the trial of the British officer were brought out in a dramatic way. Smith read to the Court a long defense in which he took the ground that as a civilian and not a soldier he was not subject to a military tribunal, and he examined the witnesses with marked ability. That he aided and assisted Arnold there was no doubt; this he confessed and some facts of his conduct were never cleared up, especially his refusal to go back with André to the Vulture. The reasons he assigned were improbable and his attempts at an explanation only drew a deeper shade over his candor. But as it was not satisfactorily proved that he had any knowledge of Arnold's traitorous designs, he was acquitted by the Court.
Before a Court of Military Officers, Tappan, New York, September, 1780.
COLONEL HENRY JACKSON, President.a
3 Bibliography. "The testimony in the case, which was very voluminous, was written out by the judge advocate, and was transmitted, with the other papers of the court martial, to the governor of