The Americans had a strong fortress at West Point, on the
Hudson river. It was one of the most important places in the country, and
its acquisition was anxiously desired by the Eng- lish. Possession of West
Point would have given them command of the Hudson, up which their ships of
war could have sailed for more than a hundred miles. But that fort, sitting
impregnably on rocks two hundred feet above the level of the river, was hard
to win; and the Americans were careful to garrison effectively a position so
In the American army was an officer
named Arnold, who had served, not without distinction from the beginning of
the war. He had fought in Canada when the Americans unsuccessfully invaded
that province. This courage and skill had been conspicuous in the
engagements which led to the surrender of Burgoyne. lie was, however, a
vain, reckless, unscrupulous person. He had by extravagance in living
involved himself in debt, which lie aggravated hopelessly by ill-judged
mercantile speculations. lie had influence with Washington to obtain the
command of West Point. There is little doubt that when he sought the
appointment it was with the full intention of selling that important
fortress to the enemy. lie opened negotiations at once with Sir Henry
Clinton, then in command of the English army at New York.
Clinton sent Major André to arrange the terms of the conternplated
treachery. A mournful interest attaches to the name of this young officer:
the fate which befell him was so very sad. He was of French
descent—high-spirited, accomplished, affectionate, merry-hearted. It was a
service which a high- principled man would scarcely have coveted. But André
desired eagerly to have the merit of gaining West Point, and he volunteered
for this perilous enterprise.
Sept 1780 A.D.
At midnight Major André landed from the boat of a British ship of war, at a
lonely place where Arnold waited him. Their conference lasted so long that
it was deemed unsafe for André to return to the ship. He was conducted to a
place of concealment within the American lines, to await the return of
darkness. He completed his arrangement with Arnold, and received drawings of
the betrayed fortress. his mission was now accomplished. The ship from which
he had come lay full in view. Would that he could reach her But difficulties
arose, and it was resolved that he must ride to New York, a distance of
fifty miles. Disguising himself as he best could, André reluctantly accepted
this very doubtful method of escape from his fearful jeopardy.
Within the American lines he had some narrow escapes, but the pass given by
Arnold carried him through. He was at length beyond the lines. his danger
might now be considered at an end, and he rode cheerfully on his lonely
journey. Ho was crossing a small stream—thick woods on his right hand and
his left enhanced the darkness of the night. Three armed men stepped
suddenly from among the trees and ordered him to stand. From the dress of
one of them, André thought ho was among friends, lie hastened to tell them
he was a British officer, on very special business, and he must not be
detained. Alas for poor Major André, they were not friends; and the dress
which deceived him had been given to the man who wore it when he was a
prisoner with the English, in place of a better garment of which his captors
had stripped him.
André was searched; but at first nothing
was found. It seemed as if he might yet be allowed to proceed, when one of
the three men exclaimed, "Boys, I am not satisfied. His boots must come
off." André's countenance fell. His boots were searched, and Arnold's
drawings of West Point were discovered. The men knew then that he was a spy.
He vainly offered them money. They were incorruptible. He was taken to the
nearest military station, and the tidings were at once sent to Washington,
who chanced to be then at West Point. Arnold had timely intimation of the
disaster, and fled for refuge to a British ship of war.
André was tried by a court formed of officers of the American army. He gave
a frank and truthful account of his part in the unhappy transaction—bringing
into due prominence the circumstance that he was brought, without intention
or knowledge on his part, within the American lines. The court judged him on
his own statement, and condemned him to be hanged as a spy.
His capture and sentence caused deep sensation in the English army, and
every effort was made to save him. But Washington was resolute that lie
should die. The danger to the patriot cause had been too great to leave any
place for relenting. There were (lark intimations of other treasons yet
unrevealed. It was needful to give emphatic warning of the perils which
waited on such unlawful negotiations. André begged that he might be allowed
to (lie a soldier's death. Even this poor boon was refused to the unhappy
young man. Since the awful lesson must be given, Washington considered that
no circumstance fitted to enhance its terrors should be withheld. But this
was mercifully concealed from André to the very last.
days after his arrest, André was led forth to die. He was under the
impression that his last request had been granted, and that he would (lie by
the bullet. It was a fresh pang when the gibbet, with its ghastly
preparations, stood before him. "how hard is my fate," lie said; "but it
will soon be over." lie bandaged his own eyes; with his own hands adjusted
the noose to his neck. The cart on which lie stood moved away, and poor
Major André was no longer in the world of living men. Forty years afterwards
his remains were brought home to England and laid in Westminster Abbey.