Notable Historical Trials III – Major Andre

This installment in the four volume set of Notable Historical Trials from the Folio Society comes from the American Revolution.

In 1780, Benedict Arnold was becoming disenchanted.  The hero of the battle of Saratoga, which captured a British Army in its entirety, was being passed over for commands.

This did not sit well with him.  As the commander of West Point, he was in an important position and just up the Hudson River from the English post in New York City.  Arnold’s mind turned to betrayal – changing sides and giving up the post for a fat cash payment.

As part of the negotiations, the English required a face-to-face meeting.  It would be quite an embarrassment to pay some random schlub and get nothing in return.  Major Andre was sent to have this meeting with Arnold to work out the final details.

Andre was dropped off by a British vessel, and had the required meeting.  As the ship had moved off, Andre needed another way to get back.  Arnold suggested he remove his uniform, take a pass through the lines under an assumed name, and head to New York overland.

Andre did so, but on the way he was stopped by some suspicious ‘cowboys’ and taken in, and his story soon unraveled.  Arnold fled to the British lines, and the Americans were left with Andre, and the unsettling idea that a conspiracy of unknown size was underway in the officer corps.

Andre was tried as a spy.  The circumstances were pretty clear-cut.  His lack of uniform and possession of military information were damning, not to mention the whole ‘betray West Point’ conspiracy.  He was found guilty, and sentenced to hang.  He requested a more honorable end, but this was denied.  Many of the American officers were sympathetic to him because of his behavior as a prisoner, but he was hung despite all of that.

After the war, his body and a peach tree that was planted to mark the spot were moved to England. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Arnold would fight with some success for the British, but was never very popular partly due to the loss of Andre.

Interestingly, his three ‘cowboy’ captors were each honored with having counties in the state of Ohio named after them – Paulding, van Wart, and Williams counties.


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