For those of you that have seen my Drunk History: The Capture of John André video, you probably remember the point around 05:45 where I sadly (and on the verge of sweet, alcohol induced tears) whispered about how much everyone loved our favorite British spy, John André. I spent a good portion of that video
repeatedly discussing the various Continental officers who came into contact with André and even went so far as to… put my own spin on a number of quotes from some of those officers.
I realized, in sobered up retrospect, that a lot of people may not have seen the exact quotes before (though I was actually pretty spot on with my recollection of them despite being inebriated, if I do say so myself), and I’ve decided to put together a small collection of quotes about him by members of the Continental Army so you all could see how much, yes, everyone loved John André.
“Never did a man suffer death with more justice, or deserve it less. There was something singularly interesting in the character and fortunes of André. To an excellent understanding, well improved by education and travel, he united a peculiar elegance of mind and manners, and the advantage of a pleasing person.” –– Alexander Hamilton
I’ve discussed Hamilton’s admiration of André at length before, but I always love bringing it up because, come on. Hamilton wrote a 3.8k word letter to John Laurens that was primarily about how great André was and how sad it was that he died. And that’s a lot coming from Hamilton, considering he tended to not really like anybody.
It should also be noted that Hamilton was engaged to Elizabeth Schuyler at the time of André’s death. Funnily enough, Schuyler had expressed interest in André prior to her betrothal to Hamilton; Hamilton wrote her of André’s execution, while also expressing his insecurities as he compared himself to the recently deceased British officer:
“I confess to you I had the weakness to value the esteem of a dying man; because I reverenced his merit.
I fear you will admire the picture so much as to forget the painter. I wished myself possessed of André’s accomplishments for your sake […]”
Benjamin Tallmadge, quizzical beagle and spymaster extraordinaire, was with André for a majority of his time in American custody. Tallmadge was the one to bring him to his final holding place at the Old ‘76 House. On the way there, when André asked what would become of him, Tallmadge was reminded of his college buddy Nathan Hale, who had been hanged by the British four years prior. His response to André was simply, “and similar will be your fate.” Don’t let that slightly chilly answer fool you, though. Tallmadge may have been the most attached to André of them all:
“From the few days of intimate intercourse I had with him, which was from the time of this being remanded to the period of his execution, I became so deeply attached to Major André, that I could remember no instance where my affections were so fully absorbed by any man.”
“I walked with him to the place of execution, and parted from him under the gallows, entirely overwhelmed with grief, that so gallant an officer and so accomplished a gentleman should come so such an ignominious end.”
“When I saw him swinging under the gibbet, it seemed for a time utterly insupportable: all were overwhelmed with the affecting spectacle, and the eyes of many were suffused with tears. There did not appear to be one hardened or indifferent spectator in all the multitude.”
One of the men severely affected by André’s death was none other than the Marquis de Lafayette, who was rumored to have cried at the scene. Obviously, this wouldn’t be unlikely, considering that multiple accounts state that most of the men in attendance were moved to tears by André’s execution. That being said, Lafayette was also a part of the board that ultimately sentenced André to his death. The court also included Nathanael Greene and Baron von Steuben, who said of Andre, “It was not possible to save him.”
“All the court […] were filled with sentiments of admiration and compassion for him. He behaved with so much frankness, courage and delicacy that I could not help lamenting his unhappy fate. This was one of the most painful duties I ever had to perform.” –– Lafayette
George Washington had quite a bit to say about Major André. While André was alive, he was treated well by Washington’s staff and even served food from Washington’s table. While many disagreed with Washington’s decision to go through with André’s hanging (instead of execution by firing squad as André had requested), it seems as though it was done more for the principal than it was indicative of Washington’s feelings toward the soldier. We can see his true opinion of André in the following:
“Everything that is amiable in virtue, in fortitude, in delicate sentiment, and accomplished manners, pleads for him; but hard-hearted policy calls for a sacrifice.”
“He was more unfortunate than a criminal, an accomplished man and gallant officer.”
In case all of that doesn’t convince you that literally everyone in the Continental army was a little bit in love with John André, this is an excerpt from the inscription on the memorial at the site of his death in Tappan, New York:
“His death, though according to the stern code of war, moved even his enemies to pity, and both armies mourned the fate of one so young and so brave.”