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Westminster Abbey, London: Monument to John André, commissioned by King George III, c1781, executed (4)


John André was born 2 May 1751, the eldest son of Genevan merchant Anthony André (1717-1769) and his wife Marie Louise, the daughter of Paul Girardot. André was possibly born in London and his early education may have been at either St Paul’s or Westminster School before he went on to continue his studies in Geneva. On his return to England André found himself a part of the literary circle surrounding poet Anna Seward, where he met and became engaged to Honora Sneyd. However by December 1770 the engagement has been broken off and in January 1771 André purchased a commission in the 23rd regiment, Royal Welch Fusiliers.

In 1774 André was posted to Quebec and in November 1775 he was captured and interned at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. André remained a captive until November 1776 when he was released in exchange for American prisoners. Whilst imprisoned André had made detailed maps and notes of the surrounding area and this ultimately led to his advancement in the British Army. In 1778 he was appointed aide-de-camp to General Sir Henry Clinton, Commander of the British forces in New York. The following year André was promoted to the position of Adjutant General and was entrusted with Clinton’s correspondence, including his communications with American defector Benedict Arnold. André corresponded with Arnold under the name John Anderson, with crucial information disguised as mercantile transactions as the two men plotted the taking of West Point from the American forces.

On the evening of 21 September André left with the British vessel Vulture in order to meet with Arnold, but on finding himself caught behind American lines he disguised himself as a civilian. He attempted to journey back to British held territory, but he was seized by three American soldiers and incriminating papers were found concealed in his boot. André was held by Major Benjamin Tallmadge and the discovered documents were sent to General George Washington.

On 29 September André was bought before a board of inquiry led by Washington at Tappan, New York. André was convicted as a British spy and he was sentenced to execution by hanging. Sir Henry Clinton made significant efforts to secure a pardon for André, but was unsuccessful. André sent a petition to General Washington requesting a soldier’s death by firing squad, but this was refused.

Major John André was hanged 2 October 1780 at Tappan, New York, where he was buried. André’s exploits and his subsequent death captured public attention and aroused much sympathy amongst the British and American people alike.

John André was survived by his mother Marie Louise who died in Bath in February 1813 at the age of 91. His brother William Louis was subsequently made a baronet by King George III in John’s honour. William died in 1802 without an heir and the title became extinct. André’s three sisters Mary Hannah (d. 1843), Ann Marguerite (d. 1830) and Louisa Catherine (d. 1835) all moved to Bath and lived to see John’s remains returned to England in 1821.

Following André's death, King George III commissioned a monument in his memory to be positioned in the nave of Westminster Abbey. Robert Adam’s executed designs reflect contemporary public sympathy for the young soldier executed as a spy. The monument takes the form of a classical sarcophagus surmounted by a grieving Britannia and lion, who recline across the lid. The relief panel depicts Major André’s arrest and Washington’s refusal of his petition for a soldier’s death. A mourning woman is shown beneath a tree, representative of the crowds in attendance at André’s execution. Adam’s designs (SM Adam volume 19/29, 19/31-32) were executed by Peter Mathias Van Gelder, with the monument completed in 1782.

More than forty years after his death, on 10 August 1821, John André was exhumed by British Consul James Buchanan on the orders of Frederick, Duke of York. Buchanan returned Andre’s remains to London where they were interred adjacent to Adam’s monument in Westminster Abbey on 28 November 1821. It is said that a peach tree which grew over André’s Tappan grave was uprooted and replanted in the gardens of Carlton House. Alternatively the planting may refer to the myrtle tree presented to Buchanan by the women of Tappan. In 1879, to mark the centenary of André’s death, millionaire Cyrus Field erected a monument in Tappan on the site of his execution along with an inscription composed by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Dean of Westminster Abbey.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 51, 61; R. E. Cray, Jr., ‘Major John André and the Three Captors: Class Dynamics and Revolutionary Memory Wars in the Early Republic, 1780-1831’, Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 17, Autumn 1997, pp. 371-397; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 363-64, 371, pl. 535; Volume II pp. 261, 266; F. Sands, Robert Adam's London, 2016, pp. 12-15; ‘John André – Soldier’, www.westminster-abbey.org; R. Garnett, ‘André, John (1750-1780)’, September 2004, www.oxforddnb.com; ‘Benedict Arnold Letter to John André, July 15’, www.clements.umich.edu; ‘Major John André Monument, Tarrytown, NY, c.1900’, www.archives.nysed.gov/education; ‘Front View of the Major John Andre Monument in Westminster Abbey’, www.historicengland.org.uk; ‘42 Andre Hill, Tappan’, www.rocklandgov.com (accessed March 2021)

Anna McAlaney, 2021



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Contents of Westminster Abbey, London: Monument to John André, commissioned by King George III, c1781, executed (4)