American History Told by Contemporaries

Author: John André  | Date: 1835

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U.S. History

The Experiences of a British Spy (1780)



Salem, 24 September, 1780.


WHAT I have as yet said concerning myself was in the justifiable attempt to be extricated; I am too little accustomed to duplicity to have succeeded.

I beg your Excellency will be persuaded, that no alteration in the temper of my mind, or apprehension for my safety, induces me to take the step of addressing you, but that it is to rescue myself from an imputation of having assumed a mean character for treacherous purposes or self-interest; a conduct incompatible with the principles that actuate me, as well as with my condition in life.

It is to vindicate my fame that I speak, and not to solicit security.

The person in your possession is Major John André, adjutant-general to the British army.

The influence of one commander in the army of his adversary is an advantage taken in war. A correspondence for this purpose I held; as confidential (in the present instance) with his Excellency Sir Henry Clinton.

To favor it, I agreed to meet upon ground not within the posts of either army, a person who was to give me intelligence; I came up in the Vulture man of war for this effect, and was fetched by a boat from the ship to the beach. Being there, I was told that the approach of day would prevent my return, and that I must be concealed until the next night. I was in my regimentals, and had fairly risked my person.

Against my stipulation, my intention, and without my knowledge beforehand, I was conducted within one of your posts. Your Excellency may conceive my sensation on this occasion, and will imagine how much more must I have been affected by a refusal to reconduct me back the next night as I had been brought. Thus become a prisoner, I had to concert my escape. I quitted my uniform, and was passed another way in the night, without the American posts, to neutral ground, and informed I was beyond all armed parties and left to press for New York. I was taken at Tarrytown by some volunteers.

Thus, as I have had the honor to relate, was I betrayed (being adjutant-general of the British army) into the vile condition of an enemy in disguise within your posts.

Having avowed myself a British officer, I have nothing to reveal but what relates to myself, which is true on the honor of an officer and a gentleman.

The request I have to make to your Excellency, and I am conscious I address myself well, is, that in any rigor policy may dictate, a decency of conduct towards me may mark, that though unfortunate I am branded with nothing dishonorable, as no motive could be mine but the service of my King, and as I was involuntarily an impostor.

Another request is, that I may be permitted to write an open letter to Sir Henry Clinton, and another to a friend for clothes and linen.

I take the liberty to mention the condition of some gentlemen at Charleston, who, being either on parole or under protection, were engaged in a conspiracy against us. Though their situation is not similar, they are objects who may be set in exchange for me, or are persons whom the treatment I receive might affect.

It is no less, Sir, in a confidence of the generosity of your mind, than on account of your superior station, that I have chosen to importune you with this letter. I have the honor to be, with great respect, Sir, your Excellency’s most obedient humble servant,

JOHN ANDRÉ, Adjutant-general.

George Washington, Writings (edited by Jared Sparks, Boston, 1835), VII, Appendix, 531–543 passim.


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Chicago: John André, "The Experiences of a British Spy (1780)," American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Jared Sparks in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1902), 515–517. Original Sources, accessed December 2, 2022,

MLA: André, John. "The Experiences of a British Spy (1780)." American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Jared Sparks, Vol. VII, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 3, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1902, pp. 515–517. Original Sources. 2 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: André, J, 'The Experiences of a British Spy (1780)' in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. . cited in 1902, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York, pp.515–517. Original Sources, retrieved 2 December 2022, from