In the nave of Westminster Abbey there is a monument to Major John Andre, executed as a spy by the Americans in 1780. Designed by Robert Adam and carried out by Peter Mathias Van Gelder it was erected in 1782 at the expense of King George III. It shows a mourning figure of Britannia with a lion, seated on the top of a sarcophagus.
On the front of this is a relief showing George Washington with officers in a tent receiving a petition (where Andre asked for a soldier's death by firing squad) and flag of truce. Major André is being led away to be hanged by Ensign Samuel Bowman and Captain John Hughes. A row of American soldiers is shown and an officer, perhaps Colonel Scammell who was in charge of the execution, stands in front of them. A woman seated beneath a tree wrings her hands in grief.
The inscription reads:
SACRED to the MEMORY of MAJOR JOHN ANDRÉ, who raised by his Merit at an early period of Life to the rank of Adjutant General of the British Forces in America, and employed in an important but hazardous Enterprise fell a Sacrifice to his Zeal for his King and Country on the 2nd of October AD 1780 Aged 29, universally Beloved and esteemed by the Army in which he served and lamented even by his FOES. His gracious Sovereign KING GEORGE the Third has caused this Monument to be erected.
The Remains of Major JOHN ANDRÉ Were, on the 10th of August 1821, removed from Tappan, By JAMES BUCHANAN ESQr His Majesty's Consul at New York, Under instructions from His Royal Highness The DUKE of YORK, And, with the permission of the Dean and Chapter, Finally deposited in a Grave Contiguous to this Monument, On the 28th of November 1821.
John André was probably born in Paris on 2nd May 1751 the son of Anthony and Marie-Louise André (daughter of Paul Girardot of Paris). His father was a merchant, residing in later life at Clapton, London; he died there on 14th April 1769 aged 52 and was buried in the family vault in St Augustine's churchyard, Hackney. His mother died in Bath on 22nd February 1813 aged 91.
John had one brother, William Louis, and three sisters. Mary Hannah died in 1845 aged 93, Ann Marguerite died in 1830 and Louisa Catherine died in 1835 (all unmarried and living in Bath). William was baptised at St Martin Outwich in London on 25th November 1760 and was later made a baronet by George III in honour of the memory of his brother. He died unmarried in 1802 and the title became extinct. John's uncle was John Lewis Andre.
John was educated in Geneva and on 25th January 1771 purchased a commission in the British Army and was shortly posted to America. He was captured and interned at Lancaster, Pennsylvania and exchanged for some American prisoners in November 1776. He came to the attention of the British authorities because of the detailed secret maps he had drawn while a prisoner. In 1779 he was appointed Adjutant General, with the rank of Major, to General Sir Henry Clinton, Commander of the British Army in New York. André was sent on a secret mission to General Benedict Arnold to negotiate the surrender of West Point to the British. However he was captured within the American lines, in civilian dress (contrary to orders given by General Clinton), with incriminating plans of West Point concealed in his boot.
He was taken before General George Washington's board of inquiry and in spite of every effort to obtain his pardon, he was hanged as a spy on 2nd October 1780 and buried beneath the gallows at Tappan, New York. Even before his execution André had aroused the sympathy of the British and the Americans. As he walked to the gallows he was watched by many sobbing women, one of whom is said to have given him a peach which later grew into a tree above his grave.
He became a romantic hero in England and after the war the monument was erected in the Abbey and it was proposed that his bones should be brought back for burial. During a stay in England Benedict Arnold and his wife Peggy, who had been a friend of John, visited the monument.
Burial in the Abbey
In 1821 John's remains were, at the Duke of York's request, brought from America and buried, with the funeral service read by the Dean of Westminster, in front of his monument in the Abbey on 28th November. The body was taken from his burial place on the banks of the Hudson river and a few locks of his hair which remained were sent to his sisters. The roots of the peach tree had pierced the coffin and this was uprooted and replanted in the King's garden behind Carlton House in London. The bier was decorated with garlands and flowers as it was transported to the ship. Sir Herbert Taylor attended the funeral on behalf of the Duke and Mr Locker, secretary of Greenwich Hospital, appeared for the Andre sisters.
A small lozenge stone marks the grave. The lower inscription was then added to his memorial.
The wooden chest in which the bones were enclosed is still in the Abbey's collection (not accessible to the public). The inscription on this chest reads:
CASE containing the Sarcophagus with the remains of the late MAJOR ANDRE raised the 10th August 1821 by the order of HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS the Commander in Chief and forwarded to ENGLAND by Jas. BUCHANAN ESQr. HIS MAJESTY'S CONSUL NEW YORK.
A monument, with an inscription written by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Dean of Westminster, was erected in 1879 by Cyrus Field on the site of André's execution at Tappan. Also on the monument at Tappan are the following lines:
He was more unfortunate than criminal,
An accomplished man and a gallant officer.
- George Washington
Sunt lacrymae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt" Virgil, AEneid, I, 462.
(This can be translated: Here there are tears for what happened, and those tragic human events touch people's hearts)
The Dean brought back from America a wreath of autumn leaves from the banks of the Hudson and this was on the monument for many years (now gone).
Colonel J.L. Chester, an American genealogist who edited the "Westminster Abbey Registers", did a lot of research into the André family. James André, of Nismes in France, was the earliest ancestor he could find. His son David became a merchant at Genoa in Italy and died there 8 March 1737/8 but his will was proved in London. The other son John married Louise Vazeille and had seven children. Their third son William (died 1747) went to Geneva and married Mary Privat (died 1767).
William had ten children and three of the sons, Anthony, David and John-Louis came to England. David and John became merchants and both married and had children. David's son David, born in 1752, attended Westminster School and became a director of the Corporation of the Hospital for poor French Protestants in 1782 and died unmarried in 1819.
J.L. Chester, Marriage, Baptismal and Burial Registers of the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster, 1876
Brian R. Boylan, Benedict Arnold: The Dark Eagle, New York, 1973, p.119 and following
A.P. Stanley, Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey, 5th edn. 1882
Burke's Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies, London, 1844
Winthrop Sargeant The Life & Career of Major Andre, Boston 1861
Robert W .Coakley The Tragedy of Major Andre in Historical Society of Rockland County magazine vol.15, no.3, 1971
A self portrait sketch of André is in Yale University Art Gallery
A design for the monument is in the Sir John Soane's Museum in London
The Keep Military Museum in Dorchester holds some personal effects of Andre (regimental museum of the 54th foot and later regiments)