Many people may have heard the tale of Major John Andre (he was captured, tried and hung during the American Revolution). After all the time that had passed, the story of Major Andre was still talked about when I was young. But…I have seen something of Major Andre that I guarantee very few in this world have ever laid eyes upon.
My story with Major John Andre begins with my mother. She told me the brief tale of the British officer-spy captured near my grandparents’ home in Rockland County, New York. The tale of the dashing handsome Brit is the stuff of tragic fairytale.
Major John Andre, picking up papers from Benedict Arnold…all will be revealed…
John Andre was born on May 2, 1750 in London. His father was Antoine Andre, a merchant from Geneva and his mother was one Marie Louise Girardot, from Paris. At the age of 20, he entered the British army. He was deployed in Canada with the 7th Royal Fusiliers as a lieutenant. After a brief capture at Fort Saint-Jean in 1775, he was freed in a prisoner exchange in December 1776. He was subsequently promoted to captain in the 26th Foot in January 1777, and then to Major in 1778.
Not only was he an admirable soldier climbing the ranks, but he was a huge success in Philadelphia and New York society, both cities then occupied by the British. He was handsome and charming, and was an accomplished artist and painter who could also sing and write verse. He even carried much of General Clinton’s correspondence, being fluent in several languages. Frankly, he was the man every girl desired.
Fact Alert! – During the Philadelphia occupation, Andre lived in Benjamin Franklins home. Rumor has it, that on Major-General Lord Charles Grey’s orders; he stole valuable items from the home which Greys’ descendants later returned in the early 20th century.
Andre spent a deal of time with Peggy Shipton and her sisters. Peggy, who was later to become the wife of Benedict Arnold, had some sort of a fling with the dashing Major. A bit of rumor swirls around the true relationship between Peggy and Andre. Suffice to say, she had no problem becoming the go-between between Arnold and Andre during Benedict Arnolds plan to give over West Point to the British, in exchange for 20,000 pounds. Quite a sum, but West Point was a strategic point on the Hudson River that would have enabled the British to cut New England off from the rest of the colonies.
After meeting with Arnold near Stony Point, New York, Arnold provided him with a horse and civilian clothes, and told him to hide the papers he was to carry for Arnold in his boots. The plan failed, and Andre was captured and then detained near Tarrytown, New York. If he hadn’t have been so arrogant in a) Presuming that the three local militiamen were one of ‘his own’ due to the Hessian jacket one happened to be wearing and b) Further announcing that he was a British officer, chances are he wouldnt have been captured. He was taken to the headquarters of the American army at Tappan where he was held at the tavern, The Old ’76 House. There he admitted who he was.
The capture of Major John Andre.
After a trial, he was naturally found guilty and ordered to hang in Tappan, New York on October 2, 1780. By all accounts he died as befitting a gentleman and British officer. In 1821, Andre’s remains were exhumed and sent back to England, where he is buried in Westminster Abbey. Well, most of him anyway! And here begins my part in this tale.
When I was a girl, I used to visit my grandparents in Tappan quite often. When I was about 8, I discovered the delights of history. My grandfather occasionally took me around the local area showing me the local historical sites; Stony Point, the Palisades, and of course, the hanging site of Major John Andre. Usually these historical soirees would end in a stop at his local watering hole called the Ole 76 House. My grandfather was friends with the bartender there. I’d get a Shirley Temple and heaven knows what my grandfather would get!
The Ole 76′ House, in Tappan, New York.
Years later, I read a ghost story about Major John Andre wandering around Rockland County. I have my own theory as to why he may be wandering about. On one of those afternoon history tours that ended with at stop at the Old 76 House, I saw something I will never forget. My grandfather urged the bartender to show me something, although his friend protested saying that I was too young. Grandpa scoffed and told him to show me anyway.
The bartender reached beneath the bar and drew forth a small box. Raising the lid, there in the velvet lining lay two small bones. “These”, he said reverently, “…are the two big toe bones of Major John Andre”. Naturally, I did not want to believe it, but he assured me they were. His great-grandfather had been one of those entrusted with the exhumation of Major Andres remains. He took the toe bones as a gruesome souvenir. After reading the ghost story of Major Andre, I am not surprised he isn’t at peace. I suspect he is searching for his two big toe bones.