Monday, October 3, 2016

Guest Post: Benedict Arnold Rescues John Andre

On October 2, 1780, British Army officer Major John André was due to be hanged as a spy at Tappan, New York. In the morning, André was marched to the gallows. An executioner called Strickland had been hired by the patriots to secure the rope to the tree. But Benedict Arnold had gotten to Strickland and bribed him an enormous amount of money to have the rope slip. As the drummer ended, André was given his final words, and the thirty-year-old gave a short oration summed up, "As I suffer in the defence of my Country, I must consider this hour as the most glorious of my life - Remember that I die as becomes a British Officer, while the manner of my death must reflect disgrace on your Commander...I am reconciled to my death, but I detest the mode... I pray you to bear me witness that I meet my fate like a brave man."

The trap was pulled, and André fell. Carefully filed by Strickland, the rope snapped. Before the guard could react, a group of loyalists let off a rifle barrage, gathering the crowd's attention. Arnold dove through the chaos and whisked away both Strickland and the stunned André, who would come out of the affair with a scar from the rope-burn around his throat. New York City would continue in an uproar for several days while André was hidden and finally sneaked out in the disguise of a milkmaid.

The rebel commander, George Washington, was reportedly so despondent at the news of Arnold's treachery that his officers had to wrestle a pistol away from him lest he kill himself. On the basis of romantic letters, he had foolishly believed that the plans to West Point had been passed to André by Arnold's loyalist wife Peggy Shippe who had been having an affair with the handsome young spy. Meanwhile, Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander in New York had done all that he could to save André, his favourite aide, but refused to surrender Arnold in exchange for André even though he personally despised Arnold. Fortunately this web of dis-loyalties was untangled by André himself. He put a bullet into the turncoat's head just a few miles from Tappan, executing him with the harsh words "Leave me till you can show yourself more manly!"

Author's Note: in reality Strickland had been confined at the camp in Tappan as a dangerous Tory during Andrés trial and was granted liberty for accepting the duty of hangman and returned to his home in the Ramapo Valley or Smith's Clove, and nothing further of him is known. 1) he actually said this words to his own servant who entered the room in tears on the morning of his execution.

This article was originally posted on Today in Alternate History.

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