Capturing a British Spy

He had been given a ‘pass,’ signed by the American officer from whom he had received the information about West Point. It was a written order allowing ‘Mr. John Anderson’ to pass safety through American lines. Confident that this pass would see him through any challenge from American forces, he started his trip south across the ‘no man’s land’ between opposing armies.

What the British major hadn’t considered was the presence of free booting marauders that wandered the areas between the two armies and robbed and plundered anyone they came upon. When he sighted one such trio of ruffians, he noticed one was wearing a Hessian (German) soldier’s jacket. Major André mistakenly thought he had reached the British lines. He immediately identified himself to this armed threesome as a British officer. That turned out to be a fatal mistake.

The Capture of Major André

Early American painting, attributed to A. B. Durand, 1845
(Notice André’s boots have been removed)

They were renegade Americans, not Hessians in the pay of the British. Quickly, he tried to recover by presenting his ‘pass.’ That only made them very suspicious and they forced him from his horse and searched him. Finding little money, they assumed it had been hidden in his boots. When they ordered him to remove his boots, they found no money, but they discovered the plans he was carrying. Unable to read very well, they did not completely understand the nature of their find, but decided that maybe there would be a reward for turning André over to the Continental Army.

When the military took him into custody, they quickly realized what André was up to and why he had these plans and information hidden in his boot. Then they noticed the ‘pass.’ It had been signed by an American officer, who up until this moment was considered by all to be a hero of the Revolutionary War. He had saved the day three years earlier in October, 1777, at Saratoga by turning back the entire British advance from Canada down the Hudson river. The Commander-in-Chief of all the American forces, General George Washington, considered the signer to be one of his most valuable leaders. The ‘pass’ that British Major André held was signed by American General Benedict Arnold, commanding officer of the fort at West Point!

Page 19 from “SECRET CODE BREAKER III – A Cryptanalyst’s Handbook “