Daily Archives: March 16, 2007

Item of the Day: Authentic Narrative of the Causes which Led to the Death of Major Andre by Joshua Hett Smith (1809)

Full Title:  An Authentic Narrative of the Causes which Led to the Death of MAJOR ANDRE, Adjutant-General of His Majesty’s Forces in North America. By Joshua Hett Smith, Esq.  Counsellor at Law, late Member of the Convention of the State of New-York. To which is added A MONODY On the Death of Major Andre by Miss Seward.  New York: Printed for Evert Duyckinck, No. 110, Pearl-street, 1809.

Extract from the Political Magazine for February, 1781. 

“Circumstances Respecting the Betraying of Major Andre.”

Before entering upon the narrative the forms the subject of the following pages, it will be necessary to observe, that in the time of the American War, a free communication between Canada and New York, by means of the Lake Champlain and Hudson’s river, was of the utmost importance, in order to facilitate the operations of the British arms in the mediated plan of subjugating the Colonies; it was equally the interest of America, from every principle of sound policy, to counteract this measure.  A chain of mountains extending along the banks of this river upwards of twenty miles, between Stony Point and Slaughter’s Landing, near New-Windsor, prevented a regular ferry from being established, to preserve the communication between the eastern and southern states, for the conveyance of supplies of provisions, and for the marching and counter marching of the troops of the confederacy.  It therefore became necessary that a fort should be erected for the above purpose, to check any naval force that might obstruct the passage of the boats employed at the ferries.

For this purpose Fort Montgomery was erected in 1776, and a strong boom laid across the river, guarded by two frigates; the Hudson being navigable for ships of war of 60 guns much higher than this fort, and, at spring tides, for frigates near to Albany.  In 1777 Fort Montgomery was attacked and carried by Sir Henry Clinton, who passed it in his attempt to favour the decent of General Burgoyne from Canada, in the autumn of that year, and in all probability a junction of these armies would have been effected, had the expedition been earlier adopted, as mediated by Sir Henry Clinton.  The interception of a courier happened at that time in a manner so singular as to be worthy of attention; and to describe which I shall make a short digression.

The courier dispatched by General Burgoyne to General Sir Henry Clinton, was charged to deliver to him a silver bullet, and to give it into the General’s own hands.  In case of surprise, if challenged from whence he came, or suspected of being an enemy, he was ordered to swallow the bullet, which would prevent the message from being detected.  Having reached as far as Fort Montgomery, near New-York, he made inquiry for General Clinton; and finding, on being brought before him, that he was not the person described to him as the General to whom he was sent, but that he was Governor General George Clinton of the State of New York; he turned aside and swallowed the silver ball.  Being observed by some of the attendants, he was immediately taken into custody; when being interrogated as to what business he had with General Clinton, and discovering some embarrassment in his answers, it was proposed to administer an emetic, to ascertain what he had swallowed with such precipitation.  The idea was adopted, and the consequence was, that he threw up the silver ball; which being unscrued, was found to contain a letter from General Burgoyne to General Sir Henry Clinton, the purport of which was to explain his forlorn situation, after the attack of General Arnold at the heights of Bremen.  The courier was immediately hung as a spy.

Upon the reduction of Fort Montgomery, the royal force proceeded up the Hudson, to the vicinity of Albany, carrying fire and devastation before them.  On both sides of the river the shores were undefended by mountains, opening to an extensive champaign-country, well inhabited by substantial farmers, of whom two thirds were unfriendly to the dismemberment of the empire by the measure of independence of Great-Britain.

The town of Kingston, beautifully situated near the west bank of the Hudson river, was laid in ashes by General Vaughn; it had been the seat of government.  The convention of the State of New-York had here formed their new constitution, and it was likewise here that Rose and Middagh, two leaders of the  loyalists in that part of the county of Ulster, were executed, without a regular form of trial, for their adherence to the royal cause; this circumstance, with others of a similar nature, had rendered the place extremely obnoxious to the loyal followers of the British arms, and possibly might have occasioned its conflagration.   A large body of loyalists were forming at this time on the eastern shore of the river to join the royal army, but the advanced state of the season prevented the continuance of the British force in the river, and they were compelled to disperse on the advance of the American troops, on the surrender of General Burgoyne in 1777.

The name given to this place by the first Dutch settler was Esopus: it is now called Kingston, and is celebrated in Chief Justice Smith’s History of the province of New-York, for affording the best flour and draft horses on the Continent of America, as well as a particular beer, in great request for its nutritious qualities.

If the importance of obstructing the navigation of the Hudson existed merely in idea, previous to this event, the erecting of an insurmountable barrier against the British navy became now indispensably necessary.  commissioners were therefore appointed to examine the passes of the high lands, and a point of land projecting in the river on the west side, not far distant from Fort Montgomery, called West Point, was selected, from the natural advantages presented, for this purpose; not only from the strength of the circumjacent ground but from the narrowness of the Hudson, which here takes a short winding circuit east and west, uniformly different from it usual course of north and south.  This defile was fortified by a strong boom thrown across the river, and a range of fortifications ascending to the highest mount, a natural platform on which was erected the strongest work, called Fort Putnam; this was bomb-proof and unassailable, from its strength and elevated situation, being built on and composed of rocks, of which the place abounded.  As this post was not to be flanked, it was of course deemed impregnable; in the confidence arising from which, it was abundantly stored with every military means of defence that the country was capable of affording at that stage of the war and made the grand arsenal of the main army.  The communication above the garrison being thus secured, it was capable of being supplied by water carriage with all weighty articles, essentially requisite as well for defence as to render it a general magazine.

This important pass was commanded in the earlier part of the campaign of 1779 by Major-General Howe, one of the oldest officers in rank in the American service; he was a particular favourite of General Washington.  General Howe had been previously in the British service; and was well versed in tactics, a rigid disciplinarian, and was acknowledged to be an engineer of the highest reputation.  He had had the command of Fort Johnson at Cape Fear, in North Carolina.  Possessing these qualifications, and his zeal in the service being evident, he was high in the confidence of General Washington.  General Howe, upon assuming the command, contributed by military art to that invincible defence formed by nature to render West Point impregnable.  Eighteen miles below West Point were erected the two forts of Verplant and Stony Point, (the first on the east, the last on the west side of the Hudson river); at the entrance of this range of mountain, a ferry had long before been in use, called King’s Ferry, and which was protected now by these forts, which were esteemed the dependencies of West Point, and considered as the key of the American continent.

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Filed under 1770's, American Revolution, Posted by Rebecca Dresser