We left the site of Major André’s hanging and temporary grave, to journey … to lunch!
We went to the Old ’76 House (110 Main St, Tappan, NY 10983 (41°01’18.3″N 73°56’52.6″W (41.021752, -73.947940)), a half-mile away, which was the place where Major André had been held during his trial. Reputedly the Old ’76 House is the oldest continuously-operated dining facility in America.
Back in 1780 it was called Mabie’s Tavern, and was convenient to Washington’s headquarters in the DeWint House under a mile away and to the Reformed Church of Tappan just across the street where André’s trial was held.
The dining room is decorated in Colonial style, with various firearms and swords hung from the walls. There are no less than two portraits of Major André visible; an oil showing him in his scarlet regimentals with green facings, and a charcoal showing him wearing a cocked hat (in the style later associated with Napoleon).
It being a Friday in Lent, I had the Tavern Fish and Chips, while Doyle had the Caesar Salad. The food has apparently improved a good deal since the major was held captive there: back in 1780 General Washington send food from his own table (prepared by Samuel Fraunces of Fraunces’ Tavern) to Major André, to ensure that the latter was eating right.
While Major André was held at Mabie’s Tavern, his trial was held just up the road and across the street at the Reformed Church of Tappan. His court martial board consisted of:
Major General Greene, President
Major General Lord Stirling
Major General St. Clair
Major General The Marquis de la Fayette
Major General Howe
Major General The Baron de Steuben
Brigadier General Parsons
Brigadier General Clinton
Brigadier General Knox
Brigadier General Glover
Brigadier General Patterson
Brigadier General Hand
Brigadier General Huntington
Brigadier General Stark
John Lawrence, Judge-Advocate General
Those who are interested in the trial might wish to read Proceedings of a board of general officers respecting Major John André. The major represented himself in the legal proceedings and was perfectly frank in his disclosures. Perhaps a bit too frank: he volunteered information that the Continentals would have had a terrible time proving. Not that Clarence Darrow, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and Daniel Webster combined arguing his case would have helped a whole lot. He genuinely had gone behind American lines, in disguise, under a false name, and was carrying incredibly incriminating papers. As Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton said, “Never perhaps did any man suffer death with more justice, or deserve it less.”
Despite offers by the Continentals to trade André for Arnold (by Hamilton among others), General Sir Henry Clinton couldn’t make the deal, not if he ever wanted to see another high-level defector again. Of Major André, Baron von Steuben wrote, “It is not possible to save him. He put us to no proof, but in an open, manly manner, confessed everything but a premeditated desire to deceive. Would to God the wretch who drew him to death could have suffered in his place.” The Marquis de Lafayette said, “All the court … were filled with sentiments of admiration and compassion for him. He behaved with so much frankness, courage and delicacy that I could not help lamenting his unhappy fate. This was one of the most painful duties I ever had to perform,” and wept openly at André’s hanging.
Despite their personal feelings, the court-martial found:
The Board having maturely considered these facts, DO ALSO REPORT to His Excellency General Washington, That Major André, Adjutant General to the British army, ought to be considered as a Spy from the enemy, and that agreeable to the law and usage of nations, it is their opinion, he ought to suffer death.
General Washington affirmed the sentence, pocket vetoed the major’s request for a firing squad, and so the matter concluded.
With lunch finished, we made our way up to King’s Ferry, where Major André crossed the Hudson on the night of September 22nd, 1780, as he attempted to make his way (in civilian clothes, under an assumed name, and with the plans to West Point in his boot) back to the British lines at New-York.