Andre, Major John, Letter Regarding the Battle of Germantown


Date: 1777 (September 28 and October 8) | Size: 1 item(s)


Major John André (1750-1780) was a British officer during the American Revolutionary War. He is best known in America for his attempt to facilitate Benedict Arnold's surrender of West Point to the British in 1780, but was known in his time as a capable, cosmopolitan officer, who served an interesting and varied career until his death in 1780. A participant in many of the Revolutionary War's most famous battles, André was twice captured by the American army, and served well enough to earn two promotions and numerous important assignments during the conflict. This eight-page letter chronicles the Philadelphia campaign of 1777 and includes descriptions of the Battles of Brandywine, Paoli and Germantown.

Background note

Born May 2, 1750 in London, England to a French mother and Swiss father, John André was educated in Geneva and spoke four languages: English, French, German and Italian. Though seemingly limited by his family's modest finances, André joined the British army in 1771, was commissioned lieutenant and sent for training in Germany. In 1774, André was deployed to Canada with the Royal English Fusiliers and was captured by American forces at the defense of St. Johns in 1775. In the winter of 1776, André was involved in a prisoner exchange that saw him sent to New York, where General William Howe promoted him to captain and assigned him to the command of Major General Charles Grey, whom he served as a personal aide.

Under Grey, André took part in the Philadelphia campaign of 1777-1778, which included the occupation of Philadelphia. During the nine months that André was in Philadelphia, he took up residence at Benjamin Franklin's home, and earned himself a reputation as a man of intelligence and superior social grace. Upon the British evacuation of Philadelphia, however, André shocked many of his local acquaintances by plundering Franklin's house, taking books, a painting of Franklin and several other items, apparently under the orders of General Grey. In November 1778, André was promoted to major and travelled with the retreating British army to New York, where he was placed in charge of British intelligence activities. In May 1779 he was introduced to the American general Benedict Arnold.

After cultivating his relationship with Arnold for over a year, the men put a plan into motion to turn over the American fortress at West Point over to the British, effectively severing the New England colonies from the southern colonies. The plot was uncovered by three American militiamen on the morning of September 23, 1780, and André was arrested and brought to Tappan, New York, for trial. After being convicted by a military court of being behind American lines "under a feigned name and in a disguised habit," André was hung on October 2, 1780, at the age of 29. André earned the respect of both sides of the conflict during the trial for refusing to pass blame for the events onto Arnold. Mourned by friend and foe alike, André was initially buried at Tappan, but his body was exhumed and reinterred in the Nave at Westminster Abbey. A fitting epitaph is provided by none other than George Washington, who wrote that André was, "more unfortunate than criminal," and "an accomplished man and gallant officer."

Works Cited: "Major John Andre". Independence Hall Association. 1997-2010. (Retrieved 1/29/2010).

George Washington to John Laurens, October 13, 1780, (Retrieved 1/29/2010).

Scope and content

The collection consists of an eight-page letter written by Major John André during the Philadelphia campaign of the American Revolutionary War, as identified by historian and author Thomas J. McGuire. Written in Germantown in 1777, the letter chronicles the Philadelphia campaign from the British landing at Head of Elk, Maryland, in August 1777, through the Battle of Germantown, on October 4, 1777. Five of the pages were written on September 28, 1777, with the remaining three written on October 8, 1777.

The letter describes the conduct and aftermath of several battles of the American Revolution, including the Battle of Brandywine, the Battle of Paoli (also known as the Paoli Massacre) and the Battle of Germantown. It illustrates the participation in these battles of many well-known and important figures of the American Revolution, including American generals George Washington and Anthony Wayne, as well as British officers General Sir William Howe and Major General Charles Grey, and Hessian general Wilhelm von Knyphausen. Also recounted are the deaths of two of André's friends at the Battle of Germantown, Brigadier General James Agnew and Lieutenant Colonel John Bird, the latter of whom André calls, "a veteran of the greatest merit, & most estimable character."

The letter also demonstrates André's firm grasp of not only the conduct of the Philadelphia campaign and the disposition of the enemy, but also the attitudes and physical abilities of his own troops, adding to the narrative of André as a professional soldier, rather than just a spy, as he is more widely remembered. The letter was a gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr., in 2006.

Digital objects note

This collection contains digital materials that are available in the APS Digital Library. Links to these materials are provided with context in the inventory of this finding aid. A general listing of digital objects may also be found here.

Collection Information

Physical description

1 letter.


Gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr., 2006. (McNeil number M1404.)

Preferred citation

Major John Andre Letter Regarding the Battle of Germantown, 1777 (September 28 and October 8), American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Processed by Adam Najarian, 2010.

Early American History Note

This letter from Major John Andre recounts specific details of the Battle of Germantown. It is extremely content rich and describes the conflict, the surrounding area, and the people. This letter is a recent acquisition and complements SMS Coll's 9 and 10.

Indexing Terms


  • Military Records

Personal Name(s)

  • Agnew, James, 1719-1777
  • Bird, John, d. 1777
  • Grey, Charles, 1729-1807
  • Howe, William Howe, Viscount, 1729-1814
  • Knyphausen, Wilhelm, Baron von, 1716-1800
  • Musgrave, Thomas
  • Washington, George (1732-1799)
  • Wayne, Anthony, 1745-1796


  • American Revolution
  • Brandywine, Battle of, 1777
  • British Landing at Head of Elk, Maryland, 1777
  • Germantown, Battle of, 1777
  • Military History
  • Paoli Massacre, 1777
  • Philadelphia History

Detailed Inventory

 Andre, Major John, Letter Regarding the Battle of Germantown
1777 8 page(s)