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Table of contents
- John André
- Nathan Hale
- See a Problem?
- Spies, Traitors, Leaks, Betrayal: America's "Enemies Foreign & Domestic"
Thank you, Brian. My un-educated guess though is — probably not. My extended guess and might be entirely wrong is that it might have started changing during the Victorian era, with the feelings that spying as during the Civil War was romantic and fraught with dime-novel danger. Again — an espionage expert would know much more. He was known to give last-minute clemency to some people and to hang others as examples. Very perceptive that you brought that point up though. Thank you as always. Your discussion of spies and the penalties imposed on them got me to thinking about the legality of how they were handled when caught.
Turning to Emer de Vattel and his Law of Nations, which is something that both the British and Americans were aware of, we see this:. The employment of spies is a kind of clandestine practice or deceit in war. These find means to insinuate themselves among the enemy, in order to discover the state of his affairs, to pry into his designs, and then give intelligence to their employer. Spies are generally condemned to capital punishment, and with great justice, since we have scarcely any other means of guarding against the mischief they may do us.
So, it is not surprising to see the British hanging Hale as they did; consider that they took the view that this was an unlawful rebellion that allowed them to punish harshly without remorse. But with Washington, as he reluctantly did with POWs, we see his hesitancy in engaging in a tit-for-tat response to British actions. Rather, he responded in like manner and only did so because he believed himself forced to do so by the actions of the British. To have done otherwise would have meant harm to his reputation, both within American and British ranks.
Perhaps the only other thing he could have done with Andre was to jail him for the duration of the war and not respond as he did, but the tenor of the times dictated harsh measures despite whatever his personal feelings might be on this, or many other occasions. Taken in the context of the moment, Washington was in complete shock. Apparently a New Jersey militiaman named Capt. Huddy had been hung in reprisal for militiamen executing a Loyalist partisan. To quell the outrage, Washington decreed a lottery of British POWs where the winner or loser would be executed in reprisal for Capt.
When Washington found out some details of the victim, Capt. Asgill, he apparently felt very torn, even though the public and Congress demanded the tit-for-tat killing. It relieved Washington of another apparent emotionally-draining personal crisis. Hopefully he has references to primary source material that mentions the relationship. I think I have been able to verify the Montressor connection to Nathan Hale to a reasonable degree of certainty. Unless we are willing to discount this material I think it is credible it establishes that a British officer who had befriended Hale and had witnessed his execution crossed the lines under a fag of truce and delivered the news to Hull.
In it Washington identifies Montressor as the officer who crossed the lines presumably that day under a flag of truce with a letter proposing an exchange of prisoners.
While conveying news of the execution of a spy to the other side would be unlikely to justify a flag of truce, a proposal to exchange prisoners would. From the preponderance of the evidence, I would suspect that you are right that it was Montressor who was the British officer in question.
Your findings stand with this article for other researchers to consider, as well as for people who are interested in Nathan Hale… and I have since found out there are many! That said, both sides constantly sought intelligence and often used Officers to accomplish these activities. It seems that the use of Officers for traditional, tactical military collection, including recruitment of individuals to report on the enemy, was a more acceptable activity than obtaining enemy plans and intentions by feigning personal loyalties behind enemy lines.
As I note in my book, once the fighting ends the value of the infantryman and the intelligence officer is often forgotten.
Well stated, Ken. Either by the public at large or the officers commissioning the spies. Some comments regarding Andre to add to an enjoyable article and good commentary…The cases of Andre and Hale are quite similar especially as to the ending. Washington simply refused to commute his sentence. However, this had less to do with vengeance and more to do with the refusal of Clinton to turn over Arnold. Clinton made desperate efforts to save his favorite officer and Washington actually delayed the execution to hear out the British. But, in the end, Washington, albeit dismayed over the affection some of his officers had for Andre, had to follow the example of Hale and others originally set by the British.
Steven — thank you for elaborating a bit more on the similarities and differences in Hale vs. Your article about Andre and Arnold, and how much Washington wanted Arnold because of his betrayal, is a perfect follow-up for the reader in these threads. I wonder how many average readers know that John Andre is buried in Westminster Abbey, after his body was moved to that place of honor in ? He clearly recognized that Clinton could not turn over Arnold without jeopardizing any future defection or even report-in-place volunteers who might later need re-location.
There was, of course, also the question of Honor. Always a bad idea in the intelligence profession. Had Robert Rogers not entrapped him, there were several other reasons his mission could have been discovered. Ken — a good summation commentary on the competencies of both Hale and Andre.
See a Problem?
No surprise they were generally pro-Revolution. Queens County to the west had a mixture of Dutch and English settled areas, and Kings Brooklyn contained the greatest number of Dutch descended inhabitants. Generally speaking, the further one moved west on Long Island the more numerous Loyalists became. But you raise the realistic question of quantifying an entire population labeling years after the fact. Thank you for bringing that to light.
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Tiedemann and Eugene R. Fingerhut editors. Solid, well-researched articles by excellent local historians. I very much enjoyed your presentation of Hale and his mission. A number of my students are Global Security or Intelligence Analysis professionals, so this really hits home for them. Keep up the good work and visit my website sometime! Your email address will not be published.
Tags from the story. More from John L. Smith, Jr.
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George Wythe was about the last person anybody would ever want to You may also like. All the best, Norm Fuss. John, an excellent article! As the war went on, did spying become more acceptable? Great job and thank you for a great informative article! John, Your discussion of spies and the penalties imposed on them got me to thinking about the legality of how they were handled when caught.
Happy huntings! John, OK. The question is, who was that officer? All the best, Norm. Thank you for a great follow-up. Even with the thought of someone as alluring as Edward Bancroft, a reckless double spy!
Spies, Traitors, Leaks, Betrayal: America's "Enemies Foreign & Domestic"
Great feedback, Steven. Thank you. Benjamin Tallmadge, never got over his death. Surviving long enough to fight an extended conflict was no small matter. Washington was forced to abandon first New York and then New Jersey. The search soon turned up a former British soldier named John Honeyman, who was living in nearby Griggstown, New Jersey. He had no trouble gaining the confidence of Col. Johann Rail, who was in command of three German regiments in Trenton.
Honeyman listened admiringly as Rail described his heroic role in the fighting around New York and agreed with him that the Americans were hopeless soldiers. Washington insisted on interrogating him personally and said he would give the traitor a chance to save his skin if he recanted his loyalty to the Crown. A half-hour later the general ordered his aides to throw Honeyman into the guardhouse. Tomorrow morning, he stated, the Tory would be hanged.