André was born to Swiss parents in London, England in 1751.
He came to North America in 1774 as a lieutenant, and he was a great favorite in society, both in Philadelphia and New York. He had a lively and pleasant manner and could draw and paint and cut silhouette pictures, as well as sing and write verses.
In 1779 he became adjunct-general of the British army with the rank of major, and soon after (1780) began to plot with general Benedict Arnold. Arnold, who commanded at West Point, agreed to give into the power of the British.
André went up the Hudson River to visit Arnold. At night, André rowed ashore in a boat from the sloop-of-war Vulture and met Arnold in the woods below Stony Point. Morning came before they had finished talking, and some Americans began to fire on the Vulture. The Vulture was forced to go down the river without André.
In order to escape through American lines, André was provided common clothes and a passport by Arnold. André took the name John Anderson. Arnold also gave six papers (written in Arnold's hand) showing the British how the fort could be taken. André hid them in his stocking.
André rode on in safety until he came near Tarrytown, New York, where three men with guns stopped him. "Gentlemen," said André, who thought they were Tories, "I hope you belong to our party." "What party?" asked one of the men. "The lower party," replied André, meaning the British. "We do," was the answer. André then told them he was a British officer who must not be detained, when, to his surprise, they said they were Americans, and that he was their prisoner. He then told them that he was an American officer, and showed them his passport. But the suspicions of his captors were now aroused, and they searched him and found Arnold's papers in his stocking. André offered them his horse and watch, if they would let him go, but they were not to be bribed.
The prisoner was taken to Tappan, the headquarters of the American Army, tried as a spy and condemned to be hanged. Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander in New York, did all he could to save him, and George Washington gave him every fair chance, but by the rules of war he had to die and he was hanged at Tappan on October 2, 1780 (age 29).
While a prisoner he made himself so dear to all by the sweetness of his character and the charm of his conversation that his sad fate was as much lamented by the American officers as by the English. The day before his death he drew, with pen and ink, a likeness of himself, which is now owned by Yale College.
In 1821 his remains, which had been buried under the gallows, were removed to England and placed in Westminster Abbey under a beautiful marble monument, and in 1879 a monument was erected on the place of his execution at Tappan.
The names of André's captors were John Paulding, David Williams, and Isaac Van Wart. The United States Congress gave each of them a pension of $200 a year and a silver medal, and in 1853 a monument was erected to their memory on the place were they captured André.
John Paulding was the father of rear-admiral Hiram Paulding, who died in 1878.