Guest Post: Failed Spies: Hale and André by Samantha Wilcoxson

Today, is is a pleasure to welcome Samantha Wilcoxson to History … the Interesting Bits, with an article about the research into her latest novel, But One Life, set during the American Revolution.

Failed Spies: Hale and André

Espionage played an important role during the American Revolution, with both sides in the conflict experiencing some victories and tragic defeats in this area. British spymasters had the advantages of experience and expertise, while Americans benefited from working in their native land with a better idea of who could be trusted and who could not. Very early in the conflict, General George Washington stated his desperate need for knowledge of the enemy.

Major John André

‘I do most earnestly entreat you and General Clinton to exert yourselves to accomplish this most desirable end. Leave no stone unturned, nor do not stick at expense, to bring this to pass, as I was never more uneasy than on account of my want of knowledge on this score,’ Washington wrote to General William Heath seventeen days before Captain Nathan Hale was hanged as a rebel spy on 22 September 1776.

Today, Nathan Hale is remembered as the quintessential patriot. He was recently graduated from Yale when he joined the Continental Army with many other young men of his acquaintance. When he learned that a volunteer was needed to discover the information needed by Washington, he did not hesitate, despite the advice of many friends who insisted he was not well-suited to the mission.

It was not only because of his open, honest personality that they attempted to dissuade him. Spywork was considered a low, dishonorable duty. One friend, who tried to talk Hale out of his mission, reported later that Hale had insisted, ‘I wish to be useful, and every kind of service, necessary to the public good, becomes honorable by being necessary.’

Whether due to pride or excessive patriotism, Hale set forth upon a mission to Long Island, New York, his Yale diploma in hand to support his disguise as a Latin tutor. Hale had briefly served as a schoolmaster between graduation and army service, so his ruse should have come naturally to him. However, he was a trusting and friendly man, unlike the clever spy-catchers employed by the British. Within days of leaving his regiment, Hale was captured and executed, possibly with a paraphrase of Cato on his lips that his only regret was that he had but one life to give for his country. His body was left hanging for days to warn other would-be spies.

In the meantime, Major John André was making a name for himself in the British ranks as one who had connections and could get information. He was, like Hale, young, erudite, and eager to serve his country. André believed he had found the key to securing his future when he received correspondence from American General Benedict Arnold. The hero of Saratoga was willing to turn his coat for the right price.

Continental Commission for Nathan Hale

Arnold had married Peggy Shippen a month earlier, and she was friends, or possibly more, with André. Together, they convinced the general that the British would show him greater appreciation and compensation, and they were bound to win the war anyway. In the spring of 1780, Arnold informed André that he was expecting to gain command of West Point, an important series of forts that controlled traffic on the Hudson River. He was willing to turn it over to the British in return for cash and a position in British command.

On 21 September 1780, almost precisely four years after the death of Nathan Hale, John André was captured after a secret meeting with General Benedict Arnold to finalize their plan. He begged that Washington treat him as an officer rather than a spy.

‘Let me hope, Sir, that if aught in my character impresses you with esteem towards me, if aught in my misfortune marks me as the victim of policy and not resentment, I shall experience the operation of these feelings in your breast by being informed that I am not to die on a gibbet.’ Washington refused his request, and André was hanged on 2 October 1780.

Other American espionage efforts were more successful than Hale’s, most notably the Culper Spy Ring, managed by Hale’s good friend and Yale classmate, Benjamin Tallmadge. The names of those involved in this successful ring were not revealed until over a century after the war had ended. Tallmadge also played a part in John André’s capture. One can imagine he had a sense of justice served as Hale’s British counterpart shared his fate.

But One Life by Samantha Wilcoxson is now available from Amazon.


Spies, Patriots, and Traitors: American Intelligence in the Revolutionary War by Kenneth A Daigler

Documentary Life of Nathan Hale by George D Seymour

The Life of John André: The Redcoat who Turned Benedict Arnold by DAB Ronald

To Buy the book:

But One Life is now available from Amazon

About the author:

Writer of historical fiction and sufferer of wanderlust, Samantha enjoys exploring the lives of historical figures through research and visiting historic places. Certain that no person is ever purely good or evil, she strives to reveal the deep emotions and motivations of historical figures, enabling readers to connect with them in a unique way. Samantha is an American writer with British roots and proud mother of three amazing young adults. She can frequently be found lakeside with a book in one hand and glass of wine in the other.

Samantha’s next project will take readers into the lives of women of the American Revolution – stay tuned!


My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword, and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, and Book Depository.


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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Samantha Wilcoxson