Book Review: The Life of John André: The Redcoat Who Turned Benedict Arnold


by D. A. B. Ronald

Philadelphia: Casemate, 2019. Pp. xxii, 338+. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 1612005217

The Man Who Paid the Price for Arnold’s Treason

Ronald, author of several books on underage soldiers and sailors in British military service from about 1700 to the 1840s, gives us a wide ranging biography of John André (1750-1780). Although the young British Army officer is best known from his role in Benedict Arnold’s treason, for which he paid with his life, Ronald only devotes about a fifth of the book to the final episode of André’s life.

Ronald opens with several chapters on the young man’s French Huguenot family. Merchants in their native France, the family fled persecution there, and revived their fortunes through in business in England, while working hard to become English. Thus, as Ronald recounts in several chapters, young John had a thoroughly English early life and education. Although groomed to carry on the family business, John joined the Army instead, perhaps to underscore the family’s Englishness.

Ronald with several chapters on Andre’s early military career. Joining the Welch Fusiliers in 1771, and, having mastered French, German, and Italian, as well as English, he was early groomed for intelligence work and “petit guerre”. Transferred to the Royal Fusiliers, in Canada, in 1774, he was soon involved in the war against the American rebels. Captured during the Quebec Campaign of 1775, he spent a year as a prisoner-of-war. Exchanged at the end of 1776, served on occupation duty in Philadelphia and New York, where he put his many social skills to use befriending local Loyalists. In 1779 he became the effective head of British intelligence in the colonies, serving in South for a time, and then back in the North.

Through his social ties with Peggy Shippen, Arnold’s second wife, André helped her to seduce him to betray the American Cause, and became the man’s contact with the British Army. It was André’s capture in September of 1780 that revealed Arnold’s treason. This ultimately lead to his execution, one widely regretted even by his executioners.

Although Ronald’s treatment of Arnold is quite hostile, he offers us a valuable picture of a fine young officer, with some interesting insights into the events and a look at English and American military, social, and cultural life in the period.


Note: The Life of John André is also available in several e-editions


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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