Famous Last Words
Major John André
Tappan, New York
October 2, 1780
“I am reconciled to my death, but I detest the mode.”
Maj. André was hanged for as a spy for assisting Major General Benedict Arnold in his attempt to surrender to the British. He requested to be executed by firing squad, believing it to be more befitting a military man.
An eye-witness account from The American Revolution: From the Commencement to the Disbanding of the American Army Given in the Form of a Daily Journal, with the Exact Dates of all the Important Events; Also, a Biographical Sketch of the Most Prominent Generals by James Thacher, M.D., described the execution:
Major André walked from the stone house, in which he had been confined, between two of our subaltern officers, arm in arm; the eyes of the immense multitude were fixed on him, who, rising superior to the fears of death, appeared as if conscious of the dignified deportment which he displayed. He betrayed no want of fortitude, but retained a complacent smile on his countenance, and politely bowed to several gentlemen whom he knew, which was respectfully returned. It was his earnest desire to be shot, as being the mode of death most conformable to the feelings of a military man, and he had indulged the hope that his request would be granted. At the moment, therefore, when suddenly he came in view of the gallows, he involuntarily started backward, and made a pause. ‘Why this emotion, sir?’ said an officer by his side. Instantly recovering his composure, he said, ‘I am reconciled to my death, but I detest the mode.’ While waiting and standing near the gallows, I observed some degree of trepidation; placing his foot on a stone, and rolling it over and choking in his throat, as if attempting to swallow. So soon, however, as he perceived that things were in readiness, he stepped quickly into the wagon, and at this moment he appeared to shrink, but instantly elevating his head with firmness he said, ‘It will be but a momentary pang,’ and taking from his pocket two white handkerchiefs, the provost-marshal, with one, loosely pinioned his arms, and with the other, the victim, after taking off his hat and stock, bandaged his own eyes with perfect firmness, which melted the hearts and moistened the cheeks, not only of his servant, but of the throng of spectators. The rope being appended to the gallows, he slipped the noose over his head and adjusted it to his neck, without the assistance of the awkward executioner. Colonel Scammel now informed him that he had an opportunity to speak, if he desired it; he raised the handkerchief from his eyes, and said, ‘I pray you to bear me witness that I meet my fate like a brave man.’ The wagon being now removed from under him, he was suspended, and instantly expired; it proved indeed ‘but a momentary pang.’ He was dressed in his royal regimentals and boots, and his remains, in the same dress, were placed in an ordinary coffin, and interred at the foot of the gallows; and the spot was consecrated by the tears of thousands.
Though his true final statement was asking to be remembered as a brave man, Maj. André’s protest of his manner of execution is more recognized. His body was buried beneath the gallows until the Duke of York requested Maj. André’s remains be given to England in 1821. He was then re-buried in Westminster Abbey.