On the morning of September 23, 1780, north of Tarrytown, New York, a party of armed Americans waylaid a rider on horseback heading south towards New York City. They unwittingly had uncovered the most infamous treason in American history. Forcing their captive to strip, they found hidden papers in his stockings that incriminated General Benedict Arnold, the hero of Ticonderoga, Québec, Valcour Island, Danbury, and Saratoga. The rider was Major John André, an accomplished and convivial British officer, who had just negotiated with Arnold to give up the critical American position at West Point, where he commanded. Caught dressed as a civilian, without his uniform, André was hanged by the Continental Army as a spy. Arnold’s treason remains one of the most traumatic events of the Revolution. While Arnold’s exact motives continue to be scrutinized to this day, his name lingers on as a byword for treason.
The Fort Ticonderoga Museum holds a red morocco leather pocketbook that, according to family tradition, was found on Major André by David Williams, one of André’s captors. Williams had helped to find the treasonous correspondence on André and kept the pocketbook. It was passed down through Williams’ family until it entered Fort Ticonderoga’s collection. The style of this pocketbook provides a link to those dark days of 1780, when the Revolution seemed all but lost and even America’s heros could betray her.
John André’s pocketbook is currently on display, along with a range of other 18th-century pocketbooks, in the Thompson-Pell Research Center, which houses the museum’s archival and collections storage. Researchers may make an appointment to see the exhibit by visiting: https://www.fortticonderoga.org/history-and-collections/research.