Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Illustrating Executions in the American Revolution: Major John Andre and Isaac Hayne

The three illustrations below are of two executions that took place during the American War for Independence. The first two are said to record the execution of British Major John Andre, whom the Patriots hanged as a spy at Tappan, New York in October 1780. Andre was captured in civilian clothes after a secret meeting with Benedict Arnold, to arrange Arnold's switch to the British side. 

Oddly, the Patriot officer presiding over Andre's hanging in the first illustration is in a redcoat. In the second, the mistake, if that's what it was, is rectified. He is wearing a blue coat, though a lighter blue than Patriot soldiers normally wore.

The last image is supposed to record the hanging of Colonel Isaac Hayne of South Carolina in Charleston in August 1781. British cavalry captured Hayne attempting to kidnap General Andrew Williamson, sometimes called the southern Benedict Arnold. Williamson was a Patriot officer who had also defected to the British (although later he claimed to have been spying on them). The charge against Hayne was treason. He had taken the loyalty oath to the Crown after Charleston's surrender in 1780 and later rejoined the Patriots. 

The three illustrations are virtually identical, except for changes of uniform colors. Even the flags remain the same. It is likely that neither artist was present at either execution, but the artist of Hayne's hanging surely copied the artist of Andre's. Perhaps it was even the same artist.

Andre himself was a bit of an artist, and was good at working to a deadline (pun intended) The night before his execution he penned the self-portrait below.

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