Story of John Champe
Part One
Published By
The Historical Society of Hudson County, NJ


Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

ONE of the most notable occurrences of the Revolutionary period, and yet probably the least widely known, was the pretended desertion from the American army of Sergeant John Champe, and in connection therewith his attempted capture of Benedict Arnold. The story of Arnold's treachery is too well known to need repetition at this time, but it may be of interest to sketch briefly the then existing conditions. Washington's headquarters were at Tappan, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson, about opposite Dobbs Ferry. He had for some time contemplated an attack upon New York City with the assistance of the French fleet then at Newport, and in order to carry out his design, he found it necessary to consult with the French officers at Hartford. The withdrawal of the French fleet disconcerted the plan of attack, and Washington determined to return to his headquarters at Tappan, and "en route" to examine the defenses along the Hudson, visiting West Point, then under the command of General Arnold, who had established his headquarters a little below West Point, on the eastern side of the river, in what was commonly known as the Robinson House. From this place the treasonable correspondence with Major Andre was carried on under assumed names.

Washington's baggage was forwarded to this place, with notice that he and his escort would breakfast with General Arnold the next morning. On nearing Arnold's headquarters at that time, he ordered his aide-de-campes to continue, as proposed, with apologies for his delay, as he would examine the defenses along the river bank before breakfasting.

Meanwhile, the capture of Andre had been effected and treasonable papers found upon his person. Only the combination of several unexpected events prevented the execution of Arnold's designs. In the first place, the vessel that had brought Andre to the conference with Arnold for the final arrangements for the carrying out of his purpose, was driven down the river by the fire of the American batteries, thus compelling Andre's return by the land route, and causing him to travel through a territory that was beset with American scouts, as well as with marauders who were indifferent as to which side they despoiled. Hence the capture of Andre was made easy. As he was nearing his place of destination and had so far escaped molestation of any sort, his spirits lightened with the near prospect of complete safety. When near Dobbs landing he was suddenly halted and challenged. Being deceived by the appearance of his questioner – who had just been deprived of his own garments through a forcible exchange for the ragged refugee garb of his captor, he declared himself to be a British officer. He soon discovered his mistake, and his captors, closely examining his person, discovered incriminating papers concealed in his boots. He then pleaded for his release, submitting the following pass: "Permit Mr. John Anderson to pass the guards to the White Plains or below, if he chooses, he being on Public business by my direction," signed, "B. Arnold, M. Gen'l," at the same time offering any reward his captors might name for his release. The offer was indignantly spurned, and he was told "that if he would give 10,000 guineas, he should not stir one step."


Part One