Friday, November 6, 2009

November 11

American newspapers reprinted this item, dated November 11, 1780, from the London Evening Post:

The Committee for Relief of American Prisoners, are sorry to be under the necessity of again applying to the humanity of the public for assistance: there are 300 prisoners now in England, many of whom have been upwards of three years in confinement, and who cannot be exchanged, because there are not in Europe English prisoners, taken by the Americans, to make the exchange with, and no other will be accepted. The Committee hope the friends to humanity, and well wishers to reconcilement, will assist them with their benevolence.

Since March 3, 1780, London Evening Post reported, the Committee received several subscriptions for the support of American prisoners in England's jails. Sir George Savile, Baronet, offered 25 Pounds, the Duke of Grafton 20 Pounds and Samuel Gist, Esquire 10 Pounds and 10 shillings, each subscribing for the second time.

Other donors included the Reverend Mr. Thomas Wren, a Presbyterian minister in Portsmouth, England, "A friend to the felicities of his fellow men...."

Benjamin Franklin was aware of the humanity of Englishmen like the Rev. Wren. In July 1783, Franklin wrote to Robert Livingston, "Our people who were prisoners in England are now all discharged. During the whole war those who were in Forton prison, near Portsmouth, were much befriended by the constant, charitable care of Mr. Wren, a Presbyterian minister there, who spared no pains to assist them in their sickness and distress by procuring and distributing among them the contributions of good Christians, and prudently dispensing the allowance I made them, which gave him a great deal of trouble, but he went through it cheerfully, I think some public notice should be taken of this good man."

Franklin wrote, "I wish the Congress would enable me to make him a present, and that some of our universities would confer upon him the degree of Doctor."

Writing from Princeton, New Jersey on Nov. 1, 1783, where Congress was in session, Elias Boudinot wrote to the Rev. Thomas Wren:

Your Humanity & kindness to our helpless & distressed Citizens, who by the fortune of War, were thrown into the Power of their Enemies, and within your reach, have been made known to the united States of America in Congress assembled. I am honored by their Commands, to return you their united Thanks for the repeated acts Benevolence & Humanity shewn by you to their unfortunate & oppressed Citizens who were prisoners at Portsmouth during the late War.
This part of my Duty gives me great Pleasure as the highest satisfaction next to doing humane & benevolent Actions ourselves is the testifying our gratitude to those from whom we receive them. I have the honour of enclosing a Copy of the Act of Congress of the 29th Septr last by which the Sense of your goodness will more clearly appear than by any Expression of mine.
It adds Sir to my Happiness on this Occasion to enclose a Diploma from the University in this place of which I have the honour of being a Trustee, conferring on you the Degree of Doctor of Divinity, which I hope you will favour us with the acceptance of as an additional Evidence of the respect of this grateful Country.

The College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) was founded by Presbyterians. The sixth president of the College of New Jersey, the Rev.
John Witherspoon, was the only college president and the only clergyman among the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Rev. Witherspoon's descendants include Reese Witherspoon.
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