Friday, November 20, 2009

November 21, 1777

George Washington to Francis Hopkinson, Nov. 21, 1777, acknowledging receipt of Hopkinson's open letter to the Rev. Jacob Duché, “I confess to you, that I was not more surprised than concerned at receiving so extraordinary a Letter from Mr. Duché, of whom I had entertained the most favourable opinion, and I am still willing to suppose, that it was rather dictated by his fears than by his real sentiments; but I very much doubt whether the great numbers of respectable Characters, in the State and Army, on whom he has bestowed the most unprovoked and unmerited abuse will ever attribute it to the same Cause, or forgive the Man who has artfully endeavoured to engage me to Sacrifice them to purchase my own safety.”

In his Nov. 14, 1777 letter to Duché, Hopkinson asked the reverend to consider British conduct: “Look for their justice and honor in their several proclamations, and look for their humanity in the jails of New York and Philadelphia, and in your own Potter’s Field.”

The British occupied Philadelphia in Sept. 1777. By the time Hopkinson wrote his letter, British occupational forces again made themselves notorious for the murderous neglect of prisoners. Provost Marshal William Cunningham presided over the Provost Jail in Philadelphia (the Walnut Street Jail).

In a 1778 open letter to Pennsylvania Tory Joseph Galloway, Hopkinson charged that Galloway enjoyed “more than plenty” and made no effort to feed his countrymen who were “suffering all the lingering anguish of absolute famine in the jails of the city—within your reach—within your power to relieve.”

Hopkinson wrote to Galloway, “You well know that under the discipline of that arch-fiend, Cunningham, they have plucked the weeds of the earth for food, and expired with the unchewed grass in their mouths—yet you pity not the misery to which you have yourself been instrumental, nor will you suffer their torture to touch you heart….”

In 1785, Thomas Jefferson mentioned, “General Howe’s permitting our prisoners, taken at the battle of Germantown, and placed under a guard, in the yard of the State-house of Philadelphia, to be so long without any food furnished them, that many perished with hunger. Where the bodies laid, it was seen that they had eaten all the grass around them, within their reach, after they had lost the power of rising, or moving from their place.”

Francis Hopkinson, “A Letter to Joseph Galloway, Esq.” (1778), in Francis Hopkinson, The Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings of Francis Hopkinson, Esq. 3 vols. (Philadelphia: T. Dobson, 1792) 1:130.

Thomas Jefferson to Jean Nicolas Démeunier, 26 June 1786, in Thomas Jefferson Randolph, ed., Memoirs, Correspondence, and Private Papers, of Thomas Jefferson 4vols. (London: Boston and Palmer, 1829)1: 428
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