Saturday, January 21, 2012

Love, Not War

On July 25, 1785, George Washington wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette,

“…I will banish the sound of War from my letter:—I  wish to see the sons and daughters of the world in Peace and busily employed in the more agreeable amusement of fulfilling the first and greatest commandment—Increase and Multiply….”

Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed., The Writings of George Washington: Vol. 10: 1782-1785 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1891), 476.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Feb. 2: Permitted to Return to England

On February 2, 1776, President of Congress John Hancock wrote to Col. William Alexander, Lord Stirling, "I have the pleasure of Communicating to you the sense of Congress on your alertness, activity and good conduct, and on the readiness and Spirit of the gentlemen and others from Elizabeth Town who voluntarily assisted you in taking the ship Blue Mountain Valley."

Biographer Paul David Nelson described how Lord Stirling rallied 120 civilian volunteers in Elizabethtown, New Jersey on January 21 and headed to the British transport vessel floundering off Sandy Hook. Lord Stirling and the volunteers boarded the Blue Mountain Valley early the morning of January 22. On Monday, January 29, Congress recognized the spirit of Lord Stirling and the "gentlemen, and others" from Elizabethtown.

In keeping with American custom towards British merchant vessels, and in keeping with Lord Stirling's request, Congress authorized the release of the captain and crew. Hancock wrote, "I am further directed to inform you that in consequence of your recommendation, the congress have agreed that you deliver to Captain [James Hamilton] Dempster and his Mates, their several adventures which were on board the ship at the Time she was Taken, and that Captain Dempster be Liberated, and he has the permission of Congress to improve an opportunity of returning to England, from such port as shall be most agreeable to him."

On Jan. 31, Congress resolved, "That the private adventures of the captain and mates of the transport Blue Mountain Valley, be delivered up to them, [[and that they be permitted to return to England.]]"

Paul H. Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 3: January 1-May 15, 1776 (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1978), 186; Paul David Nelson, William Alexander, Lord Stirling: George Washington's Noble General (University, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1987), 70-71; Worthington Chancey Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 4: January 1-June 4, 1776 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1906), 100, 106.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Being Prisoners to Rebels

On Feb. 1, 1776, Lord George Germain wrote to General William Howe, commander-in-chief of British forces operating in the thirteen United Colonies. Sending Howe the American officers captured on a privateer, Germain wrote, "It is hoped that the possession of these prisoners will enable you to procure the release of such of His Majesty' s officers and loyal subjects as are in the disgraceful situation of being prisoners to the Rebels...."

Germain wanted Howe to arrange a prisoner exchange with the "Rebels," but Germain did not want Howe to imply any acknowledgement of the United Colonies as a legitimate combatant state.

Germain knew Howe was in a difficult situation, "for, although it cannot be that you should enter into any treaty or agreement with Rebels for a regular cartel for exchange of prisoners, yet I doubt not but your own discretion will suggest to you the means of effecting such exchange, without the King's dignity and honour being committed, or His Majesty's name used in any negotiation for that purpose; and I am the more strongly urged to point out to you the expediency of such a measure, on account of the possible difficulties which, may otherwise occur in the case of foreign troops serving in North America."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Horror Stories

The British captured New York City in the last few months of 1776. The suffering of American prisoners in the occupied city quickly became notorious.

On November 30, 1776, the Pennsylvania Council of Safety wrote to the Committee of Lancaster, "It is highly expedient that the prisoners in your barracks be forwarded as fast as possible...for an exchange. The account received by Congress and intimated to this Board, of the situation of our men, prisoners at New-York, demands the utmost exertion to get them out of the hands of our enemy."

Carleton & Prisoners

On 27 January 1776, George Washington wrote to Benedict Arnold, "On the 17th instant I received the melancholy account of the unfortunate attack on the city of Quebeck, attended with the fall of General Montgomery and other brave officers and men, and your being wounded....I sincerely condole with you upon the occasion. But in the midst of distress I am happy to find that suitable honours were paid to the remains of Mr. Montgomery; and our officers and soldiers, who have fallen into their hands, treated with kindness and humanity."

Commanding British troops that drove a sickly American army from Canada, Irish-born General Sir Guy Carleton employed kindness toward American prisoners, a decision with strategic value.

Paul David Nelson, General Sir Guy Carleton, Lord Drchester: Soldier-Statesman of Early British Canada (Madison, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2000); William M. Dwyer, The Day is Ours!: An Inside View of the Battles of Trenton and Princeton, November 1776-January 1777 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998 [1983],)371.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Duties of Humanity & Kindness

British Brigadier General Richard Prescott captured American Col. Ethan Allen, berated him, and sent him to England in chains. Shortly thereafter, Prescott himself became a prisoner of the Americans.

The possibilities of such reversals occurred to George Washington.  Recommending to the Committee of Hartford, Connecticut "gentleness, even to forbearance" toward prisoners, Washington wrote, "We know not what the chance of war may be; but let it be what it will, the duties of humanity and kindness will demand from us such a treatment as we should expect from others, the case being reversed."

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ethan Allen & Habeas Corpus

In 1775, Brigadier General Richard Prescott captured American Ethan Allen, shackled him and sent him in England in shackles to face a possible trial for treason. Expecting authorities in England to execute the American, Prescott told Allen he would "grace a halter [i.e., a noose] at Tyburn, God damn you." By a remarkable coincidence, American forces in Canada shortly thereafter captured Prescott himself.

John Wilkes, the Duke of Richmond and a British opponent of the war, obtained a Writ of Habeas Corpus, a court order to force the government to try Allen or release him.  The British backed away from executing Allen for fear of retaliation (Congress put Prescott in chains to await the same fate as Allen).  To avoid releasing or trying Allen, the British hurried Allen back to America in a fleet that made a brief stop in Ireland.

In 1775 and 1776, the British had not yet devised a way to avoid Habeas Corpus rights and detain Americans indefinitely, without trial.  Francis D. Cogliano, American Maritime Prisoners in the Revolutionary War (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2001), 43-47.

The possibility of retaliation helped save Allen, but it did little to change the attitude of many British offers in America.  From June 1775 to Dec. 1783, thousands of American prisoners died in British custody in occupied cities in North America and prison ships just off shore.

Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 38-41; Ralph M. Ketchum, Decisive Day: The Battle for Bunker Hill (New York: H. Holt, 1999 [1962]), 198; Charles Henry Metzger, S.J. [Society of Jesus], The Prisoner in the American Revolution (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1971), 288.  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cork's Generosity to Prisoners

On January 26, 1776, Colonel Ethan Allen, an American prisoner on the British ship Solebay, wrote a note to the merchants and other residents of Cork, Ireland.

GENTLEMEN: I received your generous present this day with a joyful heart. Thanks to God there are still the feelings of humanity in the worthy citizens of Cork towards those of their bone and flesh, who, through misfortune from the present broils in the empire are needy prisoners.

The Captain of the Solebay later confiscated many of the gifts from Allen and other prisoners, complaining the "American rebels" should not feast by the courtesy of the "rebels of Ireland."  


In January 1776, residents of Cork, Ireland donated goods for American prisoners on a passing war ship. The donations included tea, brown sugar, pickled beef new clothes, and liquor for American Colonel Ethan Allen.

In his 1779 Narrative..., Ethan Allen recalled that the gifts arrived on the ship Solebay while Captain Thomas Symonds and the first lieutenant were off board. The second lieutenant received them and distributed the gifts for the men.

Allen recalled, "Two days after the receipt of the aforesaid donations, Captain Symonds came on board, full of envy towards the prisoners, and swore by all that is good, that the damned American rebels should not feast at this rate, by the damned rebels of Ireland...."

Symonds ordered the confiscation of the liquor donated to Allen, move that provoked second lieutenant Douglass to object. Allen wrote, "The taking of my liquors was abominable in his sight; he therefore spoke in my behalf, till the Captain was angry with him; and in consequence, proceeded and took away all the tea and sugar, which had been given to the prisoners, and confiscated it to the use of the ship's crew."

Ethan Allen, A Narrative of Colonel Ethan Allen's Captivity... (Burlington, Vermont: H. Joyhnson & Co., 1838 [1779]), 61, 63. The generosity of the British people (in the eighteenth century, the Irish and the the English) contrasted with some British personnel in the field. See Francis D. Cogliano, American Maritime Prisoners in the Revolutionary War: The Captivity of William Russell (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2001). For the force of the word "rebel," consult Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 36.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

American Prisoners in Cork, Ireland

On Jan. 5, 1776, Commodore Sir Peter Parker's American-bound fleet stopped for provisions in Cork, Ireland. American prisoners, including Ethan Allen were captive on the Solebay, Thomas Symonds, Captain.

In a letter dated only January 1776 from Cork, an anonymous writer informed a friend in Philadelphia, "When Colonel Ethan Allen, with about fifty other prisoners, arrived in the Solebay, two gentlemen went on board to inquire into their situation, and to assure them of the disposition of several gentlemen in this city to alleviate their distresses. Colonel Allen was so affected with this instance of unexpected generosity, that the expression of his gratitude could hardly find utterance."

The author was probably one of the Cork merchants who started a subscription for the benefit of the American prisoners: "A subscription was begun this morning among some friends of the cause, and near fifty guineas collected to buy clothes for his men, and necessaries for himself; and, if liberty can be got of Captain Williams to put live stock on board, I can assure you Colonel Allen will be extremely well provided. We this day sent a hamper of wine, sugar, fruit, chocolate, &c., on board for his immediate use, and to-morrow intend to prepare the sundry articles of which he sent a list."

The author indicated the popular support for the American Cause in Cork by noting, "I have not been refused by a single person on the subscription."

For the date of Parker's arrival at Cork, see David Lee Russell, Victory of Sullivan's Island: The British Cape Fear/Charles Town Expedition of 1776 (Haverford, PA: Infinity, 2002), 79; for William Williams as the captain of the Active, another ship in Parker's fleet, see Peter Force, American Archives, Series 4, Vol. 6, page 1209, available online. For similar subscription raised, later in the war, for Americans detained in England, please see the post for November 11, 1780.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

January 16, 1776

On Jan. 16, 1776, President of Congress John Hancock wrote to General Washington about the ministers of King George III, "For my part, I shall not be surprised to hear, that in their phrenzy of rage, and to effect their dark purposes, they have proceeded to murder, under forms of law, those prisoners whom the tools of their vengeance have chanced to take, and whom, with officious zeal, they have sent to England."

British Brigadier General Richard Prescott captured American Ethan Allen in Canada in Sept. 1775. Prescott ordered Allen shipped to England in chains to "grace a halter at Tyburn, God damn you." Prescott hoped England would executed Allen at the infamous London area execution site of Tyburn. Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 38.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Rap on Iowa

"If local provincial pride and jealousy arise, and you allow yourselves to speak with contempt of the courage, character, manners, or even language of particular places, you are doing a greater injury to the common cause, than you are aware of."--Rev. John Witherspoon, 17 May 1776

Witherspoon delivered the sermon "The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men," in Princeton, New Jersey in May 1776. In June, New Jersey sent him as a delegate to the Continental Congress. In August, with several other delegates, he signed the Declaration of Independence.

John Witherspoon, The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men... (Glasgow: The Booksellers in Town and Country, 1777), 31. The beginning of primary season in January 2012 invites the usual opportunity to comment on the demographic profiles of different states, regions and cities.

NBC Commentator Andrea Mitchell may come under somewhat undue criticism for suggesting that the State of Iowa differs demographically from the national average in its religious, racial and residential profile. In fact, most states probably different from the national average in some regard. Even her critics must sense Mitchell meant no harsh judgment on the people and culture(s) of Iowa.

Our diversity of faiths and nationalities is interesting and deserving of consideration. We should discuss our diversity, but we should take care not seem to discuss it "with contempt."

Monday, January 2, 2012

John Adams on Islam & Confucianism

In 1776, John Adams wrote, "All sober enquiries after truth, ancient and modern, Pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity consists in virtue. Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, Mahomet, not to mention authorities really sacred, have agreed in this."

Adams did not believe in Zoroastrianism and Islam, but he respected them as serious "enquiries after truth...." Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner, eds., The Founders’ Constitution 5 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 1:108.

For more information, please see James H. Hutson, "The Founding Fathers and Islam: Library Records Show Early Tolerance for Muslim Faith," The Library of Congress Information Bulletin Volume 6 Number 5 (May 2002), (accessed 2 January 2012)