Wednesday, April 11, 2012

April 12: Their Death Almost Certain and Inevitable

On April 11, 1777, the Continental Congress resolved that George Washington's April 9 letter about the "emaciated and languishing" condition of American prisoners released by Sir William Howe in December 1776 and January 1777.  Congress wanted other papers pertaining to a prisoner exchange published as well.


In Philadelphia, The Pennsylvania Evening Post published the correspondence on April 12, 1777 and the Pennsylvania Packet published it on April 15.  Americans around the country read George Washington's letter in newspapers like The New England Chronicle (Boston) of May 2; the Connecticut Courant (Hartford) of May 5; and the Freeman's Journal (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) of May 31. A supplement to the May 2 issue of Alexander Purdie's Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg) paraphrased and quoted much of Washington's letter, including his assertion that Howe released prisoners in so debilitated a condition "as to render their death almost certain and inevitable...."


For the importance of American newspapers from the early days of the revolutionary Cause, please consult T. H. Breen, American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People (New York: Hill and Wang, 2010), pages 99-104. Breen is the William Smith Mason Professor of American History at Northwestern University.  
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