On April 4, 1776, William McDermott wrote to the New York Committee of Safety, “I have been a prisoner under close confinement near five weeks—for what, I am an utter stranger; therefore, shall esteem it a favour if you will be kind enough to order me before you, as I am fully conscious of my innocence of any charge against me, if any is laid before you.”
A Committee document dated March 1776 summarized “The examination of Mr. William McDermott, who saith: He was born in Ireland; has been in America about five years; has been a Lieutenant in the Forty-Seventh Regiment; had sold his commission about eighteen month ago, and that he was bound to Rhode-Island or Boston, to get a passage home.” On July 6, 1776, McDermott gave his parole. News of the Declaration of Independence had not yet reached McDermott and the Committee, as McDermott acknowledged himself “made a prisoner of war by the Army of the Thirteen United Colonies in North America….”
The July examination of McDermott included this description of the Irishman:
William McDermott, an Hibernian, aged twenty-two, about five feel six inches high, fair complexion, light eyes, and brown hair, being examined, says, that on his passage from New York (he having been for some time on board the Asia) he was cast away on board the ship Sally, on the south side of Long Island, taken and sent prisoner to New York, where he remained a prisoner till yesterday, when he was sent to this place.
For the complete phrasing of McDermott’s parole, please visit the American Archives web site of the North Illinois University Libraries.
McDermott, “on my word and honour, and on the faith of a gentleman,” promised to go to Bedford, in Westchester County, New York and remain there “or within six miles thereof…” The commitment was to last “during the present war with Great Britain and the said United Colonies, or until the Congress of the said United Colonies, or the Assembly, Convention, or Committee, or Council of Safety of the said Colony [New York], shall order otherwise….” McDermott also pledged not to aid the enemies of the United Colonies, where “directly or indirectly,” until the end of “the present troubles” or until his exchange or release.
By October 1776, Major Ebenezer Lockwood reported to the New York Committee of Safety that five British prisoners of war escaped from Westchester County, “in violation of their paroles….” Among those violating their parole was Joseph Woolcomb, Chief Mate of the ship BlueMountain Valley. Despite of the escape of several officers who pledged their parole, the Committee learned that three prisoners remained in Westchester, including William McDermott.
For the committees and councils that gave thousands of Americans experience in self-government, please consult the excellent book by T. H. Breen, AmericanInsurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People (New York: Hill and Wang, 2010) and the article by Breen for The Daily Beast. Check also the extremely helpful remarks from Matthew H. Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010 ), pages 4-5.