Friday, May 25, 2012

Distress and Misfortune

On May 17, 1783, Philadelphia newspaper The Independent Gazetteer reported, "Since out last [that is, since the May 10 issue] about 1600 British prisoners (the remainder of Burgoyne's and part of Cornwallis's army) from Lancaster [Pennsylvania], Maryland, and Virginia, passed through this city, on their way to New-York."

On May 24, The Independent Gazetteer again mentioned the 1600 British prisoners who passed through Philadelphia on their way to the British in New York City.  "If the enemy have any sensibility left, and are not totally callous to every honourable, humane impression, they must feel themselves exceedingly disgraced and ashamed, on contrasting such healthy, well-fed prisoners, with the unfortunate Americans, emaciated and worn down by famine and disease, whom they, in return, have liberated from a rigous confinement in pestilential prison ships, damp, dreary dungeons, and loathsome goals."  Now realtively unfamiliar to Americans, "gaol" is still a British term for prison. 

The Independent Gazetteer editorialized, "On our part every reasonable indulgence had been shewn to them, while they, on theirs, have dealt out...the most shocking cruelties, and have been continually adding injuries and insults to distress and misfortune."

For an account of "emaciated and enfeebled" prisoners released from British prison ships in 1779, please click here.  For George Washington's description of "miserable, emaciated" prisoners released by the British in January 1777, please check here.  For a similar comparison between the treatment of Burgoyne's army to the treatment of Americans who became prisoners, please check here.   

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Aversion to "System of Severity"

Writing from Trenton on May 13, 1782, New Jersey Governor William Livingston sent British commander Sir Guy Carleton acknowledgement of the Carleton's message conveyed by paroled officer Col. Henry Brockholst Livingston.  As a captured officer, Col. Livingston should have been released on parole under Carleton's immediate predecessor, Sir Henry Clinton.  Instead, the commandant of New York City, Lt. Gen. James Robertson, ordered the young officer confined to the Provost Jail on May 2.

Governor Livingston remarked that had it not been for Carleton's "seasonable arrival" as commander of British forces, the colonel "might have long confinement, thro' the operation of that contrary disposition by which some of your Predecessors in command, have been so remarkably distinguished."

William Livingston wrote that Carleton's effort to end "any unnecessary rigour against prisoners," especially when busy with other commitments upon arrival, offered "the strongest proof of your aversion to that System of severity of which the Americans have long had reason to complain...." 

Since the young officer was confined immediately after a long voyage, "exercise and elbow room" were critical upon hsi arrival in New York City and "his liberation into open air and liberty, must be proportionally agreeable to him...."  Governor Livingston added, "In the cahracter of his Father, I am also happy in having him so soon given to my embraces, thro' those tender feelings for which your Excellency was celebrated before you left America." 

Carl E. Prince and Mary Lou Lustig, editors, The Papers of William Livingston: Vol. 4: July 1780-April 1783 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987), pages 403 and 407.  For examples of the "contrary disposition" of some of Carleton's predecessors, please consult posts about Sir William Howe, here, here and here, among others

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

War: Render Its Evils as Light as Possible

Sir Guy Carleton arrived in New York City on May 5, 1782 to assume command of British forces operating in United States.  On May 7, Carleton wrote to New Jersey Governor William Livingston, "Colonel [Henry Brockholst] Livingston will have the pleasure of placing this Letter in Your Excellency's hands.  His Enlargement, Sir, has been the first Act of my Command, being desirous, if War must prevail, to render its Evils as light as possible to individuals."

During his tenure as Governor of Quebec, which ended in 1778, Carleton was famous among Americans for his kindness to prisoners. 

Carl E. Prince and Mary Lou Lustig, editors, The Papers of William Livingston: Volume 4: July 1780-April 1783 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987), page 405.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Kindness to Prisoners Lessens Resentment

On May 10, 1782, Benjamin Franklin responded to an April 28 letter from William Petty, the 1st Marquis of Landsdowne and 2nd Earl of Shelburne, mentioning the release of Americans from prisons in Britain.  Franklin wrote, "I am understanding from your letter that transports are actually preparing to convey our prisoners to America, and that attention will be paid to their accommodation and good treatment." 

After news of the surrender of the British Army at Yorktown, Virginia on 19 Oct. 1781, hardliner Lord North resigned as Prime Minister (20 March 1782).  William Pitt the Younger, only 24, became Prime Minister.  (Yorktown Victory Center:  

Of the American prisoners, Franklin assured Lord Shelburne, “Those people on their return will be dispersed through every aprt of America, and the accounts they will have to give of any marks of kindness received by them under the present minister will lessen much the resentment of their friends against the [British] nation for the hardships they suffered under the past [administration]."

Historian Francis D. Cogliano concluded that civilians in Britain were sympathetic to American prisoners.  British Naval officers in New York City, however, were different to the welfare of prisoners, as were many of the Loyalist "Refugees" crowded into the city from across the country.

Francis Wharton, editor, The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, 6 volumes (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1889), 5:554

Francis D. Cogliano, American Maritime Prisoners in the Revolutionary War: The Captivity of William Russell (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2001), 151-158.

For British support of American prisoners in Britain, please visit the posts here, and here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

John Witherspoon against Chemical Warfare

Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank reported for CNN Security Clearance that the eighth edition of Inspire, the magazine of Al Qaeda, features quotes from the late cleric Anwar al-Awlaki advocating chemical warfare and other attacks that eventually endanger noncombatants. 

In the June 1776 issue of the Pennsylvania Magazine, Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon wrote that “acts of cruelty and inhumanity, are to be blamed, and to be considered as a violation of the law of nations.”

Witherpoon added, “Many of them might be easily enumerated, such as refusing quarter to those who submit, killing prisoners when they might be kept without any danger, killing women and children, inventing methods of torture, burning and destroying every thing that might be of use in life.  The use of poisoned weapons also has been generally condemned….”

John Rodgers, editor, The Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon…, 4 vols. (Philadelphia: William W. Woodward, 1801), 3:157; Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998 [1969]), 3:157; 203, note 9.  For more on John Wihterspoon, please consult Jeffry H. Morrison, John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame University Press, 2005).

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Some Little Inconsistency

On May 7, 1782, William Ellery and Ezekiel Cornell, Rhode Island Delegates to the Continental Congress, wrote to Gov. William Greene to explain that recent negotiations for a prisoner exchange proved unsuccessful.

George Washington's commissioners met commissioners from General Sir Guy Carleton and Admiral Robert Digby, the commanders of British army and naval forces, respectively.  The Rhode Island Delegates wrote, “Sir H. Clinton’s Commissioners were not empower’d to settle a general cartel.  Indeed, their powers were ostensible only; every thing was referred to him by them.  He refused to pay the balance due for subsisting their soldiers in our possession; and would not advance a farthing for the support of them.  He was willing to give seamen for soldiers, or a trifling sum of money for each soldier."

Ellery and Cornell added that American commissioners "were instructed by the Genl. to insist upon better accommodations for our sea-prisoners.  Admiral Digby’s powers to their commissioners were much short of expectation.  He was willing to exchange seamen for soldiers, and this was all he said that wanted regulation.”

Carleton's conciliatory approach differed from the Royal Navy's treatment of prisoners in New York City, prompting Washington to remark on the contrast.  On July 10, 1782, George Washington wrote to friend and former aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman, “Sir Guy gives strong assurances of the pacific disposition of his Most gracious Majesty, by Land.
 By sea, however, Admiral Digby gives proofs…of His Most Gracious Majesty’s good intention of capturing everything that Floats on the face of the Water; and of his humane design of suffocating all those who are taken thereon, in Prison Ships, who will not engage in his Service.”   

Washington wrote, “To an American, whose genius is not susceptible of refined Ideas, there would appear some little inconsistency in all this….”

In a letter to Henry Laurens, also dated July 10, 1782, Washington remarked that Carleton was trying to "sooth and lull our people into a State of security,” while Digby was trying to coerce the enlistment of maritime captives by suffocating them on prison ships and British Governor of Quebec Sir Frederick Haldimand was trying to incite Native Americans into burn the frontiers.  Washington noted, “Such is the Line of conduct pursued by the different Commanders, and such their politic's.”  

For more on Carleton, please consult Paul David Nelson, Sir Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester: Soldier-Statesman of Early Canada (Madison, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2000).  For the British Naval commanders in occupied New York City, consult Francis D. Cogliano, American Maritime Prisoners in the Revolutionary War: The Captivity of William Russell (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2001), especially pages 160-161.  For the expectation that a nation at war would compensate for the expenses of their personnel held in enemy custody, see the footnote here.