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 happy...in 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: http://bit.ly/J9JTp1.)  

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  http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwdc.html

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.


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