Tuesday, July 31, 2012

August 1

In an August 1, 1776 letter to Gen. George Washington, British General Sir William Howe described himself as “wishing sincerely to give relief to the distress of all prisoners….”  Howe indicated he “shall readily consent to the mode of exchange you are pleased to propose, viz: officers for those of equal rank, soldier for soldier, citizen for citizen; the choice to be made by the respective commanders for their own officers and men.”

July 26: William Sutton

   On 26 July 1776, William Sutton, jailed on charges he denounced the Declaration of Independence and aided British forces, petitioned the Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York.  Pleaded that incarcerated aggravated his poor health, Sutton wrote that he would not “endeavour to influence any person or persons to aid the Ministerial or discourage the American arms.” 
   The records of the New York Convention for 26 July indicate that 
William Sutton sent in a Petition, setting forth his ill state of health, and requesting a release from confinement in Prison.”  The Convention Ordered, That Doctor Graham be requested to visit him, and report his state of health to this Convention in the afternoon.”
   The same day
Dr. Jonathan Augustus Graham, M.D. wrote to Brigadier-General Woodhull, “According to the desire of the honourable Convention, I have duly examined with respect to the indisposition of Mr. William Sutton.  I find that he labours under a violent harassing cough, phthisick, and disorder of the his lungs, attended with universal decay; for the cure of which, even to preserve him from imminent danger of a supervening consumption, I should judge it necessary that he have a free air, proper diet and exercise, which, in the rpesent situation he is now in, cannot be exhibited.”
   On 27 July, the New York Convention released with an admonition William Sutton's son, John Sutton, 
In pity to your youth and in hopes of your amendment....

  The New York Convention voted on 27 July to send William Sutton to the Committee of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for confinement.  On 8 August 1776, the Pennsylvania Council of Safety committed William Sutton to the care of Robert Jewell, Keeper of the State Prison. The Pennsylvania Council of Safety granted parole to one William Sutton on 11 September 1776.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July 25, 1776

On 25 July 1776, Chairman John Hanson, of the Committee of the Middle District of Frederick County, Maryland, wrote to the Maryland Council of Safety about prisoner requests for parole: “The Committee have often been applied to by the prisoners in the Tory Jail for an enlargement [i.e., release], on giving sufficient security not to depart the bounds which may be allotted them, and for their good behaviour; but they…would be glad to be favoured with the opinion of your honourable Board; and as some of these prisoners are officers, whether they are not entitled to their parole, agreeable to the resolution of Congress respecting prisoners.”
Hanson added, “Yesterday, were brought to this place, under a guard from Burlington, fifteen officers, taken at St. John’s [in Canada], who are ordered by the Board of War to be kept here.  Those who refuse to sign the parole are ordered to be confined in Jail.  Three of them have signed, and the other twelve who refused were last night sent to the Tory Jail, which we hope will occasion them in a short time to take advantage allowed them.”
Described conditions in the Tory Jail, Hanson wrote, 
“It is a dreadful place (but the best we have) to be confined in, and so crowded at present (being twenty-seven) that it may be dangerous to their health.” 

Monday, July 23, 2012

July 24

     In a 24 July 1776 letter, President of the Continental Congress John Hancock informed General Phillip Schuyler, “In consequence of a flag from Lord Howe, with a letter directed ‘To George Washington, Esq.,’ which he declined receiving, as an improper direction, considering his rank and station, the Congress came to a resolution, not only expressing their approbation of his conduct, but ordering for the future that no Commander-in-Chief, or other…commanders of the American Army, should receive any letters from the enemy but such as are directed to them in the characters they sustain.”   
     British generals often referred to American officers as “Mister,” instead of acknowledging their military rank.  In their 14 July 1776 letter, the Howe brothers—Admiral Richard Lord Howe and General Sir William Howe—addressed their correspondence to “George Washington, Esq., etc, etc.”  As explained in this timeline of the Revolution by the Library of Congress, the Howe brothers chose a form of address appropriate for a private citizen rather than a general at the head of an army.  
     British refusal to acknowledge the status of Americans—particularly the status of American captives as prisoners of war—contributed to the poor treatment of captured Americans in most of the North American locales occupied by the British.  Consult, for instance, William R. Lindsey, “Treatment of American Prisoners of War during the Revolution,” Emporia State Research Studies vol. 22, no. 1 (
Summer 1973): 2-32. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Servant Attends Captured Officer

On 23 July 1776, William Atlee, Chairman of the Lancaster Committee, wrote to Richard Peters, Secretary of the Board of War of the Continental Congress.  Atlee wrote that British prisoner John Brown was permitted to accompany his fellow-prisoner Captain William Goodwin from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Fredericktown, Maryland, John Brown serving as Captain Goodwin's servant.

Atlee explained, “As Captain [Thomas] Gamble experienced the like indulgence at Philadelphia, and had his servant from among the prisoners, upon signing the parole and engaging for him, and as Captain Sterling assured us the Congress would have permitted all the prisoners to have had their servants had they not absolutely refused signing the parole, we ventured to favour the application of a gentleman who was represented to us by Captain Sterling as a worth good man, with a family in a distressed situation.”

For more on parole, please visit the post here.  Captain James Stirling was the American officer who accompanied a number of British prisoner from Burlington, New Jersey to Lancaster, PA and Frederick County, Maryland.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


     The Committee of Litchfield wrote to the Convention of New York on 22 July1776.  Although “sensible of the situation of the State of New York, and grateful for the good opinion you express of our zeal in the common cause,” the Committee indicated it could not comply with the request to accommodate even more prisoners.     
     Litchfield had “near forty prisoners of war…besides six other prisoners sent here from Fairfield and Dutchess Counties…together with a number of other criminals for various crimes, all to be confined in two very uncomfortable rooms—the whole jail consisting of but three, one of which is occupied by a woman, confined for murder….” The situation “renders the confinement of those prisoners in this jail incompatible either with the publick safety, or even with the safety of the prisoners’ lives, some of whom are now sick.”
     Abraham Depeyster delivered the New York Convention’s plea for assistance, along with the prisoners themselves.  The prisoners included New York City Mayor David Mathews
     The town committee of Litchfield informed the neighboring state’s Convention, “For the above reasons, Mr. Depeyster has not committed to our care the Mayor of your city, but has taken for him private lodgings, under the care of a particular gentleman, for his safe custody, until he can know your pleasure in the premises.”  

Friday, July 20, 2012

July 20, 1776

On 20 July 1776, British Lieutenant-Colonel James Patterson, adjutant-general under General Sir William Howe, met with General George Washington, commander of the Continental Army. 

“Colonel Patterson then proceeded to say, that the goodness and benevolence of the King…induced him to appoint [Admiral Richard] Lord Howe and General [Sir William] Howe his Commissioners to accommodate this unhappy dispute….  Gerneral W. replied…Lord Howe and General Howe were only to grant pardons; that those who had committed no fault wanted no pardon; that we were only defending what we deemed our indisputable rights.  Colonel P. said, that would open a very wide field for argument.”

Washington and Patterson discussed prisoners of war.  Patterson worried for the life Brigadier General Robert Prescott, a British officer treated with “such rigour” by the Americans.  Washington believed Prescott’s treatment was “very different from their information.”  Washington mentioned British prisoners who violated their parole and wounded American officers captured by the British after the Battle of Bunker Hill and sent to the Boston Jail.  Prescott insisted that, when the state of the British army allowed it, prisoners in Boston “were treated with humanity and even indulgence….” 

Peter Edes, a teenaged son of a Boston newspaper printer, was a civilian confined by the British to Boston Jail.  When the Provost Marshal, Captain William Cunningham, learned one of his sergeants allowed the prisoners the use of the yard for exercise, the Provost raged, “Damn them, let them die and rot; you have no authority to let them out.”  Cunningham then order the sergeant confined.   Encountering Cunningham in New York after the Battle of Long Island (27 August 1776), American Colonel Samuel Atlee referred to Cunningham as “the most infamous of mankind….”  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

NY Convention to Litchfield Committee

On 19 July 1776, with the British landing in New York, the Convention of New York wrote to the Committee of Litchfield, Connecticut.

As this State is now attacked by the common enemy, and our jails are in general so near to the sea-coast and the banks of Hudson's River as to render it extremely imprudent to continue prisoners of a certain cast longer in them, the Convention have therefore come to a resolution to send thirteen prisoners, who are accused of notorious disaffection to the rights and liberties of the American States...to be confined in your jail till we have formed a civil constitution and established courts of justice....

The New York State governing body remarked, "The Convention have observed such a zeal in our brethren of Connecticut, upon every occasion, to give all assistance to their neighbours, that it is scarce necessary to mention to you that his Excellency General Washington has recommended them to send all our prisoners, whose remaining in this State would be attended with dangerous consequences, to Connecticut."  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"Depravity" Shown in Treatment of Prisoners

To Member of Parliament and American sympathizer David Hartley, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “As to our submitting to the Government of Great Britain, it is in vain to think of it.  She had given us, by her numberless barbarities…in the prosecution of the war and in the treatment of the prisoners, so deep an impression of her depravity, that we never again can trust her in the management of our affairs and interests.” 

Benjamin Franklin to David Hartley, Passy, France, 14 October 1777, FrancisWharton, editor, The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, 6 volumes (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1889), volume 2: page 409. 

Hartley was friends with Franklin, often assisting Franklin’s efforts to help American prisoners detained in England.  EdwinG. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 157.  Franklin probably intended his harsh words as ammunition for Hartley’s criticism of his country’s war against the United States.  

Nothing Would Promote Our Cause More

The 4 July 1778 issue of The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia, PA) reported the 18 June withdrawal of British forces from the city.

“On Thursday the 18th ult. the British army, under the command of Sir Henry Clinton, completed their evacuation of this city, after having possession of it about nine months.  The indiscriminate destruction of whig and tory property to be seen in the neighbourhood of the city strongly mark the character of those British savages.  They have increased the resentment of their old enemies and turned the hearts of their friends….” 

    British General Sir William Howe led British troops into 
Philadelphia on 26 September 1777, but resigned as commander of British forces on 14 April 1778.  
    The misconduct of British troops often drove people to oppose them.  In April 1777, John Adams predicted that a British occupation of Philadelphia would turn many against the British army.  Adams wrote, “Nothing would promote our Cause more, than Howes March to this Town.”
    Noting that Pennsylvania’s German-Americans resented damage to their property, Adams wrote, “A few Houses and Plantations plundered, as many would be, if Howe should come here, would set them all on Fire.   Nothing would unite and determine Pensilvania so effectually.”  Adams overlooked the commitment many German-Americans already had for the Cause, but he understood that the misconduct of an army helps its enemies.
    Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 28 April 1777 [electronic edition].  Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive.  Massachusetts Historical Society.  http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/.   


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Honor to His Appointment

The Continental Congress Committee of Secret Correspondence wrote in October 1776 to the American Commissioners in Paris, France.  The Committee informed the Commissioners that Captain Lambert Wickes, of the ship-of-war Reprisal, was to conduct a cruise against British shipping after bringing Dr. Benjamin Franklin to the French port of Nantes.

"Captain Wickes is a worthy man....  He will treat prisoner with humanity, and we are convinced his conduct will do honor to his appointment."

Robert Morris et al., Committee of Secret Correspondence, to the Commissioners in Paris, Philadelphia, 24 October 1776, in Francis Wharton, editor, The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, 6 volumes (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1889), 2:180.