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….”  
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