Saturday, August 25, 2012

August 11

From his Headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts on August 11, 1775, General George Washington of the Continental Army wrote to British commander General Thomas Gage in Boston.

I understand that the officers engaged in the cause of liberty and their Country, who, by the fortune of war, have fallen into your hands, have been thrown indiscriminately into a common jail appropriate for felons....

According to the Laws of Nations as understood in the eighteenth century, captured officers should have parole.  That is, officers should have freedom of movement and the right to secure private lodgings in a district occupied by the enemy upon their word as gentlemen not to escape.  Officers could even have the option of returning to their homes, if they gave their word not to rejoin the fight until notified of their official exchange for an officer of equal rank.
     Under Gage's successor, William Howe, the British did extend parole to captured American officers.  Gage, however, claimed in his August 13 response that he "lodged" the American prisoners "indiscriminately...for I acknowledge no rank that is not derived from the King."  George Washington, however, learned that American officers suffered even worse in their confinement in Boston Jail: consideration has been had for those of the most respectable rank, when languishing with wounds and sickness; and that some of them have been even amputated in this unworthy condition.

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