Tuesday, December 18, 2012

December 19, 1777: Provisioning Prisoners

On December 19, 1779, the Continental Congress noted that General Sir William Howe, commander of British military forces operating against the United States, forbade the circulation of Continental currency within cities and territory he controlled.  Since the ban applied even to Americans bringing supplies to American prisoners in Howe's custody.  Since the ban obliged American commissary personnel to transport goods into British-occupied areas or buy them on site with funds other than Continental money, Howe's measure created "great difficulties...in relieving the distresses of the American prisoners...."

Congress also noted that "large sums of continental bills of credit have been counterfeited and issued by the agents, emissaries and abettors of Sir William Howe...."

In response to such actions and policies, the Continental Congress resolved that no British prisoners could be exchanged until the British commissary of prisoners or any of his agents reimbursed the American public for "provisions or other necessaries" provided to British prisoners.

The December 19 resolution required British commissary personnel to reimburse Americans either in goods of equal kind and quality or "in gold and silver, at the rate of four shillings and six pence sterling for every dollar of the currency of these states: and that all these accounts be liquidated and discharged, previous to the release of any prisoners to whom provisions or other necessaries shall have been supplied."

Worthington Chauncey Ford, editor, Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, 34 volumes (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1904-1937), 9:1036-1037.
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