Thursday, May 9, 2013

Entertaining POWs


WAR-OFFICE, May 1, 1777.  Whereas several prisoners of war and deserters from the enemy are employed and entertained by sundry inhabitants of this city, contrary to the repeated orders; every person now employing or entertaining prisoners of war or deserters, are required to give immediate notice thereof to the Board of War, or the Town Major.  Any person hereafter entertaining a prisoner of deserter from the enemy, without first obtaining leave from the Board of War, shall be considered as concealing the enemies of the states.             RICHARD PETERS, Secretary 
The Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia), 1 May 1777


Five delegates to the Continental Congress comprised the Board of War, with Richard Peters serving as their secretary.  In this pronouncement, the Board of War addressed the issue of British and Hessian deserters behind American lines without the knowledge of the Board of War or the Continental Congress, as well as Prisoners of War taking employment without American authorities knowing of the prisoners’ whereabouts. 

Work on American farms, typically with the knowledge of local and Continental authorities, often brought POWs into intimate contact with American civilians.  Although the exact number is not certain, probably a good number of Hessian and British Prisoners of War married American women and remained in the United States after Britain recognized American independence in 1783.

For more on the employment of Hessian and British POWs in American shops and farms, please consult Robert Leckie, George Washington’s War: The Saga of the American Revolution (New York: HarperCollins, 1992); Laura L. Becker, “Prisoners of War in the American Revolution: A Community Perspective,” Military Affairs vol. 46 (December 1982): 169-173; Richard Sampson, Escape in America: The British Convention Prisoners, 1777-1783 (Chippenham, Wiltshire, UK: Picton Pub., 1995).

For an account of Thomas Jefferson's dinner parties with a Hessian officer and his family, please consult Willard Sterne Randall, Thomas Jefferson: A Life (New York: H. Holt, 1993), 307-308.  Randall wrote that Jefferson and his family welcomed the "cultivated company" of Hessian officers.  Check Randall, Thomas Jefferson: A Life, page 308.
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