Monday, July 8, 2013

Looked Upon As Regulars

     In a letter to Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, member of the Second Continental Congress Thomas McKean relayed news from South Carolina: “A general exchange of prisoners has taken place to the Southward, and our good old friend General Gadsden is expected here in a few days.  All the Refugees and Tories taken on our part have been given up for all our Militia taken by the enemy; this was agreed to without reference to numbers or rank on either side.”  The letter was dated July 8, 1781, in Philadelphia.
     The agreement for an exchange was negotiated on May 3, 1781 between Captain Frederick Cornwallis, who negotiated on behalf his cousin Lieutenant General Sir Charles Cornwallis, and Lieutenant Colonel Carrington, who negotiated on behalf of Continental Army Major General Nathanael Greene.  The May 3 agreement or cartel made several important stipulations.  For instance, article 2 conceded, “That men enlisted for six months and upwards in continental or State service be looked upon as regulars.”  In other words, men who formed militia units in defense of their country were not illegal combatants or “irregulars” excluded from exchange.   
     Edmund Massingbred Hyrne, the American Deputy Commissary General for Prisoners, and James Frazer, Commissary of Prisoners for the British, announced the release on June 22, 1781. 
     The agreement pertained to all British militia in American custody and all American militia in British custody captured from the state of the war to June 15, 1781.  All officers and militia members on parole were also released from that commitment on June 22.  The agreement covered only “prisoners of war, taken in the Southern department.”  The “Refugees” McKean mentioned were American Loyalists who fled their home towns and enlisted in the British service, but sometimes included American prisoners forced to enlisted with the British.  John Almon and George Pownall, The Remembrancer, or, Impartial Repository of Public Events: From the Year 1781, Part 2 (London: J. Debrett, 1781), page 186.  For McKean’s letter to Samuel Adams, please consult Paul H. Smith and Ronald M. Gephart, editors, Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Volume 17: March 1, 1781-August 31, 1781 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1990), pages 387-388.  For the coercive enlistment of American prisoners, please consult Philip Ranlet, “British Recruitment of Americans in New York during the American Revolution,” Military Affairs volume 48 (January 1984): 26-28; and Philip Ranlet, “In the Hands of the British: The Treatment of American POWs During the War of Independence,” The Historian volume 62 (June2000): 731-758. 
     To read “Agreement between Nathanael Greene and Charles Cornwallis, Earl Cornwallis concerning an exchange of prisoners” (May 3, 1781), please visit, a page of Documenting the American South, from the University of North Carolina Library, last update March 28, 2010 (accessed July 8, 2013).  
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