Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Conference with General Washington, October 23, 1775

On September 30, 1775, the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, appointed three of its Delegates to a committee to meet General George Washington at the Headquarters of the Continental Army in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The Committee of Conference consisted of Benjamin Harrison of Virginia, Thomas Lynch of South Carolina and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania.

On October 23, 1775, the Committee of Conference met with Washington to consider twenty-five questions.  Point number five concerned the treatment of Prisoners of War: "In what Manner are Prisoners to be treated?  What Allowance made them & how are they to be cloathed?"

The Congressional committee and General Washington "Agreed that they be treated as Prisoners of War but with Humanity & the Allowance of Provisions to be the Rations of the Army...."

Captured enemy officers, still "being in Pay" from the British, should supply themselves with goods, with Continental authorities accepting the bills of credit issued by the gentlemen-officers.  This practice was consistent with the European and Transatlantic world's unwritten laws of war.  The committee and the General agreed the provisioning of captured soldiers should continue in the manner the Continental Congress already established.

The conference with General Washington shaped the Congressional resolution on Prisoners of War, passed on May 21, 1776.  Congress resolved, "That such as are taken, be treated as prisoners of war, but with humanity, and be allowed the same rations as the troops in the service of the United Colonies; but that such as are officers supply themselves, and be allowed to draw bills to pay for their subsistence and cloathing...."

The committee met with Washington again on October 24 to discuss other issues.  Paul H. Smith, editor, Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Volume 2: September-December 1775 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1977), page 234; Worthington Chauncey Ford, editor, Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Volume 4: January 1-June 4, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1909), page 370.  For more on Benjamin Franklin's concern for the treatment of enemy Prisoners of War, please check the post here.

The Minutes of a Conference with the General by a Committee of Conference, October 23, 1775, are also available here, at the American Archives site of Northern Illinois University Libraries.  Peter Force, editor of American Archives, published a version of the Minutes with different spelling, punctuation and capitalization.  The Letters of Delegates and Journals of the Continental Congress are both available at the website, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875, a site operated by the US Library of Congress.  

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