Alexander Hamilton Papers

Colonels Charles O’Hara and West Hyde to Lieutenant Colonels Robert Hanson Harrison and Alexander Hamilton, 12 December 1778

Colonels Charles O’Hara and West Hyde to
Lieutenant Colonels Robert Hanson Harrison
and Alexander Hamilton

[Amboy, New Jersey] 12th. December 1778


We cannot sufficiently lament, that the Purposes of our Meeting, you will pardon us for observing, have been defeated, by a less generous and extensive Construction of the Resolutions of Congress of the 19th. November,1 than the View in which we had considered them.

Every Sense of Honor, Justice and Humanity, make it impossible to acquiesce in a Proposal, which might lead to seperate the Officers from the Private Soldiers, by exchanging the former, and suffering the latter to remain in Captivity. Companions in their more fortunate Hours, they must be equally Sharers of Affliction. Such cruel and unprecedented Distinctions, between Men who have equally a Claim upon the Favor and Protection of their Country, we are certain, your own Feelings as Officers and Men would condemn. You will consequently not be surprised, that we cannot assent to the partial Mode of Exchange proposed.

We beg leave therefore to acquaint you, that we intend returning to New York tomorrow, to make our Report to Sir Henry Clinton. Let us flatter ourselves, that some Expedient may be immediately embraced by both Parties, upon such honorable, humane and disinterested Principles, as may give the most speedy & ample Relief, to every Order of unfortunate Men concerned.

We are Gentlemen, &ca

Charles O’Hara
West Hyde.

To Lieutt. Colonels Harrison and Hamilton.

Copy, enclosed in Sir Henry Clinton to Lord Germain, December 16, 1778, William L. Clements Library of the University of Michigan; copy, PRO: C.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Records Office of Great Britain deposited in the Library of Congress. description ends , part 5, vol. 97; copy, Reel 184, Item 167, p. 17, Papers of the Continental Congress, National Archives.

1The resolution reads:

Resolved, That General Washington be empowered and directed to appoint commissioners, and fix the time and place of their meeting, to confer with the commissioners appointed or to be appointed by Sir Henry Clinton, or other the commander in chief of the British forces in America, on behalf of his Britannic majesty, on the exchange proposed by Sir Henry Clinton in his letter to General Washington of the 10th instant, of the officers in the service of these states, now prisoners in the actual possession of the enemy, or out on parole, for the officers and men of the troops of the convention, according to their ranks and number; officers of equal rank to be first exchanged; after which, if it shall be necessary, an equivalent of inferior for superior officers, and, if agreeably to such equivalent, all the officers of the enemy shall be exchanged, and a balance of officers remain in their hands, then an equivalent of privates to be given in exchange for such officers, shall be settled according to the customary proportion, or such proportion as may be agreed on. The commissioners so to be appointed, by virtue hereof, to make report of their proceedings to General Washington, who is hereby fully authorized and empowered finally to ratify the terms of the said exchange on behalf of these United States” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937). description ends , XII, 1145–46).

The nature of the dispute between the British and American commissioners is fully explained in Harrison and H to Washington, December 15, 1778.

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