George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Lieutenant General Thomas Gage, 19 August 1775

To Lieutenant General Thomas Gage

Head Quarters Cambridge Augt 19th 1775.


I address’d you on the 11th Instant in Terms which gave the fairest Scope, for the Exercise of that Humanity & Politeness, which were supposed to form a Part of your Character—I remonstrated with you, on the unworthy Treatment shewn to the Officers, and Citizens of America, whom the Fortune of War, Chance, or a mistaken Confidence had thrown into your Hands. Whether British, or American Mercy, Fortitude, & Patience are most preeminent; whether our virtuous Citizens whom the Hand of Tyranny has forced into Arms, to defend their Wives, their Children, & their Property; or the mercenary Instruments of lawless Domination, Avarice, and Revenge best deserve the Appellation of Rebels, and the Punishment of that Cord, which your affected Clemency has forborne to inflict; Whether the Authority under which I act is usurp’d, or founded on the genuine Principles of Liberty, were altogether foreign to my Subject. I purposely avoided all political Disquisition; nor shall I now avail myself of those Advantages, which the sacred Cause of my Country, of Liberty, and human Nature give me over you. Much less shall I stoop to Retort, & Invective. But the Intelligence, you say, you have received from our Army requires a Reply. I have taken Time, Sir, to make a strict Inquiry, and find it has not the least Foundation in Truth. Not only your Officers, and Soldiers have been treated with a Tenderness due to Fellow Citizens, & Brethren; but even those execrable Parricides, whose Counsels & Aid have deluged their Country with Blood, have been protected from the Fury of a justly enraged People. Far from compelling, or even permitting their Assistance, I am embarassed with the Numbers who crowd to our Camp animated with the purest Principles of Virtue, & Love of their Country.

You advise me to give free Operation to Truth, to punish Misrepresentation & Falshood. If Experience stamps Value upon Counsel, yours must have a Weight which few can claim. You best can tell, how far the Convulsion which has brought such Ruin on both Countries, and shaken the mighty Empire of Brittain to its Foundation, may be traced to those malignant Causes.

You affect, Sir, to despise all Rank not derived from the same Source with your own. I cannot conceive any more honourable, than that which flows from the uncorrupted Choice of a brave and free Poeple—The purest Source & original Fountain of all Power. Far from making it a Plea for Cruelty, a Mind of true Magnanimity, & enlarged Ideas would comprehend & respect it.

What may have been the ministerial Views which precipitated the present Crisis, Lexington—Concord, & Charlestown can best declare—May that God to whom you then appealed, judge between America & you! Under his Providence, those who influence the Councils of America, and all the other Inhabitants of these united Colonies, at the Hazard of their Lives, are resolved to hand down to Posterity those just & invaluable Privileges which they received from their Ancestors.

I shall now, Sir, close my Correspondence with you, perhaps forever. If your Officers who are our Prisoners receive a Treatment from me, different from what I wish’d to shew them, they, & you, will remember the Occasion of it.1 I am Sir, Your very Hbble Servant

Go: Washington

LS, in Joseph Reed’s writing, MiU-C: Gage Papers; Df, DLC:GW; copy, NHi: Joseph Reed Papers; copy, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy, NjMoHP; copy, NNgWHM; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The draft and Varick transcript are dated 20 Aug. 1775, but the LS and various copies are dated 19 Aug. 1775. The copy in PCC, item 152, was enclosed in GW to Hancock, 31 Aug. 1775.

1On 14 Aug. Joseph Reed wrote to James Otis, Sr., president of the Massachusetts council: “His Excelly being oblijed to attend some Business in the Lines has directed me to acquaint you & the Honle Court that he has received a Letter [of 13 Aug.] from Gen. Gage which has determined him to order the Officers now at Water Town together with those from Cape Ann to be confined in Northampton Gaol. General Gage is resolved to know no Distinction of Rank among our Prisoners in his Hands—which obliges Gen. Washington (very contrary to his Disposition) to observe the same Rule of Treatment to those Gentlemen, to whom it will be proper to explain the Reasons of a Conduct, which otherwise may appear harsh & cruel—The common Men, the General Court will order to such Places as they think proper” (M-Ar: Revolution Letters). GW relented the next day. “When Capt. [John] Knight & the other Gentlemen went from hence yesterday,” Reed wrote to the Northampton committee of safety on 15 Aug., “it was intended they should have been put into the same Confinement with Prisoners of a common Rank: But some Circumstances since have changed this Intention. I now therefore by Direction of his Excelly Gen. Washington am to acquaint you that Capt. Knight and such of his Company for whom he will engage giving his & their Parole of Honour not to go out of the Limits you prescribe them are to be indulged with the Liberty of walking about this your Town—And the General farther requests that every other Indulgence & Civility consistent with their Security may be shown them as long as they demean themselves with Decency & good Manners—As they committed no Hostilities against the People of this Country they have a just Claim to mild Treatment and the General does not doubt that your Conduct towards them will be such as to compel their grateful Acknowledgment that Americans are equally merciful as brave” (DLC:GW). See also John Knight to GW, 10 Jan. 1776.

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