George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major Christopher French, 3 September 1775

From Major Christopher French

Framingham [Mass.] 3d Sept. 1775


I am just now favor’d with a Letter from Mr Reed, enclosing me a Letter from you which informs me of your having been so kind as to forward the Letters I had the Honor to enclose you from Philadelphia, for which please to accept my Thanks.

In that from Mr Reed, who I presume is your Secretary, ’though not so sign’d, he tells me I am to return to Hartford with the Gentlemen who are Prisoners of War with me by your Order.1 I chearfully submit, as do these Gentlemen, but must observe that when I gave my Parole it was conditionally, & that we might be sent to Cambridge in order to be the nearer for an Exchange whenever it might offer. These Sir were the Terms offer’d me by the Committee of safety & upon these Terms, & these only I consented rather than accept the alternative of remaining Prisoner at Philadelphia; I must farther offer to your Justice & knowledge of military Rules that before I would sign to my Parole, or let the two young Gentlemen (Novices in these matters) do it, I objected to our being by any means consider’d as Prisoners, first because we came to America unknowing of any Hostilities having been commenc’d, secondly that in case we had arriv’d, having heard of it at Sea, the Custom of War allots a certain Period for the departure of the ships & Subjects of the inimicable Nation; neither of these Reasons however had sufficient Weight with the Committee (though I must say I am of opinion they should) to prevent their considering us as Prisoners, under which Circumstance it was that we agreed to give our Paroles, which having been once given we are determin’d to preserve inviolably, & therefore I presume it will be unnecessary to renew them at Hartford,2 and the more so as we flatter ourselves the cogency of the Reasons I have offer’d will incline you to have us return’d to our Regts without an Exchange being expected.3 I have the Honor to be Sir your most obedient and most humble Servant

Chris. French


1Joseph Reed wrote to French on this date: “By Direction of General Washington I herewith send you a Copy of a Letter he wrote you on Thursday last [31 Aug.] per Post. General Gage has rejected in very indecent and illiberal Terms a Proposition made to him some Time ago respecting Officers who were Prisoners, so that your Hopes of being exchanged or even having an Interview with any of your Friends would not be answer’d by proceeding to this Place, as Genl Howe last Week desired all Intercourse between the Two Camps might be at an End—General Gage’s Treatment of our Officers even of the most respectable Rank would justify a severe Retaliation—They have perished in a common Goal under the Hands of a Wretch who had never before been employ’d but in the Diseases of Horses. General Washington’s Disposition will not allow him to follow so unworthy an Example. You and your Companions will be treated with Kindness, and upon renewing your Parole at Hartford you will have the Same Indulgence as other Gentlemen under the like Circumstances. Capt. [Samuel Blachley] Webb has Orders to accompany You to Hartford, & is particularly enjoined to shew you every Mark of Civility & Respect: It is not doubted but that you and the other Gentlemen will make his Duty easy” (DLC:GW). Reed’s instructions to Webb of this date regarding French and his companions are in the Samuel Blachley Webb Papers, Webb Family Collection, Yale University. Reed also wrote on this date to Capt. John Wharton and to the Hartford committee of safety regarding the return of the prisoners to Hartford (DLC:GW). For GW’s dispute with Gage over the treatment of prisoners, see GW to Gage, 11, 19 Aug. 1775, and Gage to GW, 13 Aug. 1775. For Howe’s request for an end to communication between his camp and GW’s, see Howe to GW, 22 Aug. 1775, and GW to Howe, 23 Aug. 1775.

2For the parole that French and his companions, Ens. John Rotten and Cadet Terrence McDermot, signed for the Pennsylvania committee of safety on 12 Aug., see Pennsylvania Committee of Safety to GW, 17 Aug. 1775, n.2. Joseph Reed enclosed a copy of that parole in his letter to the Hartford committee of safety of this date, observing that it was limited to the prisoners going to Cambridge. “As this may not now be deemed binding,” Reed wrote, “it is the Gens. Intention they should renew it before they are admitted to the Same Liberty with the other Prisoners at Hartford—That being done General Washington requests they may be treated with Kindness & Civility” (DLC:GW).

3Joseph Reed replied to French on 19 Sept.: “The General has directed me to acquaint you that on the fullest Consideration he is of Opinion that your Detention is both justifiable & proper. While the Appellation of Rebel is supposed to Sanctify every Species of Perfidy & Cruelty towards the Inhabitants of America, it would be a Strange Missapplication of Military Rules to enlarge Such Gentlemen as may think themselves bound by a mistaken Notion of Duty to become the Instruments of our Ruin” (DLC:GW).

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