George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant John Knight, 10 January 1776

From Lieutenant John Knight

Northampton [Mass.] Jany 10th 1776


Many reasons as well as the unexpected lengthening time of my Captivity enduces me to take the liberty of addressing you on a Subject the propriety of which I must leave to your Judgement. Freedom from being a Prisoner, is the ultimate of my request, and as this great indulgence I conceive lyes entirely with yr Excellency, I must beg your attention one moment—to my reasons for this presumption. I have been employed in America since the Year 1763 on the Survey of the Sea Coasts, and since 1770 untill the hour of my Captivity commanded a Kings Vessel on that Service only; during all which time I can declare I never did a single injury to an American, or ever detain’d one of their Vessels (even on an Illicit Trade) tho’ often in my power; on the contrary I dare believe there are several will do me the Justice to acknowledge having received assistance from me when in distress. The Work I was then engaged on, was of a publick Nature, and intended for the Advantage of all, but as this unhappy dispute must necessar[i]ly put a Stop to that Service, there is not the least probability of my being employed (Should your goodness endulge me with my Liberty) there being so many Young Gentlemen with the Adml waiting for promotion, and many more seeking Employment, which to a Man in my Situation, having a familly in America, would admit of no invitation. I should trespass on your patience to relate the particulars of my being made Prisoner at Machias, which I am confident, would appear most favourable for me, and no doubt influence you sir in a great measure to acquiesce with my entreaty. If Captain Stephen Smith the principal person of that place was near your Excellency, he would I am positive inform, that the proceedings with me there & the surgeon Mr McFadyen belonging to the Diligent, was altogether contrary to every practice in War.1

I beg leave to Submit these facts to your Excelcys consideration2 and am with respect Your Excellency’s most Obedient very humble servant

John Knight


John Knight, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, was surveying the Bay of Fundy in the armed schooner Diligent, when on 15 July 1775 he took his vessel into the Machias River. Apparently unaware of the skirmish that had occurred a few weeks earlier between the inhabitants of the town of Machias and another British armed schooner (see a Committee of the Massachusetts Council to GW, 11 Aug. 1775, n.3), Knight accepted an invitation to come ashore with his officers and was promptly taken prisoner. The Diligent and its tender Tatamagouch were seized the next day. Knight and his crew were sent to Cambridge, and in August he was one of several prisoners ordered to Northampton for safekeeping.

1It was Stephen Smith who invited Knight to come ashore at Machias on 15 July. Later in the summer Smith commanded a privateer that raided a fort on the St. John River in Nova Scotia (now New Brunswick), and in December he was appointed naval officer for Machias. Surgeon George Gregory McFadyen was exchanged near the end of 1776.

2Horatio Gates replied to Knight on 24 Jan.: “I have this moment wrote to Captain Stanhope, & given him by his Excellencies Comand, Such reasons for not imediatly granting his request as Cannot but be Satisfactory [see Henry Edwin Stanhope to GW, 16 Jan. 1776, n.3]; the Same reasons you will clearly See hold good with respect to you—the General is truely Concerned it is not at present in his power to grant you Leave to go to Nova Scotia to your family; the first moment that Can be done with propriety, you may be assured that Indulgence will be granted. When his Excellency granted you the District of the town of Northampton & five miles round for your place of Confinement he understood that Northampton & Hadly were towns Like those to the Southward of moderate extent, Since upon better Information, he finds that each of those towns Contain a District of a very Large extent of Country he directs me to acquaint you, & desires you will acquaint all the Gentlemen upon their Parole at either of those towns, that they must Keep themselves within the Legal Limits of the town they Live in” (DLC:GW; see also Northampton Committee of Safety to GW, 17 Jan. 1776). On 24 Oct. 1776 Knight again wrote to GW requesting his release, and a few weeks later he was exchanged. Soon after returning to the Royal Navy, Knight was court-martialed for losing the Diligent but he was apparently acquitted, for early in 1777 he was given command of the armed vessel Haerlem at New York.

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