George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Howe, 21 September 1776

From Major General William Howe

Head Quarters York Island 21st Septemr 1776.


I have the Favor of your Letters of the 6th and 19th Current; in consequence of the latter, Directions are given for Major General Sullivan being conveyed to Elizabeth Town on the earliest Day, and I conclude Major General Prescot will return in the same Boat.

The Exchange you propose of Brigadier General Alexander, commonly called Lord Stirling, for Mr McDonald, cannot take Place, as he has only the Rank of Major by my Commission, but I shall readily send any Major in the enclosed Lists of Prisoners that you will be pleased to name in Exchange for him; and that Lord Stirling may not be detained, I would propose to exchange him for Governor Montfort Brown, altho’ the latter is no longer in the military Line.1

Enclosed you have a List of Officers belonging to the Army under my Command who are your Prisoners; it is not so correct as I could wish, having received no regular Return of the Officers of the 42nd and 71st Regiments taken this year, but beg Leave to refer you to Lieutenant Colonel Campbell of the 71st to rectify any Omissions that may be, and am to desire you will put opposite to their Names, such of your Officers of equal Rank as you would have in Exchange for them. The Names of the Non Commissioned and Privates Prisoners with you are not sent, being unnecessary, but the Return herewith enclosed specifies the Number, and I shall redeem them by a like Number of those in my Possession; for which Purpose I shall send Mr Joshua Loring, my Commissary, to Elizabeth Town, as a proper Place for the Exchange of Prisoners, on any Day you may appoint, wishing it to be an early one, wherein I presume you will concur, as it is proposed for the more speedy Relief of the distressed.2

As it may be some Time before Mr Lovell arrives here from Halifax, tho’ I took the first Opportunity of sending for him after your Agreement to exchange him for Governor Skene, I am willing to believe, upon my Assurances of Mr Lovell’s being sent to you immediately on his Arrival, that you will not have any Objections to granting the Governor his Liberty without Delay and am induced to make the Proposal for your Compliance, neither of the Persons being connected with military Service.3

General Carleton has sent from Canada, a Number of Officers and Privates, as per Return enclosed, to whom he has given Liberty upon their Paroles, and in Pursuance of his Desire, and their Engagements to him, I shall send them to Elizabeth Town on the earliest Day. It is nevertheless the General’s Expectation, that the Exchange of Prisoners as settled by Captain Foster in Canada, will be duly complied with, and I presume you are sufficiently sensible of the sacred Regard that is ever paid to Engagements of this Kind, to suffer any Infringement upon the plighted Faith of Colonel Arnold.4

It is with much Concern that I cannot close this Letter without representing the ill Treatment, which I am too well informed, the King’s Officers now suffer in common Goals throughout the Province of New England. I apply to your Feelings alone for Redress, having no Idea of committing myself by an Act of Retaliation upon those in my Power.

My Aid de Camp charged with the Delivery of this Letter, will present to you a Ball cut and fixed to the Ends of a Nail, taken from a Number of the same Kind, found in the Encampments quitted by your Troops on the 15th Instant—I do not make any Comment upon such unwarrantable and malicious Practices, being well assured the Contrivance has not come to your Knowledge. I am with due Regard, Sir, your most obedient Servant

W. Howe

LS, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Hancock, 25 Sept. 1776 (second letter), DNA:PCC, item 152; two copies, P.R.O., 30/55, Carleton Papers; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169.

1Donald McDonald received his commission as a brigadier general from the royal governor of North Carolina, Josiah Martin, on 10 Jan. 1776. Montfort Browne, governor of the Bahamas, who was captured during the American raid on New Providence in April 1776, had retired from the 35th Regiment of Foot as a lieutenant on half-pay at the end of the Seven Years’ War.

2The enclosed return of 21 Sept. shows that the Americans held 891 British prisoners of war, including 43 commissioned officers, 49 sergeants, 19 drummers, and 780 rank and file. An accompanying list gives the names of the commissioned officers (both documents are in DLC:GW). Joshua Loring, Jr. (1744–1789), a Loyalist from Dorchester, Mass., who had served as a subaltern in the 15th Regiment of Foot from 1761 to 1768, sailed to Halifax when the British army evacuated Boston in March 1776, and in June he accompanied the army to New York, where following the Battle of Long Island, he began his duties as commissary of prisoners (see Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 85, and Return of the Prisoners Taken on Long-Island, 27 Aug. 1776, in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 1:1258). Thomas Jones alleges in his History of N.Y. description begins Thomas Jones. History of New York during The Revolutionary War, and of the Leading Events in the Other Colonies at that Period. Edited by Edward Floyd De Lancey. 2 vols. New York, 1879. description ends , 1:1351, that the office of commissary of prisoners was a very lucrative one, and that Loring obtained it because his wife, Elizabeth Lloyd Loring (d. 1831), became Gen. William Howe’s mistress. “Joshua made no objections,” Jones says. “He fingered the cash, the General enjoyed madam.” Although there is no evidence of an open deal or even an unspoken understanding between Loring and Howe, by the spring of 1777 Howe’s intimacy with Mrs. Loring apparently was common knowledge among British officers at New York (see Cresswell, Journal description begins Lincoln MacVeagh, ed. The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774–1777. New York, 1924. description ends , 229; see also Gruber, Howe Brothers description begins Ira D. Gruber. The Howe Brothers and the American Revolution. New York, 1972. description ends , 190). Mrs. Loring went to England with her children in 1778 about the same time that Howe returned there. Joshua Loring continued serving as commissary of prisoners in America until 1782 when he joined his wife in England and settled in Berkshire.

3For this agreement, see GW to Howe, 30 July 1776.

4According to this undated return, which was made by Carleton’s commissary of prisoners Richard Murray, the American prisoners who were sent to New York from Canada consisted of 51 commissioned officers and 373 noncommissioned officers and privates. A note at the end of the return reads: “Two Majors, Nine Captains, twenty Subalterns, and Four Hundred Men, were taken at the Cedars by Capt. Foster, and returned upon an Agreement to send as many of our People taken at St John’s” (DLC:GW). For the cartel to which the Americans had agreed at the Cedars the previous May, see William Thompson to GW, 30 May 1776.

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