George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Board of War, 8 November 1776

From the Board of War

War Office [Philadelphia] Novr 8th 1776


Mr Lewis (a Brother Deligate) has given Congress Information that Application had been made to your Excellency by a Flag from Genl Howe to permit Mrs Watts & Mrs Barrow the Pay Masters Wife to go to their Husbands in New York and at the same Time requested Congress to assi[s]t him with their Authority to obtain the Release of his Lady whom the Enemy would not permit to come out—the House having refer’d the Matter to the Board of War, we beg Leave to represent to your Excellency the Propriety of obtaining Mrs Lewis & Mrs Robinson her Daughter with her Children in exchange for Mrs Watts & Mrs Barrow; and, if you have not already permitted those Ladies to go into York or given Genl Howe a promise to that effect, that you will make the Release of our Ladies, if we may be allowed the expression, a necessary requisite—Indeed should you have complied with Genl How’s Request, we submit it to your Excellency whether Mrs Lewis & Mrs Robinson may not be asked for in Return. We do not imagine that you will be refused, but should you, we must recur to the unhappy Expedient of with-holding in future every simular Indulgence to those Ladies in our Power, who may desire to visit their Connections in the Army.1

We are very sorry that our Enemies have compelled us to resolve upon any Thing whuch looks like severity, or indeed to lay any Restraint upon the fair Sex, but tho’ we cannot approve the Practice, we shall be obliged to follow the Example of his Britannic Majesty’s Commanders. We have the Honour to be with the most perfect Esteem your very obedt Servants

Benja. Harrison

James Wilson

Edward Rutledge

P.S. should Mrs Watts & Mrs Barrow carry in their Baggage Mrs Lewis and Mrs Robinson must have the same Indulgence. Perhaps if the Ladies cannot be exchanged upon the above Terms Mrs Lewis may be exchanged for Mrs Kempe.2





1Francis Lewis, who served as a New York delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1779, married Elizabeth Annesley (d. 1779), a sister of his business partner, in 1745, and twenty years later, having made a fortune as a merchant in New York City, he settled with his wife on a country estate at Whitestone, Long Island. His house was burned on orders of Lt. Col. Samuel Birch of the 17th Light Dragoons after the British occupied Long Island in the fall of 1776, and Mrs. Lewis was detained behind British lines for eight months before being allowed to join her husband (see Francis Lewis to Stephen Sayre, 10 Aug.—4 Sept. 1779, in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 13:350–52, 451–53). The Lewis’s daughter Ann was married to a British naval officer named Robertson.

Mary Alexander (1749–1831), the eldest of Lord Stirling’s two daughters, married Robert Watts, a moderate New York Loyalist, in February 1775. The couple remained in New York City during its occupation by the British army, and they continued living in the city or its vicinity after the war. Thomas Barrow (c.1723–1779), deputy paymaster general for the British forces in North America, fled for safety with Governor Tryon and Attorney General Kempe to a ship in New York Harbor during the fall of 1775. Barrow’s wife has not been identified.

2Grace Coxe, a wealthy New Jersey heiress, married John Tabor Kempe, the last royal attorney general of New York, in 1766. Kempe succeeded his father in that office in 1759 and held it until 1782. When the British army left New York City in 1783, Kempe took eleven family members to England and lived his remaining years there.

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