George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Lieutenant General William Howe, 9 November 1776

To Lieutenant General William Howe

Head Qrs [White Plains] Nov. 9th 1776


Yesterday Evening I received the favor of your Letter of the 8th Instt. Major Stewart’s servant having never represented himself as a person not inlisted in your Army, he was considered as a prisoner of War and sent as such to Jersey. But upon your information that he was not in the Capacity of a Soldier, I will give immediate directions for him to be brought back that he may return to his Master.1

This Servant was charged with a Letter of a private and delicate nature, but Majr Stewart may be assured the Contents neither were nor shall be permitted to transpire.

I regret that it has not been in my power to effect the proposed Exchange of Prisoners before this time. As soon as the Proposition was agreed to, I wrote to the Governors and Conventions of the different States where the Prisoners were to have them collected & sent to the most convenient places in the neighbourhood of the Two Armies.2 their dispersed situation for their better accommodation has been the reason of the delay. at least I cannot ascribe it to any other cause. It has not arisen Sir from any design on my part, and I am persuaded the difficulty of drawing them together must be evident to you, especially as It was early suggested in some of my former Letters. As to the charge of your Officers being confined in Common Goals, I had hoped, that you were satisfied by my assurances on this Head before.3 It is not my wish that Severity should be exercised towards any, whom the fortune of War has thrown or shall throw into our hands. On the Contrary, It is my desire that the utmost humanity should be shewn them. I am convinced the latter has been the prevailing line of conduct to Prisoners. There have been instances in which some have met with less Indulgence than could have been wished owing to a refractory conduct and a disregard of paroles.4 If there are other Instances in which a strict regard to propriety has not been observed, they have not come to my knowledge, and if you will be pleased to point them out and to particularize the Names of the Officers, the earliest enquiry shall be made into the Complaints & the cause removed if any exists.

With Respect to the Stragglers who have lately fallen into our Hands I cannot upon the best Consideration discern how the Agreement subsisting between us is affected by sending them to Places from whence they may be easily collected upon a general Exchange. And That the Custom of War requires or that the Interest of an Army would admit of a daily Exchange of Prisoners are Points on which we are so unhappy as to differ in Sentiment. The Opportunities of conveying Intelligence & many other Consequences flowing from such an Intercourse seem so very obvious that upon farther Reflection I flatter myself you will think with me on this Subject. But if otherwise it might have been exemplified on your Part in the immediate Return of such Stragglers from our Army as have fallen into your Hands, which would have justified an Expectation of a similar Conduct from us.

Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s and Joseph Reed’s writing, DLC:GW; two copies, P.R.O., 30/55, Carleton Papers; copy, enclosed in GW to Hancock, 14 Nov. 1776, DNA:PCC, item 152; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

Harrison wrote a draft of this letter on first two pages of the manuscript in DLC:GW, but the last paragraph is struck out of that draft. It is replaced by another draft of that paragraph in Reed’s writing on the third page of the manuscript. The deleted version of the paragraph reads: “In respect to the exchange of the straggl⟨ing⟩ Soldiers who have fallen into our hands, you will excuse me when I tell you that I think there has been no departure from any Agreement made by [us] in not carrying it as yet into execution. What the usage of War is in such cases I shall not pretend to determine. If it is such as you mention, I am satisfied It might have been exemplified ⟨by⟩ yourself in the return of some straggling parties which must have fallen into your Hands. But the Impropriety of an Immediate Exchange when Two Armies are ⟨illegible⟩ together is so glaring and obvious, that I shall never think myself at liberty to carry it into execution.”

1For the return of Maj. Charles Stuart’s servant Peter Jack, who was at Princeton, N.J., at this time, see GW to Hancock, 14 Nov., and note 4, GW to the Board of War, 15 Nov. (second letter), and Richard Peters to GW, 19 November.

3See GW to Howe, 23 September. In both of the copies in P.R.O. this sentence begins “As to the Charge of many of your Officers.”

4Both of the copies in P.R.O. read “of their Paroles.”

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