George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Colonel Samuel John Atlee, 21 November 1776

To Colonel Samuel John Atlee

Head Quarters [Hackensack, N.J., 21] Novemr 1776


I am favoured with yours of the 9th Instant.1 I can so well conceive the Desire that persons in Captivity must feel for Releasment, and a Return to their Friends, that I do not wonder at your anxious Endeavours to procure your own. If Mr Thomas Irving Receiver Genl of South Carolina (who I do not look upon in the military Line) can receive any Assurance from Genl Howe that he will exchange you for him I certainly can have no Objection. This proposition cannot with propriety go from me to Genl Howe, because by the Terms of our Cartel Exchanges can only be proposed between Officers of equal Rank, but either Side may deviate from the Rule if they please as was the Case of Governor Brown for Brig. Lord Stirling. If therefore you and Mr Irving can obtain Genl Howes Consent for your reciprocal Exchange, I will immediately upon receiving his Approbation of the Measure, send for Mr Irving from Connecticut.2

In Consequence of a joint Letter from you and Colo. Miles respecting the deplorable Condition of our prisoners in New York for want of Cloathes and other Necessaries, I have laid the Matter before Congress, and have recommended it to them to provide a proper Fund for their Support.3 As to the scanty Allowance of Provisions I would Hope that it proceeded from the State of Genl Howes Stores and not from any desire in him to add ⟨Famine⟩4 to the Misfortune of Captivity.

Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Although Tilghman left the day of the month blank in the dateline of the draft, he docketed the manuscript on the reverse “Novr 21. 1776. To Colo. Atlee.”

GW wrote Atlee essentially the same letter in different wording on 25 Nov. at Newark, apparently having forgotten writing him on this date and not having the pertinent papers at hand for reference. It reads: “I lately recd a Letter from you, but having sent it forward among other Papers I cannot recollect the Date. I do not at all wonder at your earnest Desire to return to your Family and Friends, and you may be assured that every thing in my Power consistent with the Resolutions of Congress shall be done to procure your speedy Release. If Genl Howe shall please to give his Assent to the Exchange of Mr Irwin of South Carolina for you, I certainly shall have no Objection. The reason why the proposal cannot with propriety go from me, is, that Mr Irwin is not in the Military Line, and by the Terms of our Cartel, Officers of equal Rank only are to be proposed for each other, but either side may dispense with this Rule if they think fit, as was the Case in the Exchange of Govr Brown (not in the military Line) for Brig. Genl Lord Sterling. Therefore what you are to do, is, to obtain Genl Howe’s Assurance that Mr Irwin will be received in Exchange for you, and upon this being signifyed to me, he shall be immediately sent for, that the Exchange may be carried into Execution.

“I recd a joint Letter from Colo. Miles and you respecting the State of our prisoners for want of Cloathes and other Necessaries, I have laid this before Congress and have desired them to procure a Credit in New York for their Supply. In Respect to the short Allowance of Provisions, I can only attribute it to the State of Genl Howes own Stores, for I have too high an Opinion of his Humanity to suppose that he would willingly add the Calamity of Famine to that of Captivity” (Df, in Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW).

1Atlee wrote GW on 9 Nov. from New York that “a Gentleman of the Kings Army, to whom I am particularly Obliged,” and Lord William Campbell had suggested an exchange between him and Thomas Irving, the receiver general of quitrents in South Carolina “and that they doubted not if it was agreeable to General Washington, that General Howe wou’d readily consent to it, and that it might be immediately effected” (DLC:GW; see also Nathanael Greene to GW, 11–12 Nov., n.2).

2For the capture of Thomas Irving and Montfort Browne by the Continental navy at New Providence on 3–4 Mar. 1776, see Gurdon Saltonstall to GW, 8 April 1776, and note 3. For Browne’s recent exchange, see William Howe to GW, 21 Sept., 4 Oct., and GW to Howe, 23 Sept., 6 October. Atlee was exchanged for Col. Christopher Billopp, a Loyalist officer from Staten Island, on 1 Oct. 1778 (see GW to William Livingston, 27 April 1780, NN: Livingston Papers).

3For this undated letter and GW’s forwarding of it to Congress, see GW to Hancock, 19–21 Nov., and note 6.

4This word, which is mutilated on the manuscript, is taken from the Varick transcript.

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