George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Pennsylvania Council of Safety, 29 December 1776

To the Pennsylvania Council of Safety

Head Quarters Newtown [Pa.] 29 Decemr 1776


This will be delivered to you by Captain [ ] who commands the Guard that goes down with the Hessian prisoners taken at Trenton on the 26th.1 The Deputy Adjutant General will make you a proper return of their Numbers. I leave the place, where they are to be quartered, to your better Judgments. But I think the Officers and Men should be separated. I wish the former may be well treated, and that the latter may have such principles instilled into them during their Confinement, that when they return, they may open the Eyes of their Countrymen, who have not the most cordial Affection for their English fellow Soldiers. I am Gentlemen with great Respect Your most obt & hble Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. It would be well to distribute some of the Papers printed and published by Congress among them.2

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, PHi: Gratz Collection.

1The captured Hessians since the battle had been kept in camps at Newtown and near McConkey’s Ferry (see Extract of a Letter from an Officer of Distinction, 27 Dec., in Stryker, Battles of Trenton and Princeton description begins William S. Stryker. The Battles of Trenton and Princeton. 1898. Reprint. Spartanburg, S.C., 1967. description ends , 367–68, and “McMichael’s Diary,” description begins William P. McMichael. “Diary of Lieutenant James McMichael, of the Pennsylvania Line, 1776–1778.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 16 (1892): 129–59. description ends 140). Deputy Quartermaster Gen. Clement Biddle wrote the council of safety on 28 Dec. from GW’s headquarters at Newtown: “His Excellency General Washington has Commanded me to send forward the Prisoners taken at Trenton to pass through Philadelphia to Lancaster & I have sent them with a Guard under the Conduct of Capt. [Francis] Murray (an Officer of this State lately released from New York) with Directions to furnish them Provisions and Quarters on the Road—It will be Necessary to have a Commissary of Prisoners of war to take the Charge of them and as the Honorable Congress have resolved that each State appoint one to furnish Provisions ⟨&⟩ have Charge of them wth proper returns for their Security & Exchange, you will pardon me for hinting the Necessity of such Appointment—I have the pleasure to inform you that the Prisoners amount to near One thousand, that their Arms, Six brass field pieces, Eight Standards a[nd] Colours, and a Number of Swords Cartooch Boxes taken in this happy Expedition are safely arrived at & near this place—If your Honorable Committee could by any Means furnish Shoes & Stockings for our Troops it will be a great Relief—I have by his Excellencys Command requested the Committee of this County to Collect all they can find which the Inhabitants can spare, but the Movement of our Army prevents the sending any Officers on this Service & it will certainly be more Acceptable to the Inhabitants to have them Collected by some persons appointed by the Government of the State & they shall be immediately paid for on the Delivery at head Quarters.”

Biddle adds in a postscript to that letter: “I am not alone in Assuring you that the Inhabitants of Jersey of whom we had an Opportunity of enquiring of the Behaviour of the Hessian Troops declare that their Officers & Soldiers treated them in general with more Lenity than those of the British Troops Wch Justice to our Prisoners calls for an Acknowledgement of as false reports had been spread to the Contrary” (NN: Stauffer Collection).

The Executive Committee of the Continental Congress wrote Hancock on 31 Dec. from Philadelphia: “We had yesterday the pleasure to see the Hessian Prisoners paraded in Front Street. They formed a line of two Deep up & down Front Street from Market to Walnut Street, and most people seemed very angry they shou’d ever think of running away from such a Set of Vagabonds. We have advised that both the officers & men shou’d be well treated & kept from Conversing with disafected People as much as possible” (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 , 5:697–700).

2For Congress’s resolution of 14 Aug. encouraging Hessians and other foreigners to desert from British service, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 5:653–55; see also Hancock to GW, 16 Aug., and GW to Hancock, 19, 26, 29 August).

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