George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Hancock, 6–7 January 1777

From John Hancock

Baltimore Jany 6[-7]th 1777.


The enclosed Resolves, which I have the Honour of transmitting, call for your immediate Attention; and I am to request, you will take Measures in Pursuance thereof, as soon as possible.1 Genl Lee’s Situation seems to be extremely dangerous and critical; and from Genl Howe’s Behaviour to him, it is highly probable, he will be brought to a Trial for Desertion. Genl Lee, it is said, by Mr Eustace his Aid de Camp, having addressed two Letters to Genl Howe, recieved them both back again unopened, and enclosed under a Cover directed to Lieutenant Colo. Lee.2 I hope the Flag which Congress ordered to be sent to make Enquiry into the Manner in which he is treated, has been dispatched, and a Remonstrance in Consequence of it, should the Information you have recieved of his Treatment, have rendered that Step necessary.

You will please to propose an Exchange of the six Hessian Field officers for him, & at the same Time, make Enquiry whether the Report which Congress have heard of Mr Stockton’s being confined in a Common Jail by the Enemy, has any Truth in it, or not.3

By a Letter which Congress yesterday recieved from Mr Morris we are informed, that Genl Cadwallader, with the Troops under him, had joined your Army—that the Enemy were at Trenton—that the two Armies were divided only by a Creek, and that a General Engagement was hourly expected.4 In the mean Time, Congress are infinitely anxious to hear the Event; and humbly hope, that Victory has declared in Favour of those, whose sacred Cause should inspire them with Ardour, on every solemn Appeal to that Being, who hateth all Injustice, Tyranny, and Oppression. I have the Honour to be, with every Sentiment of Esteem & Respect, Sir, your most obed. & very hble Servt

John Hancock Presidt

P.S. If the Desire of Congress to procure Genl Lee’s Exchange cannot be effected, and the Enemy, preferring the Gratification of Revenge to the Civility they owe their Hessian Auxiliaries, determine to keep or to abuse him, it will be very agreeable to Congress that their Determination, with the enclosed Resolve be made known to the Hessians as fully as possible. To secure Genl Lee as effectually as may be from personal Insult & Injury, Congress have come to the present Resolution; which you, Sir, are desired to convey to Genl Howe with all convenient Dispatch. It will be very agreeable to Congress that the Hessian Field Officer intended to be exchanged for Colo. Ethan Allen be sent to notify it to Genl Howe, taking his Parole to return in a fixt Time, if Colo. Allen is not returned in his Place. It will fall within the Wish of Congress of Colo. Rohl, or one of the Hessian Officers, should be also sent with the Flag proposing the Exchange of Genl Lee; but the Propriety of it is submitted to you.5

Jany 7[t]h. We have had an imperfect Acct of the Engagement at Trenton, and anxiously wait for further Particulars. It was in Hopes of recieving them that I detained the Express till this Morning.

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 12A. The postscript and some of the phrasing of this letter apparently were taken from a draft of a proposed letter to GW that Richard Henry Lee’s committee reported to Congress with the resolutions regarding the exchange of Charles Lee and Ethan Allen. The drafts for the proposed letter and the resolutions are in ViHi: Lee Transcripts.

1Hancock enclosed copies of resolutions passed by Congress between 2 and 6 Jan. 1777 relating to provisions for American prisoners, the marching of the 8th Pennsylvania Regiment and the Virginia light horse, seamen’s pay for the Continental frigate Virginia, and the matters discussed in notes 2 and 4 of this letter (DLC:GW; see also 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 , 7:10–16). For the Continental Congress executive committee’s opinions of these resolutions, see its letter to GW of 9 January.

2These letters have not been identified. Lee formerly had been a lieutenant colonel in the British service.

3Congress’s resolution directing GW to propose Lee’s exchange was made on 2 Jan. 1777, and the resolution concerning Richard Stockton was approved on the following day (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 , 7:10, 12–13). Stockton, a New Jersey signer of the Declaration of Independence, had been captured in Monmouth County, N.J., on 30 Nov. 1776. He was confined first in Perth Amboy, N.J., and then in New York.

4Hancock is referring to intelligence provided on the morning of the Battle of Princeton by Capt. James Nicholson of the Continental frigate Virginia, contained in a letter to Hancock from the Continental Congress executive committee of 3 Jan. 1777, which can be found in DNA:PCC, item 137 (see also 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 , 6:26–28). The executive committee sent Hancock fresh accounts of the battle on 5 and 6 Jan. (DNA:PCC, item 137; see also ibid., 34–35, 37–39).

5Congress resolved on 3 Jan. 1777 that GW “be desired to offer” one of the Hessian field officers in exchange for Col. Ethan Allen (DLC:GW; see also 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 , 7:12). Hessian Col. Johann Gottlieb Rall was mortally wounded at the Battle of Trenton and died on 27 Dec. 1776 (see GW to Hancock, 12 Jan. 1777). The other Hessian officers captured at the Battle of Trenton on 26 Dec. 1776 were Lt. Col. Balthasar Bretthauer (c.1729–1777) and Maj. Johann Justus Matthaus (d. 1780) of Rall’s regiment, and Lt. Col. Franziscus Scheffer and Maj. Ludwig August Von Hanstein (d. 1779) of Lt. Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm von Lossberg’s regiment.

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