George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Continental Congress Executive Committee, 9 January 1777

From the Continental Congress Executive Committee

Philada Jany 9th 1777


We have just received the dispatches from Congress delivered herewith to Colo. Hartley, & having recd Copies of the Resolves of Congress therein enclosed to you,1 we cannot help saying they have been liberal in their Offers to regain Genl Lee, and altho we have not only a high opinion of his merit & abilities as an Officer but also a personal regard for him, yet we are apt to think we shou’d have opposed these offers had We been in Congress, at least some of us are of that opinion. however this is not to the purpose at present. We observe that Congress direct you to propose an agreement whereby prisoners may be supplyed with provisions at the Expence or upon the Credit of the States, We recommended to Congress to appoint an Agent of their own to attend the Prisoners & see justice done them and to prevent their enlisting with the Enemy & if this is not done the plan will be incompleat, as we are inclined to believe our People suffer by the peculation of the Commissarys that have the care of them, & not by the allowance ordered by the Commander in Chief, We think such an Agent might be admitted on each side, under parole not to give intelligence.2 We suppose the Report about Mr Stockton to be totally false but Your Excellency will not doubt know that matter perfectly. As you Will have Occasion to send in a Flag to Genl Howe we beg leave to suggest the propriety of writing to Lord Howe respecting the Ill usage our prisoners suffer onboard the Prison Ships in New York and particularly we cou’d wish his Lordship to be informed that the Officers & Seamen taken onboard British Merchant Ships have not been considered as prisoners of War in this place, but have always been left at liberty to dispose of themselves as they thought proper without restraint, and have very generally got passages to different parts of Europe On the Contrary we find such of our people as are taken onboard Merchant Vessells are either made to Work onboard the Men of War or detained onboard the prison Ships under intollerable Ill usage & no distinction between Masters, Mates, Foremast Men & Negroes which surely is an unnecessary cruelty on Men who are taken from an innocent pursuit of a Maintainance in that line in which they were bred. We dont know how they Treat their Captives out of Merchant Ships carried into the Eastern States, but immagine, the same Conduct is observed as here & unless Ld Howe will do the same by ours, it is time to retaliate by forcing some to Work onboard our Ships of War & committing others to Goal or putting them onboard Prison Ships &ca. There are now two very honest Masters that sail out of this port, detained onboard the Whitby Prison Ship, Capt. Thos Bell, & Capt. Jacob Getshius, If his Lordship will not release them on the principles proposed, Mr Morris will engage to send two British Masters for them if sent here on parole and will be much obliged to your Excellency to propose it.3 Bell has been very usefull heretofore & shou’d not be left to suffer therefore we hope you will excuse us for troubling you with these matters.

The Movements of both Armies in New Jersey are again become very interesting & we wait impatiently for further Authentic intelligence. In Consequence of letters from Genl Stephen & Ld Stirling we have requested Genl Ewing to send forward all the Force now here & what may come in, up to Bristol & Trenton Ferry to guard the passage of the River shou’d it be attempted by the Enemy & that the Commanding Officer shou’d give you Constant intelligence of his Strength.4

For the Committee of Congress I am Your Excellencys obt Servt

Robt Morris

P.S. your dispatches of the 7th are just come in. Mr Byers is here & shall be set to work immediately.

LS, in Morris’s writing, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 133.

1For these resolutions, see Hancock to GW, 18 January.

2Congress passed its resolution concerning provisions for American prisoners on 3 Jan. (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 , 7:12). For more on the committee’s proposal to appoint a special commissary of prisoners, see GW to the Continental Congress Executive Committee, 12 Jan., and Hancock to GW, 18 Jan. 1777.

3By the time GW made this proposal in his letter to Lord Howe of 13 Jan., Capt. Thomas Bell, who was held aboard the British prison ship Whitby at New York, had escaped by obtaining permission to go ashore (see the Executive Committee to Hancock, 14 Jan. 1777, 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 , 6:95–97). Bell commanded several merchant vessels during the course of the war for Philadelphia speculators associated with Robert Morris who contracted with the secret committee to raise funds for arms and ammunition by exporting American commodities to foreign ports (see Public Advertiser, 11 June 1776, in Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 6:387, Morris to Silas Deane, 31 Jan. 1777, 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 , 6:176–79, and Deane to Morris, 23 Feb. 1781, in Morris Papers description begins E. James Ferguson et al., eds. The Papers of Robert Morris, 1781–1784. 9 vols. Pittsburgh, 1973–99. description ends , 1:10–13).

4For accounts of the British troop movements in eastern New Jersey and on Long Island, see Adam Stephen to Lord Stirling, 8 Jan., and Stirling’s two letters to the executive committee, 8 Jan., all in DNA:PCC, item 162. Stirling’s second letter to the executive committee contains reports alleging that British general William Howe “intends to push towards Delaware & for Philadelphia with 7000 Men,” and that “the Enemy are in Motion, but their destination uncertain.” In its reply to Stirling of this date, the executive committee writes, “altho it Seems to be our unanimous opinion that General Howe will not play Such a desperate game as to push for this place under present circumstances, Still it may be most prudent to Act as if that were his design. Genl Ewing will therefore give immediate Orders to All the Troops that are in this City to march for Bristol” (DNA:PCC, item 133).

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