George Washington Papers

Proclamation concerning Persons Swearing British Allegiance, 25 January 1777

Proclamation concerning Persons Swearing British Allegiance

[Morristown, 25 January 1777]

By his Excellency GEORGE WASHINGTON, Esq; General and Commander in Chief of all the forces of the United States of America.


WHEREAS several persons, inhabitants of the United States of America, influenced by inimical motives, intimidated by the threats of the enemy, or deluded by a Proclamation issued the 30th of November last, by Lord and General Howe,1 stiled the King’s Commissioners for granting pardons, &c. (now at open war and invading these states) have been so lost to the interest and welfare of their country, as to repair to the enemy, sign a declaration of fidelity, and, in some instances, have been compelled to take oaths of allegiance, and to engage not to take up arms, or encourage others so to do, against the King of Great-Britain. And whereas it has become necessary to distinguish between the friends of America and those of Great-Britain, inhabitants of these States, and that every man who receives a protection from and is a subject of any State (not being conscientiously scrupulous against bearing arms) should stand ready to defend the same against every hostile invasion, I do therefore, in behalf of the United States, by virtue of the powers committed to me by Congress, hereby strictly command and require every person, having subscribed such declaration, taken such oaths, and accepted protection and certificates from Lord or General Howe, or any person acting under their authority, forthwith to repair to Head-Quarters, or to the quarters of the nearest general officer of the Continental Army or Militia (until farther provision can be made by the civil authority) and there deliver up such protections, certificates, and passports, and take the oath of allegiance to the United States of America. Nevertheless, hereby granting full liberty to all such as prefer the interest and protection of Great-Britain to the freedom and happiness of their country, forthwith to withdraw themselves and families within the enemy’s lines.2 And I do hereby declare that all and every person, who may neglect or refuse to comply with this order, within thirty days from the date hereof, will be deemed adherents to the King of Great-Britain, and treated as common enemies of the American States.

Given at Heard-Quarters, Morris-Town, January 25, 1777.


By his Excellency’s command,
Robert H. Harrison, Secretary.

Broadside, printed in Baltimore by John Dunlap, DLC:GW; broadside, printed in Philadelphia by William and Thomas Bradford, NNGL; copy, House of Lords Record Office, Great Britain; copy, P.R.O.: Colonial Office. The proclamation was printed in the Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia) on 30 Jan., the Connecticut Courant, and Hartford Weekly Intelligencer on 3 Feb., the Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia) on 4 Feb., the Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia) on 5 Feb., and in Purdie’s Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg) on 14 Feb. 1777. The Howe brothers enclosed a copy of the proclamation in their letter to Lord Germain of 25 Mar. 1777.

1For the Howe brothers’ proclamation of 30 Nov. 1776 offering pardons to Americans willing to swear an oath of loyalty to the British crown, see GW to Hancock, 6 Dec. 1776, and note 1.

2This provision troubled New Jersey delegate Abraham Clark, who moved in the Continental Congress on 6 Feb. that the proclamation’s effect “shall not in any wise take effect in such manner as to prevent the free exercise of the Laws or Regulations, enacted or provided in any of the United States, for the punishment of offenders within the same, or exempt any person from arrests and detention in Civil or Criminal Actions under Colour of the Liberty granted to withdraw themselves and families within the enemy’s lines; or in any instance to interfere with or oppose the free exercise of the Legislative or Executive powers of any State” (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 , 7:95). The motion was referred to a committee of five, consisting of John Adams, Richard Henry Lee, Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant, Roger Sherman, and Thomas Heyward (ibid.), which brought in a report on 27 Feb., in the writing of John Adams, stating that the proclamation “does not interfere with the Laws or Civil Government of any State; but considering the situation of the Army was prudent and necessary” (ibid., 165–66).

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