George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Livingston, 16 April 1777

To William Livingston

Head Quarters Morris Town 16th April 1777


I am honored with yours of the 14th. I dont know whether Colo. Duyckink comes under the Civil or Military Jurisdiction, but from the following State of the facts on which I ordered him to be secured, you will be able to form a Judgment, and if you think, he falls within the line of civil Authority, I will most cheerfully give him up to you. Colo. Duyckink, some time in the Winter came voluntarily out of Brunswic and surrendered himself to Genl Dickinson at Mill Stone—said he had seen my proclamation and had come to take the benefit1—that he had been ill used by the British Army—and that he was determined to remain with his Countrymen. Genl Dickinson sent him up to me, he told me the same story, and I permitted him to go at large.

Some little time after this he applied to Lord Stirling for liberty to return again to Brunswic, who not being acquainted with Circumstances, granted him permission, but before he went Genl Dickinson luckily recd information from a person who came out of Brunswic, who told him that he heard Cortland Skinner tell Duyckink, “he was afraid it would not do and that there would be danger in the Experiment” meaning his going out under pretence of becoming a Convert. Upon this he was stopped and carried before Genl Green, who asked him what was the Reason of this sudden Alteration in his Sentiments. He said that he could not in Conscience take the Oaths to the State as he had taken the Oath of Allegeance to the King, that the people in the Country threatned his life, and that he thought he had better return. Genl Green asked him if he had not considered the matter of taking the Oaths to the State before he came out as he owned he had seen the proclamation, but he gave such evasive Answers that it convinced us, that he only came out to get intelligence and I therefore had him apprehended and sent to Philada where he has since been confined.2

He is looked upon as so dangerous a Man by the well affected in this part of the Country, that I beleive his being set at liberty and suffered to remain in the Country would create great Uneasiness.3 I have the honor to be &c.

Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; LS, sold by Anderson Galleries, New York, item 878, 28–29 Nov. 1927; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton on 21 April wrote Livingston: “A number of disaffected persons having been taken up and brought to His Excellency, he ordered an examination into their cases to know who of them were subject to a military jurisdiction, & who came properly under the cognizance of the civil power; also to discriminate those who were innocent, or guilty of trivial offences from those whose crimes were of a more capital and heinous nature; directing that those of the former character should be dismissed; and those of the latter referred to you for further trial and punishment.

“This examination (at which, I was present) has been accordingly made, and the inclosed list of names will inform you of those who have been deemed proper subjects for a legal prosecution; and who are herewith sent under guard to be disposed of as you shall direct. I have transmitted you a bundle of papers, in which you will find the information & evidence that support the charges against them; and the confessions themselves made in the course of the enquiry—Many of them have nothing against them but what is to be found in their own acknowlegements; how far these may operate in fixing their guilt you can best determine. Several of them have been taken in arms and others were beyond a doubt employed in inlisting men for the service of the enemy. You will readily concur with his Excellency in the obvious necessity of inflicting exemplary punishments, on such daring offenders, to repress that insolent spirit of open and avowed enmity to the American cause, which unhappily is too prevalent in this and some other states.

“... The examination which has been made in this instance is somewhat irregular, and out of the common order of things; but in the present unsettled state of government, the distinctions between the civil and military power, cannot be upheld with that exactness which every friend to society must wish. I flatter myself however you are convinced with me his Excellency desires to avoid nothing more than a deviation from the strict rule of propriety in this respect or the least incroachment either upon the rights of the citizen or of the Magistrate. It was necessary to make the enquiry for the sake of the discrimination beforementioned; and tenderness to the innocent to save them from long and unmerited confinemt recommended the measure” (DLC:GW; see also Hamilton to Livingston, 29 April, DLC:GW).

1See Proclamation concerning Persons Swearing British Allegiance, 25 Jan. 1777.

2See George Weedon to the Pennsylvania council of safety, 24 Feb. 1777, quoted in GW to Benjamin Lincoln, John Sullivan, and Philemon Dickinson, 22 Feb. 1777, n.1.

3Livingston laid this letter before the New Jersey council of safety on 17 April, and the council then decided unanimously that Duyckinck came “under the military Jurisdiction” (N.J. Council of Safety Minutes description begins Minutes of the Council of Safety of the State of New Jersey. Jersey City, 1872. description ends , 26; see also GW to Livingston, 29 April).

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