George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Persifor Frazer, 9 October 1777

From Lieutenant Colonel Persifor Frazer

State House Philada Octo. 9th 1777


I Wrote to Genl Wayne from Germantown about 2 Weeks ago, mentioning that Major Harper & myself were Prisoners; since our Capture the Number of Officers taken, belonging to the Army, Navy and Militia & now here has increas’d to near Fifty.

Upon our arrival here a Number of Us were admitted on our Parole to continue in the City.

On Tuesday last We were confin’d in the State House under the Main Guard.1

His Excellency General Howe, by his Aid du Camp Major Belford,2 has this day signified to Me the reason of this proceeding, as also some proposals which materially affect every Captive Officer and which We fondly hope if your Excellency should think them consistant may be Adopted, or some other mode attempted that may release Us from our present irksome situation.

The reasons for our confinement are, that should such a Number of Officers be set at Liberty in this place (as there is none other convenient) it might be highly prejudicial to the Kings Intrest; that a Number of Officers in the British service taken lately at Staten Island, have been confin’d in Irons; that others taken prior to those, have been sent to remote parts of the Continent at a great distance from their Connections & some of them imprisoned. Also, that your Excellency has faild in agreeing to an Exchange of Prisoners on just principles.

I have Liberty to mention that it is General Howes earnest desire that a general Exchange of Prisoners may imediately take place on equitable terms; Or otherwise, that the Officers that are Prisoners of War on both sides shou’d be releas’d & have Liberty to go to any place in possession of their Friends on their Paroles—I have in as concise a manner as I can given your Excelly, the substance of what Sir William Howe, thought proper to communicate to me this day by Major Belford—We would not presume to give our sentiments on these matters; fully relying on your Excellency’s disposition to do every thing just and reasonable for our relief.

I must mention that those Officers who were Sick were permitted to go to their Lodgings in Town—We would beg leave to mention that our situation is render’d more disagreable by a want of hard Cash, We think an attention to this matter highly Necessary to render our Captivity tolerable.3 I am your Excellency’s most Obedt Servant

Persifor Frazer

ALS, PHi: Gratz Collection; Sprague transcript, DLC:GW.

Persifor Frazer (1736–1792) of Chester County, Pa., who had been a delegate to the Pennsylvania provincial convention in 1775 and had become a captain in the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment at the beginning of 1776, was appointed major of the 5th Pennsylvania Regiment in October 1776, and in March 1777 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the regiment. Captured by the British shortly after the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777, Frazer escaped from confinement in Philadelphia in March 1778. Congress named Frazer clothier general in July 1779, but he declined the appointment. Frazer held a number of local government positions in Chester County before returning to military service as a brigadier general of the county militia in May 1782.

1The previous Tuesday was 7 October.

2Frazer is referring to Nisbet Balfour.

3For GW’s response, see the proceedings of the council of war that was held on 29 Oct. 1777. Col. Edward Buncombe (1742–1778) of the 5th North Carolina Regiment, who had been wounded severely and captured at the Battle of Germantown on 4 Oct., wrote an undated letter to GW from Philadelphia: “As I deem myself accountable to You as my General, for every part of my Conduct; permit this Letter to speak what in Person I cannot deliver; distressed as I have been; repeatedly sollicitting a Supply of Money from Camp; yet hitherto, I have not been obliged; I never was accustomed to adversity, let the feelings of your Excellency’s Heart speak for Me; It is true I have my failings; human Nature will operate; no Perfection—but as an Officer, have I, in any shape, or Respect disgraced my Regiment? have I not been anxious to fight for America, can one of your Excellency’s Officers, accuse Me of cowardice? prompted by distress, I was inevitably compelled to apply to his Excellency General, Sr William Howe either for a Parole to the Southward; or to Britain; here, I cannot command hard Money—there, I can; The exigency of my Case, I am persuaded will point out the expediency of my adopted Measures. I request that You will not think my departure from America, a desertion of it—always amenable to my Generals call in six Months, I shall be ready to obey your Orders—If You think proper to have me exchanged” (NcU: Goelet and Buncombe Family Papers). Buncombe remained at Philadelphia where he died in May 1778 after falling down a flight of stairs while sleepwalking.

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