To Major General William Heath
Head Qrs [Whitemarsh, Pa.] Novr 13th 1777
In my Letter of the 5th in Answer to your’s of the 22d Ulto, I mentioned, that it was not our interest to expedite the passage of the prisoners to England. Upon a review of the matter, I am more & more convinced of the propriety of the observation. The most scrupulous adherence on the part of the Enemy to the Convention of Saratoga, will justify their placing the prisoners in Garrisons, as soon as they arrive in Britain, and will enable the Ministry to send out an equal number of Troops to reinforce Genl Howe—or upon any other service against these States. This being the case, policy & a regard to our own interest are strongly opposed to our adopting or pursuing any measures to facilitate their embarkation & passage Home, which are not required of us by the Capitulation. If by our exertions these ends are promoted, Our generosity will be rewarded, in the arrival of as large a Force, by the end of March or early in April for the purposes suggested above. These considerations lead me to observe, that it is highly probable, Genl Burgoyne will apply to you or perhaps to the Council of the State, to dispense with the Articles of Convention, so far as they respect the port for their embarkation, and to change it from Boston to some place in Rhode Island or in the Sound. I know he has received a hint upon the Subject from Genl Howe. Should such a requisition be made, it ought not to be complied with upon any principles whatever. It cannot be asked as a matter of right, because by the Articles, Boston is assigned as the port. It can not be granted, as a matter of Favor, because the indulgence will be attended with most obvious & capital disadvantages to us. Besides the delay which will necessarily arise from confining them to Boston, as the place of departure, their Transports in a voyage round at this Season may probably suffer considerable injury, and many of them may be blown as far as the West Indies. These considerations, and Others, needless to be added, have struck me in so important a point of view, that I have thought it expedient to write you by Express. Captn Vallancy, who came with Genl Burgoyne’s dispatches, left this on his return Yesterday morning, and I make no doubt in a little time after his arrival, Genl Burgoyne will request the port of embarkation to be altered. Independent of the impolicy of granting the requisition, It appears to me, that none have authority to do it but Congress themselves.1 I am Dear Sir with great respect Yr Most Obedt Servant
LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.
1. GW’s suspicions were justified, as evidenced by William Howe’s secret letter to John Burgoyne of 16 Nov.: “In consequence of the 3d. Article of your Convention with General Gates, whereby it is stipulated, that any Part of your Army may be exchanged, I am to beg you will be pleased to give your secret Directions to the commanding Officer of the Navy, convoying the Transports . . . that, when they are embarked, he is to proceed with the British Artillery Men and Infantry to New York, my Design being to exchange the Officers for those of the Rebels in my Possession, and the Soldiers for 2,200 Prisoners of the Enemy, that I sent in last Winter . . . notwithstanding my repeated Applications, has been pointedly refused under the most frivolous Pretences . . . my Views being . . . to repair an Injury in which Mr. Washington so obstinately persists.
“The commanding Navy Officer, who will not in any Degree be informed of my Intentions here, should by all means be injoined to keep the Destination secret as long as possible, by giving the Masters of Transports the Rendezvous mentioned in my public Letter, and by delivering, when under sail, sealed Orders to those, having British Troops on board, to proceed to New York in case of Seperation; and I could wish some Pretence might be fallen upon by you to conceal from the Captain and Troops the Intention of such Orders, even when they are opened. . . . I conceive it is necessary to use every possible Precaution to keep the Enemy ignorant of my Intentions, as on the least Suspicion the Troops wd. be infallably stopt” (Clark, “Convention Troops,” 722–23).