George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Laurens, 8 December 1777

From Henry Laurens

York [Pa.] 8th Decemr 1777


Since my last trouble of the 1st Inst. Your Excellency’s favor of that date reached me & was reported to Congress—I have at present only to transmit a Resolve of Congress of the 3d Inst. calculated for effecting the Exchange of the Baron de St Ouary now a prisoner with the Enemy in Philadelphia or to obtain for him treatment Suitable to his Rank in the french Army.1

Congress have taken under consideration Genl Howe’s answer to Your Excellency’s Letter of the 14th & 23d Novemr & have determined it to be no means explicit & Satisfactory, to morrow ’tis probable a Resolve in consequence of this determination will be passed2—My Duty in compliance with the Standing order of the House will not admit of detainning any longer the abovementioned Resolution I had entertained an expectation of more business for the employment of a Special Messenger otherwise Barry the bearer Should have been dispatched on Saturday.3

We learn by a Letter from the Committee of the 6th Inst. that the Enemy’s main Army was in full view from our Camp & a general engagement Soon expected, I pray God to protect your Excellency & to grant you Success & Glory.4 I have the honour to be with utmost Respect & Esteem.

LB, DNA:PCC, item 13. The letter book says this letter was sent “per [Levellin] Barry,” and Laurens’s letter to GW of 12 Dec. confirms that Barry carried the letter.

1The enclosed resolution, the original of which has not been located, directs GW to “propose to General Howe, that the Baron de St. Ouary be permitted to return from his captivity, agreeably to the practice of Europe respecting volunteers: that if General Howe shall refuse this, it be proposed to take the baron’s parole for his enlargement, Congress engaging, when an exchange takes place, to return a British officer for the Baron de St. Ouary: and that General Howe be informed, if neither of these propositions be accepted, that it is expected the gentleman be treated as a prisoner of war, having respect to his merit and rank in the French army” (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 , 9:991). Congress ordered the resolution to be made public, and it subsequently appeared in Dixon & Hunter’s Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), 19 Dec. 1777. The baron de St. Ouary, a French volunteer who apparently served as one of Lafayette’s aides-de-camp, had been captured at the Battle of Brandywine (Lasseray, Les Français sous les treize étoiles description begins André Lasseray. Les Français sous les treize étoiles. 2 vols. Paris, 1935. description ends , 648).

2Laurens is referring to William Howe’s letter to GW of 26 Nov., which Congress determined on 8 Dec. to be “by no means explicit and satisfactory; since it does not invalidate the truth of the depositions of Joseph Cloyd and William Dewees . . . and strongly implies General Howe’s intentions of making a distinction in treatment between persons taken in arms and the faithful and liege citizens of these states, who, by strategem or the fortune of war, may fall into his power” (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 , 9:1009).

3The previous Saturday was 6 December.

4The committee appointed by Congress to confer with GW about the feasibility of a winter campaign reported to Laurens on 6 Dec. that their deliberations were interrupted “by the Approach of General Howe’s Army, which left the City about twelve oClock that Night [4 Dec.] & reached the Neighbourhood of this Camp about 5 the next Morning. They are within Sight of our quarters, being posted on Chesnut Hill opposite the right Wing of the American Army, & from their Motions yesterday, General Washington & his General Officers expected an attack at Noon or this Morning; but hitherto they remain quiet. There was yesterday some skirmishing between the Militia & the Enemy, in which General Erving was wounded & taken prisoner; Capt. Martial of the Militia was killed, & one or two privates wounded. On the other Hand about fifteen British & Hessian privates were made prisoner; their killed & wounded We have no Accounts of.

“We have Reason to think that the Enemy have come out with their whole force & from the present Appearances that a general Engagement will take place; the Consequences of which must be very important—We shall therefore postpone the further Consideration of the Business on which We Were sent, untill the Event of this Motion of the Enemy shall be Known” (DNA:PCC, item 137; see also 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 , 8:380–81). The letter was written by Elbridge Gerry and signed by Gerry, Robert Morris, and Joseph Jones.

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