George Washington Papers

To George Washington from General William Howe, 8 January 1778

From General William Howe

Philadelphia 8th Jany 1778


I take the earliest Occasion, after being made acquainted with the circumstances, to make known to you the coming in of 2d Lieutt Eyre of the 23d Regiment of Foot from the Place of his Confinement in Maryland, to lay his Grievances before me, finding no Probability of being otherwise redressed—His Treatment is explained in the Representation enclosed, which by his desire is transmitted to you, as a Justification of his proceeding—He is nevertheless to be considered as your Prisoner, and if he remains here, an Officer of equal rank will be sent out upon his Parole, in return for Mr Eyre.1

I must represent to you, that one of your Officers of the Name of Proctor, taking the Advantage of a Flag of Truce has ventured to accompany the Flag to my advanced Picquet, manifestly from Curiosity, which would have justified his being detained—however he was only warned of the Impropriety of his Conduct, and I mention the Circumstance to you that it may be known such a Liberty will not be again admitted.

The enclosed Deposition of a Serjeant of the 16th Regt of Dragns will point out the Necessity of proper Measures being taken for the Security of Flags of Truce against the Rashness or Inexperience of your detached Parties, which in the present Instance, has happily been attended with no bad Consequences.2 With due Respect I am Sir your most Obet Servt

W. Howe

p.s. A Sloop with Flour has been received yesterday Evening for the use of the Prisoners here, but I am to desire, that no more Flags of Truce may be sent by Water, either up or down the River, without Leave being previously obtained.

Copy, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, enclosed in GW’s letter to Henry Laurens of 8 Feb., DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; two copies, P.R.O., 30/55, Carleton Papers.

1Thomas Eyre’s letter to Howe of 2 Jan. 1778 reads: “I humbly beg your Excellency will be pleased to favour me with your attention for a few minutes, that I may explain the critical situation, in which I am embarrassed.

“In the month of January 1777, I, unfortunately became a prisoner to the enemy, and was conducted to General Washington’s Head Quarters, who received me politely, treated me civilly and indulged me with my parole, circumscribed to the limits of six miles: There I remained until April, when I was sent to Frederick town in Maryland and enjoyed my parole during the summer. In the course of this time, I was frequently insulted, and as often applied for redress, without receiving any other satisfaction, than, ‘that their prisoners were treated much worse.[’]

“Upon the arrival of the British army at the head of Elk, Mr Johnson (acting as Governor of the province) ordered all the prisoners of war to a wretched village, called Sharpsburg, there to remain confined to limits, not exceeding one quarter of a mile; this we considered not only as a violation of our parole, on their part, but as a hardship, to which we should not tamely submit, and upon refusal to sign another parole, under this restraint, two officers of the Waldeck regiment were with me closely confined.

“We transmitted a state of this treatment to Congress, who replied, ‘they knew nothing of the matter and were at present too busy to inquire into it.’ Our hopes of releasement, being now blasted, hemmed up in the narrow limits of a house, and deprived of the common necessaries of life, we found ourselves constrained to subscribe to what could not be esteemed, otherwise than an extorted parole.

“In a short time, after this transaction, one Bradford, (who stiled himself Captain of the guard) after treating me with the utmost impertinence, without any other provocation, than raising some objections to the present situation of the prisoners, struck me, and upon my immediate resentment, I was seized and thrown into a cold stable (as a place of confinement) without the common necessaries of fire and candle. While I was a prisoner, I told the Captain and the proprietor of the village, that the paper, I signed was void, upon which they threatened me with irons and perpetual [Imprisonment], if I should attempt to leave the town.

“Upon the information of a man to Congress, who lately arrived from New York, that their prisoners were confined on board ships, orders were given to repair Fort-Frederick, for the reception of all British Prisoners. Justly alarmed at this approaching event, and considering my parole void, I resolved to execute what I just now alluded to, and accomplished my escape on the night of the 25th of last month, that I might lay my grievances, before your Excellency, which I apprehended could not otherwise be redressed; and it is to your Excellency’s determination, my case and conduct are more humbly submitted” (DNA:PCC, item 152). The portions in square brackets appear on both copies of this letter in P.R.O.

The Maryland council on 28 Aug. 1777 ordered all prisoners in or near Frederick to be sent to Sharpsburg (see “Md. Council of State” description begins William Hand Browne, ed. Journal and Correspondence of the Council of the State of Maryland. March 20-November 8. 1777. In Archives of Maryland, vol. 16 (Baltimore, 1897): 185-560. description ends , 346). The memorial of British prisoners at Sharpsburg, which Thomas Eyre did not sign, was dated 18 Nov. 1777 (DNA:PCC, item 42); Congress read that memorial on 21 Nov. 1777 and referred it to the Board of War (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 , 9:946).

2The deposition of Thomas Wiggins, dated 3 Jan. 1778, reads: “This third day of January in the year of our Lord 177[8], before me the Subscriber came Thomas Wiggins a Serjeant in the sixteenth Regiment of Light Dragoons, who being duly sworn on the Holy Evangelists, did depose and say, that on the second day of this Instant, being duly authorised by a Flag of Truce from His Excellency Sr William Howe K.B. &ca &ca &ca and entrusted, with a Letter and Packet, with orders to deliver them to the first Officer in the American Service who should stop him, was passing up to a Party of six American Light horse men and fifty Riflemen of Colonel Morgans Battalion lying on the Lancaster Road, and notwithstanding his Trumpet was continually sounding and his Flag in full view, when he came within sixty yards of them, one of the light Dragoons discharged his Piece at him—Upon which he audibly told them he was a flag of Truce—that immediately after he perceived the Riflemen presenting their pieces at him; whereupon he immediately informed them repeatedly, in a still more audible Voice, that he was a Flag; but that all did not avail in preventing a great number of them from discharging their Guns at him—many of the Balls narrowly missing him” (DNA:PCC, item 152).

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