George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Horatio Gates, 26 January 1778

To Major General Horatio Gates

Valley Forge January 26th 1778


I this Evening received a Letter from Lt Colo. Smith at Lancaster, advising me of the confinement of the British Officers who were going with Cloathing and medicine for the prisoners in our hands. This measure I consider as rather unfortunate, as they came out by my permission and in consequence of a Stipulation between myself and Genl Howe. The Officers are a Hessian & British Regimental Quarter Master and a Doctor & Two mates. They had passports signed by one of my Aids who met them at our most advanced post and were attended by a Captain & Lieutenant of our Army.1 Mr Boudinot I am persuaded was mistaken in his representation respecting Genl How’s forbidding any more provisions being sent in by Water, as the only information he had was derived from a postscript in a Letter from him to me. “Viz. 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.”2 As to Cloathing, I have no doubt but General Howe has denied us the liberty of purchasing. This is now a subject of difference between us, and the design of our insisting that he shall victual his Troops in our hands by a certain day is to oblige him to consent to that measure—But it should not in my Opinion prevent him sending Cloaths to the prisoners, especially as he had obtained my consent for the same so long ago, as the last day of November, in consideration of his Assurances to permit a Commissary of Our’s to go into Philadelphia with Necessaries for our people in his hands.3 Matters being thus circumstanced and the conclusion of your Letter to Colo. Smith directing the Officers to be secured till farther orders, either from the Board of War or from me, I have written to him to release and permit them to pursue their route.4 I have the Honor to be Sir yr Most Obedt servt

Go: Washington

Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 30 Jan. and ordered “That the same be returned to the Board of War, and that the Board be directed to enquire minutely into the number and rank of the commissioned and non-commissioned officers who have come out of Philadelphia with cloathing for the prisoners taken from the enemy, and into the conduct of all the persons who compose the escort, whilst they have been on the route, and that they report specially to Congress the result of their enquiry” (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 , 10:101).

1For the reasons behind the detention of the officers escorting the British convoy, see William Stephens Smith to GW, 25 Jan., n.1.

2The quotation is from Howe’s letter to GW of 8 January. For Elias Boudinot’s orders restricting the supply of provisions to British prisoners in American hands, see William Howe to GW, 19 Jan., and note 1 of that document.

4GW wrote William Stephens Smith on 27 Jan., enclosing this letter to Gates, which GW asked Smith to forward.

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