George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 2 March 1778

From Major General John Sullivan

Camp Valley Forge 2d March 1778

May it please your Excy

I Remember to have Troubled yr Excy Last Summer with Solicitations in favor of Capt. Sullivan begging your Excys influence in his behalf with Congress1—at white Marsh I was informed by General Knox & by the Commissary of prisoners that Capt. Bliss was paid off that if my Brother would Come to Camp there would be no Difficulty in his receiving his money—I wrote him & he has at a most amazing Expence Come to Camp, & finds himself Disappointed I know Capt. Bliss is in the Line of the Army & I as well know General Knox informed me that he Entered him at whitemarsh as a Captain in the Artillery The preference given to Capt. Bliss gives me much pain—if it was to be given to him who Deserved it most by his Conduct in the field Colo. Sherburne would readily inform yr Excy to which of them it was Due2—I have petitioned Congress Several times in behalf of my Brother & I can See no Reason why he Should be more unfortunate than others but because I Commenced advocate for him, Congress are most industriously Striving to Disgust & Even to Ruin those who have done most for them.3 I beg to know from yr Excy if any thing can possibly be Done for him, that I may Direct him how to proceed.4 I have the Honor to be with much Respect Your Excellenceys most obedt Servt

Jno. Sullivan

P.S. whatever may be the fate of my Brother I am bound to Acknowledge your Excellys goodness in doing all that Lay in your power to Serve him—The Distinction made between him & Capt. Bliss owing to General Knoxs friendship for Bliss is rather unfortunate as my Brother So Sensibly Feels it.

I think the Conduct of Congress with Respect to those Hostages would Disgrace a Senate of Barbarians—I am Determined to Lay a State of the Case with my own Comments before the world They in the first place Disapproved the Treaty because Genl Arnold (as they said) had no Right to make it:5 yet they not only Continue him in Command but have promoted him most other States hav⟨e had⟩ modesty Enough to Cover their Breach of faith ⟨by⟩ ⟨B⟩reaking the Commanding officer—by ⟨the⟩ Resolves of Congress the Case stands thus The Hostages are never to be Redeemed They are never to be promoted or Considered in the Line of the Army & unless the Savages of America or of Britain will Send for them and put them once more in Torment they are to Draw neither pay or Rations—but Should they again be Thrown into Those Dungeons they once experienced they will as a recompense allow them Common wages provided the Savages Continue their Cruelty. I feel too warm to Say more upon the Subject—This will be Accompanied by another Letter the principal prayer of which I hope may be granted for more Reasons than I have there Set Down indeed I have many weighty Reasons for wishing to Quit the Service. I am Yr Excys most obedt Servt

Jno. Sullivan


1See John Sullivan to GW, 2 July 1777, and, for discussion of Ebenezer Sullivan’s case, William Heath to GW, 7 June 1777, and note 8.

2Thomas Theodore Bliss (1745–1802) served in 1775 as a captain in Col. John Paterson’s Massachusetts regiment, and he continued as captain when that regiment was consolidated with other units and redesignated the 15th Continental Regiment on 1 Jan. 1776. Captured, as was Ebenezer Sullivan, at the Cedars on 20 May 1776 and like Sullivan a hostage, Bliss was exchanged in the summer of 1777. Despite his captivity, Bliss was recorded as a captain of 2d Continental Artillery dating from 1 Jan. 1777. Again taken prisoner at Monmouth on 28 June 1778, he was not exchanged until 9 Jan. 1781 and did not then rejoin his regiment.

3See John Sullivan to John Hancock, August 1777, in Hammond, Sullivan Papers description begins Otis G. Hammond, ed. Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Continental Army. 3 vols. Concord, 1930-39. In Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, vols. 13–15. description ends , 1:420–22.

4Robert Hanson Harrison replied to Sullivan on this date, writing: “I transmit you your Warrant properly executed. Captain Sullivan’s claim I also presented to His Excellency, but, under the present Resolutions of Congress, it is not in his power to grant him a Warrant for it, as he is not in the line of the Army. This matter, I.E., the claims of persons in his predicament, I believe, is among the many submitted by the General to the Committee for consideration. . . . P.S. I expect to see Mr Boudinot to Morrow morning & will speak to him about the papers” (DLC:GW). See also GW’s reply to Sullivan, 6 March.

5According to the congressional report of 10 July 1776, Benedict Arnold, who led an expedition against the British, Canadian, and Indian captors of the men taken prisoner at the Cedars, agreed not to attack and to accept the exchange of prisoners specified in a cartel between the captors and their captives under the threat that otherwise “every Man of the Prisoners would be put to instant Death.” Congress resolved on that date that Arnold had had no power to make such an agreement. While it agreed to ratify the exchange of prisoners, it also resolved “That, previous to the Delivery of the Prisoners to be returned on our Part, the British Commander in Canada be required, to deliver into our Hands, the Authors, Abettors, and Perpetrators of the horrid Murder committed on the Prisoners, to suffer such Punishment, as their Crime deserves; and also, to make Indemnification for the Plunder at the Cedars, taken contrary to the Faith of the Capitulation—and that until such Delivery and Indemnification be made, the said Prisoners be not delivered” (DLC:GW; see also 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 , 5:533–39).

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