George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Colonel Joseph Kirkbride, 20 April 1778

To Colonel Joseph Kirkbride

Head Quarters [Valley Forge] 20th April 1778.


In answer to your Letter of the 18th I am to inform you, that the Resolution of Congress by which offenders of the description of those whom you have sent here, were subject to Trial by Court Martial, is expired1—and that even while it remained in force it was not so extensive as to include all the cases which you mention—the Crimes of the two prisoners sent, being intirely of civil cognizance, the only method of bringing them to Trial, will be sending them to Lancaster, where they will be delivered to the civil Magistrate—Capt. Rue is therefore directed to send them under the guard which conducted them hither, and to prepare the evidence which may be had in support of the charges laid against them.2 I am Sir Your most obedt Servt.

I have already given my opinion on the subject of dismantling the Galleys,3 in concurrence with the Sentiments of Governor Livingston and Commodore Hazelwood—it is understood that those Galleys only are to be dismantled that are destitute of crews.

With respect to your future treatment of the Tories, the most effectual way of putting a stop to their traiterous practices, will be shooting some of the most notorious offenders wherever they can be found in flagrante delicto—this summary punishment inflicted on a few, leading traitors will probably strike terror into others and deter them from exposing themselves to a similar fate.

Df, in John Laurens’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Joseph Kirkbride (1731–1803), a Bucks County justice of the peace, served on the county’s committee of observation and represented the county at the provincial convention in 1774–75 and in the general assembly, 1776–78. In July 1775 he was chosen colonel of the 1st Regiment of the county militia, and in March 1777 he was appointed county lieutenant.

1Kirkbride’s letter has not been found. GW is referring to the congressional resolution of 8 Oct. 1777, authorizing trial by court-martial for citizens assisting the enemy, extended on 30 Dec. 1777 to 10 April 1778 (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 , 9:784, 1068).

2On 6 May the Pennsylvania supreme executive council at Lancaster considered the “case of Anthony Denormandie of Bristol, sent here by His Excelly Genl Washington, from an information said to be laid against him by Colo. Jas. [Joseph] Kirkbride, but no charge sent against him; on consideration, Ordered, That on Anty Denormandie, giving Bail, in the Sum of Five hundred Pounds with Surety, for his appearing before this Council to answer such charge, as may be made against him within Six Months, if thereto required, & in the mean time be of good behaviour, he be enlarged & ordered to return to Bristol by the way of Pottsgrove” (PHarH: Records of Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Governments, 1775–1790; see also Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 11:480). “Capt. Rue” may be Benjamin Rue (b. 1752), who owned property in Bristol Township, Bucks County. Rue served as a sergeant and ensign in the 1st Pennsylvania Battalion from the summer of 1775 to April 1776, when he took command of an armed vessel on the St. Lawrence River. After a ship that he was commanding on Lake Champlain was sunk in October 1776, Rue returned to Pennsylvania, where he enlisted as a lieutenant in Capt. Wingate Newman’s artillery company in December 1776 and served as captain of the Pennsylvania navy guard ship Firebrand from February 1777 to February 1778.

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