George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons, 22 May 1778

From Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons

West Point [N.Y.] 22d May 1778.

Dear General.

I have inclos’d an extract of a Letter to me from a prisoner on Long Island, the purport of which you will see.1

The account there given is correspondant to a variety of transactions which have fallen within the observation of several Gentlemen now with us—who were made prisoners with Major Hammell.

I know of nothing antecedent to his being a Prisoner which gave any suspicion of him, but the morning after the Fort was taken, he was treated very differently from the other Officers; and met no loss or insult.

Col: Beverly Robinson on a certain occasion since has said Major Hammell had made himself agreeable to the Officers in the Kings Service: how far he intended to extend his meaning—I cannot presume to say.

Hammell was Major of Brigade to Genl James Clinton, and the General (I believe) still entertains a good opinion of him.

Hammell says he made his escape from New York, but gives such an account of it as gains little credit—especially with those who have been his fellow prisoners. as ’tis in his power to injure us very essentially if he is dispos’d to it, I feel myself very unwilling he should be suffer’d to continue at large with us: And altho’ a confinement may exceedingly injure his reputation and interest, if innocent, yet since fatal experience has so often taught us the unhappy effects of too great credulity: I cannot believe the present information ought to be so far disregarded as to leave it in the Power of Hammell to execute the nefarious purpose he is accused of having undertaken, even tho’ his former character had been without impeachment of suspicion, and have therefore represented the matter to General Gates, who has given order to seize Hammell and send him to your Excellency, that such measures may be taken with him as shall be thought proper.2

This I know to be a case which ’tis not improb[ab]le will frequently happen—should the War long continue: In this instance the Evidence of his conduct can in no measure be adduc’d, as the informant is still a Prisoner with the Enemy, and it leads to a discovery which would be fatal to him. Your Excellencies personal acquaintance with the Letter writer—will satisfy you the facts he relates are true. In many cases if the Offender is not to be confin’d untill we can with propriety adduce such Evidence of his guilt as wou’d condemn him—we shou’d be compell’d to harbour in our bosoms the most dangerous Enemies without a possibility of defeating their nefarious Intentions. I am your Excellencies Obt humle Servt

Saml H. Parsons


1The enclosed copy of an extracted report to Parsons, dated 5 May, reads: “As an Officer of our Country is now to be exchangd I have sent for him and he promises to call on you with my Confidential Epistle, I have made him acquainted with its Contents and injoind Secrecy: this is the first Opportunity of writing you with Freedom and I am tempted to do it now let the Consequence be what it may—waving every other Matter I shall immediately proceed to inform you the Character & Conduct of a Major Hammell who was taken Prisoner at Fort Montgomery.

“Immediately after the Reduction of the Fort he was seperated from the other Prisoners & had frequent Interviews with the General Officers—When they arrivd at New York, the Officers were Sent on Parole to this Island, Hammel only excepted; when I arrivd in New York I found many of our Staunch Friends—who soon informd me that a Major Hammel taken at Ft Mongomery was frequently sent for incog. to Sr Harry Clinton’s and that in their Opinion he was bought over to their Interest; frequent were their Informations, but there being no positive Proof of his Villany I only venturd to hint the Matter to General Lee before he left Us, whither he has given you the necessary Hint or not I am unable to Say—About ten Days since Sr Harry’s Aid De Camp calld at Majr Hammel’s Quarters, took him by the Arm & walkd off—the next Day he wrote ashore from on Board the Preston Man of War, for his Baggage, acquainting his Landlady that he was confind—a few days after it was well known he was gone from the Preston⟨.⟩ in Consequence of the above Mov’ments a Friend of ours, came over & told me the Particulars, and Said ’twas tho’t in New York, that Hammell had gone out as a Spy; and that it was not doubted he had gone to see our Number & Strength in the Highlands, in Consequence of this Information I Sent for all the Officers of Distinction taken at Ft Montgomery and they all agree that Hamel is a Traytor and ’tis their particular Desire I should communicate it—we Suppose he has gone out on Parole or at least will make that his Excuse & obtain whatever he pleases. the Officers here tell me he has been particularly noticed by Genl James Clinton—be it as it may you may rely he [is] no Friend to America—I run the greatest Risque imaginable in thus writing to you but my Country demands it, Should I be discoverd the Consequences will be fatal—my Constitution would but ill Stand a Provost.

“I would likewise mention that I have not a Doubt you will have a Visit up Hudson’s River this Campaign; tis well known Sr Harry who is now Commander in Chief has frequently said full Possession of Hudson’s River so as to Stop a general Communication between the Eastern & Southern States would be the only way to put an End to the War” (DLC:GW).

2Parsons apparently communicated this information to Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates in person; see Parsons to Gates, this date, in NHi: Gates Papers.

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