George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, 4 June 1778

To Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton

Head Quarters [Valley Forge] 4th June 1778.


Mr Loring having been sent by Sir Henry Clinton to meet Mr Boudinot or any other person appointed by me for the purpose of effecting an exchange of prisoners; I have therefore to desire you (Mr Boudinot being absent from Camp) to hear any proposals Mr Loring may have to offer on this subject; and to do definitively whatever may be necessary towards the execution of a general exchange of prisoners: And I hereby assure you that your proceedings in this instance will be ratified by me.1 I am Sir, your very hble servant

Go: Washington

LS, in James McHenry’s writing, DLC: Hamilton Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Hamilton presented Joshua Loring, the British commissary of prisoners who met him on this date, with the following declaration: “In the Name of His Excellency General Washington and by virtue of His authority to me—I declare, that on his being properly notified of time and place, he will appoint a person then and there to receive all Prisoners of War, in possession of the enemy, at present in the city of Philadelphia, and that He will return as speedily as possible an equal number of prisoners of war, in lieu of them, now in the power of the United States, of similar rank quality and description to those who shall be delivered as abovementiond, at such post of the British army as shall be most convenient and conducive to dispatch—Those American Prisoners, who on account of wounds and sickness cannot be included in the general delivery, when the hospitals or places in which they are lodged shall be no longer, in possession of the enemy, being left under the protection of a flag, shall be received by us and exchanged in like manner, with the prisoners aforesaid—Any hospital stores or utensils, that may be necessarily left with them shall be paid for, at such reasonable rates, as shall be mutually agreed on, by persons appointed for the purpose, or returned in kind. The Prisoners comprehended in this declaration, now in Philadelphia by Mr Loring’s report amount to about 120 Commissioned officers and 670 Non Comd Officers and privates; about 80 of whom are sick and in hospital—These Prisoners, when delivered, shall be considered as under parole and incapable of military service ’till regularly exchanged.

“I do further declare, on the part of His Excellency General Washington that he will at such convenient time and place, as shall be agreed on between General Sir Henry Clinton and himself—appoint and impower proper persons to meet others duly authorised by Sir Henry Clinton to discuss and settle the difference, so long subsisting, with respect to the proportion to be accounted for of those prisoners who were sent out by General Sir William Howe, in the Winter of 76, on just and reasonable terms.”

Hamilton crossed out this postscript: “The substance of the resolve of Congress is, That as Sir Wm Howe has it in his power to exchange the officers under the convention, they cannot consent to an equivalent of privates for Officers.

“That a General exchange shall take place of all officers and soldiers in the actual possession of the respective parties, and of such other officers & soldiers as in the opinion of General Washington are fit subjects of exchange” (NjP: De Coppet Collection).

Loring wrote Hamilton on 5 June: “Upon my report to His Excellency Sir Henry Clinton of our meeting yesterday at the Sorrel Horse for the Purpose of settling an Exchange of Prisoners.

“I am directed to acquaint you that all your Prisoners in Philadelphia agreable to the inclosed Return, shall be sent out on the 12th Inst. under a proper Escort to the two mile stone on the Lancaster Road over Schuylkill, provided you agree to meet Us there on that day with the like number of British Prisoners of equal Rank to be then & there exchanged for the same, and you will be so good as to fix the Hour” (NjP: Thorne-Boudinot Collection).

But everything was not yet settled, and further misunderstandings and disputes threatened to sink the proposed exchange; see GW to Henry Clinton, 6 June, GW to Henry Laurens, 15 June, and Elias Boudinot to GW, 28 June–6 July.

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