George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Colonel Peter Gansevoort, 13 August 1778

To Colonel Peter Gansevoort

Head Quarters, White Plains Aug. 13th 1778


I have received the proceedings of a Court Martial held by your order respecting Samuel Gake.1 As neither the articles of war, nor any resolves of Congress authorise the constituting General Courts Martial by any others, than the commander in chief, the commanding officer in a separate department, or a General-Officer commanding in a particular state, I should have been under the necessity of ordering a second trial, and appointing a Court for the purpose, if it had been judged expedient to bring Gakes to punishment. But as his confession contains information very pointedly against Major Hammel, which concurs with other accounts I have received, I think it of more importance to the public to save Gakes as a Witness against Hammel, than to make an example of him.2 You will therefore keep him in such a kind of confinement, as will effectually prevent his escape ’till matters are ripe for the prosecution of Major Hammel, and at the same time, will be as little rigorous as the nature of the case will admit. He need however know nothing of my intention. I am Sir Your most Obedt servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, NN: Gansevoort-Lansing Collection; Df, DLC:GW; copy, NN: Gansevoort-Lansing Collection; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The copy was enclosed in GW’s letter to Gansevoort of 29 August. GW signed the cover of the LS.

1At the court-martial on 1 July, Samuel Gake (Geake), a private in the 3d New York Regiment, was tried on “Susspicion of being a Spy from the Enemy.” The chief witness testified that when he and another sergeant made pretense “of being dissatisfied with the service,” Gake “told them That he came out of New York as a Spy on the same boat with Major Hammell and that it was agreed between the Prisoner & said Major Hammell to pretend that they had made their Escape from the Enemy and that Hammell Charged him to be faithfull and not devulge his mind to any one and to entice as many men as he could to join him and That Lord Rodnam [Rawdon] had promised him the said Hammill a Colonel’s Commission in his Brigade and That he the prisoner was to be a Lieutenant in the same Regiment with Hammell. That the Prisoner told the deponent that he should have as good a Commiss⟨ion⟩ as him the said Prisoner if he would join him. That he intended to go to the Southard and then to Philadelphia That the Prisoner spoke highly in favor of Lord Rodnam and said he was an Irishman (One of their Country Men)” and drew up a paper for them to sign promising to desert to the British. Gake was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging (DLC:GW). He remained in custody and under sentence until 1779, when he was allowed to rejoin his regiment. Gake served until November 1780, when he deserted.

2For an earlier report on Brigade Major Daniel Hammill, see Samuel Holden Parsons to GW, 22 May 1778, and note 1 to that document.

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