George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 29 September 1778

To Henry Laurens

Head Quarters Fredericksburg 29th Sepr 1778


The following is an extract of a letter of the 17th inst. which I had the honor to receive from the Count D’Estaing.

“I intreat you to promote the exchange of prisoners already planned by Mr Gerard. The unhappy persons taken before the commencement of Hostilities cannot be fully1 regarded as prisoners—their lot is dreadfull—The mode adopted for exchanging them by means of your Commissary, without introducing the Kings name or mine into the transaction, removes a great part of the political difficulties which before subsisted.”

I am an intire stranger to the plan above referred to, or to the mode that has been adopted for exchanging by means of our Commissary.

He is absent from the Army, and I must therefore beg the favr of you to obtain, from Mr Gerard, such information as will enable me to give directions for carrying the Counts desires into execution, if practicable.2

The Marquis de Vienne, at present at Boston, has requested a furlough of eighteen Months to enable him to return to France, whither he is called by some domestic Concerns. I do not conceive myself at liberty to grant his request, without the permission of Congress, to whom, I would beg leave to observe, that if agreeable to them, he may be indulged without prejudice to the service, as he is not attached to any particular command.3

I have just recd an account from Jersey, which I fear is too true, that Colo. Baylors Regt of Dragoons were surprised in their quarters the night before last, and most of them killed or taken.4 A few of the straglers have come in, who can give but a very imperfect account of the matter. They think the Colonel and most of the Officers were made prisoners, and that the privates were put to the sword. There were, I imagine, about one hundred Men of the Regiment together when this unlucky accident happened.

The stay of the Enemy in Jersey being longer than I apprehended, and not knowing what their real intentions may be; I have ordered Genl Maxwell to advance from Elisabeth Town to the neighbourhood of Acquaquenunk Bridge, and have sent over General Woodfords Brigade from this side of the River. I have also ordered Genl pulaski to advance with as much expedition as possible and join the Brigades.5

Lord Stirling has this day gone over to take the general command of the continental forces and Militia, who are assembling in considerable numbers. If the enemy mean only to forage, they will be kept from extending6 themselves, by these troops; and if they have any designs upon the posts in the Highlands, they will be prevented from seizing the passes leading to the Forts, by Lord Stirling, who will be between them and the enemy, and always ready to possess them.

I have made proper dispositions on this side the River for the security of the Highlands, in case that Body of the enemy, who are on this side Kingsbridge employed in collecting forage, should advance.

The sketch of Rhode Island, forwarded by this Express, was received from Genl Sullivan, and left behind by accident when the last dispatches were sent off.7

I have had the honor of receiving yours of the 20th inclosing an order for Count Pulaski’s Legion to advance to Trenton. I have the honor to be with the highest Regard Your Excellency’s most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 5 Oct. and ordered “That so much thereof as relates to the army, be referred to the Board of War” (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 , 12:980). The LS is docketed in part: “Part relating to army referred to the board of war.” Below the docket, a note written in another hand reads: “Whether the matter of the exchange of prisoners alone was not meant to be referred to the board?”

1This word is “lawfully” in the draft and Varick transcript of this letter and in the translation of d’Estaing’s letter to GW of 17 September.

2For the subsequent exchange of these French sailors, see d’Estaing to GW, this date, and note 1 to that document; Ambroise-Thomas Boubée to d’Estaing, 20 Oct., in d’Estaing to GW, 23 Oct., n.1; and John Beatty to GW, 26 October.

3GW enclosed a copy of Vienne’s letter to him of 15 Sept. (see GW to Vienne, this date). The enclosed copy has not been found. Congress approved Vienne’s furlough on 27 Oct. (see Laurens to GW, 9 Oct., and 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 , 12:1066).

4For the British attack on Col. George Baylor’s 3d Continental Light Dragoon Regiment on 28 Sept. near Old Tappan, N.J., see Israel Putnam to GW, 28 Sept., and notes 1 and 2 to that document.

5For these orders, see GW to William Maxwell and Israel Putnam, both 27 Sept., and GW to Casimir Pulaski, this date.

6See GW’s letter and instructions to Stirling and Stirling’s reply to GW, all dated 28 September.

7Maj. Gen. John Sullivan had enclosed copies of this unidentified map in his letters to GW and Henry Laurens of 23 Sept. (see 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 , 2:356–59).

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