George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Henry Knox, 9 May 1779

From Brigadier General Henry Knox

Park Artillery Pluckemin [N.J.] 9th May 1779


In my Letter to Colonel Hamilton yesterday,1 I forgot to desire him to mention to your Excellency, That, George Baker one of the deserters sentencd to suffer death by the Court Martial, is the only person among the prisoners who has shewn any Candor in their examinations.2 By his information the persons who conducted and secreted them were discover’d. It is true, he is a very great Villian, having first deserted from the Enemy, inlisted in our service, deserted back to them, and was either taken by some of our light parties while we were at White plains last year, or deserted from the Enemy, I do not know which, and now was making an attempt to get to them a second time. And were the War to continue ten Years longer he would be for changing sides once or twice a Year.

I know not how far these circumstan⟨ces⟩ will operate against his receiving your Excellencys Mercy, for certainly a subject more unworthy of it can not be found. But I am clearly of opinion That a full Confession in most instances ought from principles of policy to entitle the Criminal to pardon.

I thought it my duty to state these circumstances to your Excellency as they do not so fully appear from the face of the proceedings of the Court martial. I am with the greatest respect Your Excellencys most Obedient Hble Servant

H. Knox


1Knox’s letter to Alexander Hamilton has not been identified, but Richard Kidder Meade replied to it from headquarters on 8 May: “Hamilton is so engaged at this time, that he has requested me to make an apology for not writing himself, and to desire that you will keep the tories secure until you hear from the General, who will immediately give Gov. Livingston notice of the affair. The proceedings of the Court Martial will be attended to so as to have the sentences of the capital offenders in tomorrow’s orders—the rest you will deal by as you please. Your letter to the Board of War will be forwarded this day.... We are glad to hear that Mrs Knox is better” (DLC: Peter Force Papers). See GW to William Livingston, this date.

2George Baker, of Maryland, had enlisted in November 1777 as a matross in the 1st Continental Artillery Regiment. In general orders on 12 May, GW confirmed the death sentences that the court-martial had pronounced on Baker and his two co-defendants, James Ford and Peter Robinson, and he ordered that they be executed on the following day. In general orders on 19 May, however, Baker and Ford are mentioned as having been pardoned, perhaps by means of a last-moment reprieve; and GW wrote to Knox on 13 May granting permission to pardon Robinson if Knox saw fit. For more on this court-martial, see Knox’s letter to GW of 6 May.

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