George Washington Papers

To George Washington from General Frederick Haldimand, 29 August 1779

From General Frederick Haldimand

Quebec 29th Augt 1779.


Amongst the various Evils that are the certain Attendants of a Civil War, I did not expect to find the unmeritted Misery of Individuals, one of the Objects to occupy the Virginian Assembly, because I thought the liberal Education many of its Inhabitants have received, joined to their private Virtues, however they might be changed by Party, would at least have prevented their Assembly from being deceived by false, improbable, and ill grounded Accusations, so as to deviate from the common Rules of War observed amongst Civilized Nations; but by their Resolves dated the 16th of June respecting the Treatment of Lieut. Governor Hamilton and other Officers belonging to my Government, taken with him by Capitulation at Fort St Vincennes,1 I perceive I may have hitherto entertained a too favorable Opinion of them, and I should be justifyed by every military Law, if I were to proceed immediately to inflict the same cruel Confinement on all American Officers, without distinction, who now are in my Power. Nevertheless, I forbear to imitate the Example, without affording You the Opportunity of employing your Influence to stop Proceedings so disgraceful to Humanity. This can be done in the present Instance, either by exchanging Lieut. Governor Hamilton, his Officers and Men, for others of equal Rank, or by allowing them that Liberty which Custom, and their Rank in the King’s Service entitles them to when Prisoners of War, in their Situation.

I cannot doubt that General Washington will heartily join his Endeavours with mine to prevent such distress from being the unavoidable Lot of all Prisoners of War, and I shall be happy if your Excellency’s Answer authorises me to continue the Exercise of that Humanity which I have hitherto invariably shewn to all Prisoners, notwithstanding the unreasonable delay in performing the sacred Promises made on releasing the Prisoners taken at the Cedars in 1776.2 At the same Time, I must inform You that, however disagreeable it may be to my Feelings as a Man, to retaliate in Cruelty, yet the duty I owe to the King’s Service, and Public Justice, will oblige me to follow the Example given by the Americans unless, in their Proceedings, I immediately perceive they are disposed to act upon those generous Principles which have hitherto guided my Conduct towards them. I am with all due Respect Sir Your Excellencys most Obedient and most Humble Servant

Fred: Haldimand

LS, P.R.O.: 30/55, Carleton Papers; copy, P.R.O.: 30/55, Carleton Papers. No response from GW has been found, and the letter may never have been sent to him (see below).

Haldimand enclosed this letter in a letter to Gen. Henry Clinton, dated 29 Aug. at Quebec, Canada, reading in part: “I enclose to your Excellency a Letter I have written to General Washington respecting the Treatment of Lieut. Governor Hamilton and his Officers, who I should be much pleased to have exchanged, but as many Circumstances may have happened to render any such Letter ineffectual, or improper, I entirely leave it at your Excellency’s disposal either to suppress or forward it as You think best for the Public Service” (P.R.O.: 30/55, Carleton Papers).

For the capture of Henry Hamilton, British lieutenant governor of Detroit, by George Rogers Clark’s Virginia forces at Vincennes in the Illinois Country (now Indiana), see Daniel Brodhead to GW, 29 May, n.1 and Thomas Jefferson to GW, 19 June, n.1. For GW’s correspondence with the Virginia Council on this subject and also for the council’s ultimate determination to continue Hamilton’s imprisonment after his refusal to agree to the terms of his parole, see GW to Jefferson, 6–10 Aug., and n.3 to that document.

1For the orders of the Virginia Council placing Hamilton in irons and confining him closely in the public jail, see Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 2:292–95.

2Haldimand is referring to Congress’s refusal to ratify the cartel that was arranged for the exchange of prisoners after the surrender of the American regiment guarding the outpost at the Cedars in Canada in May 1776 (see John Jay to GW, 19 March, n.2).

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