George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Board of War, 6 September 1779

To the Board of War

Hd Qrs Wt Pt 6th Septr 1779


I am honored with your letter of the 28th of August with its inclosures. I am very happy the testimony given to Congress of the conduct of the board is satisfactory to them, as it will always give me pleasure to do justice to their exertions.

I have attentively considered the regulations proposed for the department of prisoners—They appear to me to be judicious and proper, such as I have for a long time wished to see take place—My only fear is about the concurrence of the particular states; but the experiment can be tried—I return you the regulations with one or two remarks annexed.1 I have the honor to be With the greatest respect and esteem Gentlemen Your most Obedt ser.

P.S. Inclosed you will find the Returns of the following Corps agreeable to Resolution of 15th March last.2 Colo. Harrison’s Regt of Artillery[;] Capt. Jno. Kingsbury’s Compy No. Carolina Artillery[;] Capt. Noah Nicols Compy Artillery Artificers.3

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s and Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Hamilton wrote the letter and Tilghman wrote the postscript.

1The enclosure has not been identified, but a document that appears to be the draft of GW’s remarks is filed with this letter in DLC:GW. Entitled “Remarks &ca,” it reads: “No. 1. It appears to be the intention of the Board to make a distinction between Prisoners & Prisoners of War; which is no doubt a proper and necessary one; but it is to be apprehended the distinction may not be clearly understood by the different States. If any clause could be introduced to make it more explicit it would be desireable; But there will be a difficulty in this without making use of language not agreeable to the principles commonly received; for properly there can be no prisoners but Prisoners of war—The distinction is peculiar to the nature of our contest and will require caution in expressing it—General terms will be best: suppose after the word Prisoners marked * the words not included in the 1st Article of this resolve be added—If it is thought however the distinction will be understood without it it may be best to leave it as it is.

“2. The expediency of this is rather questionable. If the Capts. of such Ships & Vessels comply with the injunction, it may often occasion delay, injurious to them, and of course, in proportion to the sea service; and as the prisoners are appropriated to the benefit of the United States, they will deem it a hardship to be put to this expence in addition to the risk and trouble of capturing them. They may be tempted by it to throw their prisoners ashore at the first place; where they think they can do it without discovery & leave them to shift for themselves, by which the Public may lose the Prisoners—perhaps it may be better to let the delivery of these Prisoners, be upon the same footing as with respect to those captured by Vessels in the service of the States” (D, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing with a correction in GW’s writing, DLC:GW; GW inserted the word “the” between the words “be” and “intention” in the first sentence).

2For the resolve of 15 March 1779 apportioning various military units to the states from which they had originally been raised, see 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 13:316–18.

3The enclosed returns have not been identified.

Noah Nichols (1754–1833), of Cohasset, Mass., had been appointed by a warrant from Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates in November 1776 to the captaincy of a company of artillery artificers, and his company served with the army in the northern department until joining Col. Benjamin Flower’s regiment of artillery artificers in November 1778, serving, as it had in the northern department, as a field company with the main army’s corps of artillery. Nichols left the army in April 1780.

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