George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Samuel Huntington, 1 May 1781

Philadelphia May 1 1781


Your Excellency will receive enclosed, a Letter from Mathias Halsted with several other Papers, representing the Misconduct of John Adam Deputy Commissary of Prisoners, which they have thought proper to refer to the Commander in Chief, that due Enquiry may be made respecting the Transactions of this Office, and the Facts complained of & stated in those Papers.

I have also enclosed the Copy of a resolve of the 27th Ulto, recommending to the several States to which they belong, to make up the Depreciation of Pay to the Officers and Men now or late of the Regiment of Artificers commanded by Colonel Baldwin. I have the Honor to be, with very great Respect Sir Your Excellency’s most obedient & humble servant

Sam. Huntington President

P.S. your Excellencys dispatches of the 21st & 26th of april have been receivd.

DLC: Papers of George Washington.


20 March 1781

Joseph Stanbury appeared & said that he had two sons Captured by the Enemy in the Month of August 1780—& Confined in prison in the City of New York, That he had frequently applied to Mr Commissary Adam, with a view to Effect their Exchange, That after the Exchange of his Son Porter Stanbury, he Repeated his Applications in behalf of his other Son Jacob Stanbury & made several applications wihout Effect, That some time in the Month of November he saw Mr Adam at his own Door & Enquired Whether his son Jacob was like to Return or not, That Mr Adam Replied he believed not very soon, & turned from this Examinant and was leaving him, on which this Examinant said to the said Adam if you Can Get him home I will make you any satisfaction in my power. That Mr Adam Stopped & Replied he shall be home with the Next flagg, & That he the said Jacob Did Come home with the Next flagg, Which was six Days after the above Conversation passed. This Examinant also adds that at the time the above Conversation passed there was a British flagg at Elizabeth Town and further this Examinant saith not.

Joseph Stanbery

This Examination Taken

in the County of Essex on the 20th Day of March 1781 Before me

Matthias Halsted Justice of the peace

Isaac Frazee appeared & said that he had a Brother (John Frazee) In Capitivity in New York last summer & fall, That this Examint frequently applied to Mr John Adam Comsy of Prisrs in behalf of his Brother without Effect, that at last this Examt offered the said Mr Adam a Barrel of Cyder if he would get his Brother out with the Next flagg, That Mr Adam Replyed he would Get him out as soon as he Could, on which this Examt Gave the said Mr Adam the Barrel of Cyder on the above Conditions, that the reason of Making payment before John Frazee Returned was, that the Said Mr Adams wife had Remarked that People in such Cases had promised them things & had not paid them & further saith not

Isaac Frazee

This Examination taken

in the County of Essex on the

20th Day of March 1781—Before me

Matthias Halsted Justice of the Peace.

Porter Stanbery appeared & said that on his Return of Captivity from New York on the 27th Day of September 1780, Mr Adam Commissary of Prisoners Came to the flagg & Enquired for this Examinant & Obtained his (this Examin[ents)] promise to Call upon him the Next Day, which this Examinant did, at which time the said Mr Adam Represen[ted] the obligations he (the Examinant) was under to him (the said Mr Adam) and that he might probably have lain for Several Months longer in Confinement, but for his Exertions, & then Demanded if he (the Examinant) Could not Make Mrs Adam (Meaning the said Mr [Adams] wife) a present of six or Eight pounds of fresh [Butter] for the Kindness he had Done this Examt that he [(the Ext)] Engaged to Do so, but not geting the Butter soon was frequently asked for it, That at lenght having some Beef which he Intended for the relief of Some [of] his late fellow Captives who still remained in Captivity he saw the said Mr Adam, who Requested as he had not had the promised Butter, that he would let him have some of the beef that he (the Examinant) Replied he Intend[ed] that beef for the prisoners, but as he had not Had the butter he should have some of the beef & that he [(the Exmt)] Accordingly Cut off two Choice pieces weighing as this Ext Believes upwards of 20 pounds & further Examinant saith not

Porter Stanbery

This Examination taken in the County of Essex on the 20th Day of March 1781 Before me Matthias Halsted Justice of the peace.


7 April 1781

To Whom it may Concern

Be it hereby known that on the 23d Day of March last was brought before me sundry Goods & Merchandise for Tryal, Taken in the Possession of Mr John Adam Deputy Commissary of Prisoners on Which a Trial was the Next Day held, When by a Jury of Good & Lawfull Men the said Good & Merchandise & also a Waggon & two Horses, & a Chair & one horse Conveying the same, were Condemned agreably to a law of this State for coming out of the British lines—The Whole sales amounting to £301.2.4 Lawfull Mony of the State. On the tryal it appeared from Clear Evidence that the said goods & Merchandise had been landed out of a british flagg at Elizth Town Point under the Imediate Inspection & Direction of the said Mr Adam, who was in the Chair with a part of the Goods on his way from the Point aforesaid to the town when the [   ] was made. Given under my hand In the County of Essex, State of New Jersey this Seventh Day of April 1781

David Miller

justis of the peas in the County of Essex.


Elizabeth Town April 21 1781


I am Sensibly grieved at the unavoidable Delays that have happened in Procuring the Inclosed vouchers Respecting the Conduct of Mr John Adam D. C. of Prisoners & in forwarding th[em] I should have sent them some time since but Expected to have procured More to accompany those, both Instances of his Partiallities, Briberies & Illicit Trade are Numerous; but Many of Witnesses are Extreemly Cautious in Declaring any thing unless Compelled, alledging they may suffer in Cases of future Captivity if he Remains in office; Conceiving the Inclosed with My Declaration will be sufficient To Convince Congress that his Conduct as a publick officer has not been strictly justifiable I Concluded it best to forward the Inclosures without further Delay, Submiting it to your better Judgment Either to lay the Matter before Congress in its present situation, or to give me further Instructions how to proceed in the Business.

As to my Own Knowledge; I Can Declare to several very Glaring Partialities in point of Exchanges, some of Which were not only In favour of Prisoners late Captured, but of those Who from the Circumstances of their Capture were by no Means Entitled to Exchange, an officer of Militia within the British lines has been given for a private Citizen, when officers of ours have been suffering in Captivity:

two Justices of the peace of this State both Captivated after me were Exchanged before me, all in direct Disobedience of the laws of this State Respecting Exchanges of prisoners; but since the Act for [Resting] the Powers of Exchanging Prisoners in the Hands of the Contl Comsys. There is no Power in the state Equal to the Calling offenders in this Point to a Proper account for their Conduct; & unless Congress will do it, not only Individuals, but the the Publick service must suffer, as many of the very Zealous & once active Citizens are Relaxing in their ardor & activity, alledging the probable consequences in Case of Captivity as an apology: for my own Part, should such a Misfortune again befall me, While Mr Adam Continues in office, I am not without apprehensions of what may be the Consequences.

Respecting the Certificate from David Miller Esqr. (Inclosed) it may not be amiss to observe that Mr Adam had Previously taken an oath Prescribed by an act of our Legislature, Purporting that he would not allow of any Illicit Trade or Intercourse with the enemy after Earnestly Requesting that the Necessary Measures may be speedily pursued, & assuring you that from the best Information, I verily [   ] on Trial, not less that twenty Instances of Bribery & Partiallity Can be proved if Necessary without going twenty Miles for a Witness; I Conclude & am Sir with Due Respect Your Most Humb. servt

Matthias Halsted

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