George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Cleves Symmes, 8 June 1782

Morris Town the 8th of June 1782.


I beg leave to inform Your Excellency that application was made to me as one of the Justices of the supreme court of this State on Monday the third instant to allow writs of Habs Corps in favour of Mr Pierre Depeyster a Gentleman residing back of second river in the County of Essex, who I was informed had been apprehended by a Military guard on suspicion of being a spy for the enemy, and then confined at the Jersey Hutts; which I accordingly did, and made the writs returnable before me at Morris Town this day for the convenance of the Military Gentlemen in whose custody he was, and that I might have more leisure to investigate the charge and proof, that might be exhibited.

I am this day informed by Colonel Dayton that in consequence of your Excellencys orders, he had transmitted the papers and charge against Mr Depeyster to his Excellency Governor Livingston, and informed him that it was your Orders to have the prisoner forwarded to West point if he thought proper to submit him to a Military tribunal; to which the Governor had answered "that he had laid the inclosures relative to Mr Depeyster before the Council who advised him not to interfere with Mr Depeyster, but suffer him to be sent to Head-Quarters" and that the prisoner had been forwarded accordingly, not conceiving that they were at Liberty to obey the writs of Habs Corps contrary to your Excellency’s orders and the assent of the Governor.

I have some reason to think that the Governor and Council in their deliberation on this subject must have supposed that the Martial Law was adequate to the cognizance of a Citizen Labouring Under the charge of a spy: On the examination of the Articles of War and from the Oath prescribed to the Members of the Court they evidently appear to me to be limited to the officers, soldiers; and dependances of the Army: and the only article that extends beyond this description is the additional resolution of the twenty first day of August one thousand seven hundred and seventy six, relative to spies, which is expressly limited to "persons not Members of, nor owing allegiance to any of the United States of America" as described in the resolution of Congress of the 24th of june 1776: which is the Model of, as well as foundation of the treason Law of this State and should the proposed Martial trial take place, I am persuaded that, that tribunal would not in the present case be adequate to punish on the fullest proof.

I am now required to do my duty on this Occasion on behalf of a subject of the State, who it is asserted is deprived of his privileges as a Citizen and sent to a distant State for a trial by Law Martial, and in compliance therewith request your Excellency that Mr Depeyster be rendered to the Civil power of this State, that he may answer to such charges as may be exhibited against him before a proper tribunal. I have the honor to be with the greatest respect, Your Excellency’s most Obedient, and very humble servant

John Cleves Symmes

I have sent an officer to receive Mr. Depeyster at the Border of the State from Your Excellencys Orders.

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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