George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Dickinson, 19 June 1782

Head Quarters Newburgh June 19th 1782


I feel myself much obliged by the friendly Communication of your sentiments to me on the subject of retaliation, conveyed under your favor of the 30th of May, a subject truly disagreeable & distressing to me.

The horrid circumstances of barbarity which introduced the instance which now gains your particular attention, came to me under the representation of so respectable a Body of Citizens, that they could not but gain my notice & interposition, especially from a consideration, that if it was not taken up in this line, the People, strongly provoked by their feelings on the occasion, would probably have assumed the matter upon their own decision, and brought it to an issue under their own power, which mode of proceeding, if permitted, would have involved circumstances still more lamentable & calamitious; In taking my Resolutions, I also found myself supported by many repeated declarations of Congress on this subject, and after my resolutions being taken, have had the satisfaction to receive the fullest & most decided approbation of that Honble Body on this particular instance.

But under all these circumstances, altho’ I never had a doubt on the general propriety of the measure, yet it was not my intention, could it be avoided, to have taken as a subject of retaliation, an Officer under sanction of Capitulation or Convention; and my first Orders, were issued agreeable to that Idea, but unfortunately, it was reported to me that no Officer of an unconditional discription was in our possession, which laid me under a necessity of giving further orders, exceeding my original intentions; in consequence of which, the unhappy lot is fallen upon Capt. Asgill, a prisoner under the Capitulation of York Town.

I feel myself exceedingly distressed on this occasion; but my resolutions having been taken up on the most mature deliberation, supported by the approbation of Congress, & grounded on the general concurrence of all the principle officers of the Army who were particularly consulted on the subject, cannot be receded from; Justice to the Army & the Public, my own honor, & I think I may venture to say, universal benevolence, require them to be carried into full execution.

It rests therefore on the British Commander in Chief to prevent this unhappy measure taking effect; An application is gone to Sir Guy Carleton from Asgill, beging his interposition to avert his fate, the matter is now in agitation, and I am told that a strict enquiry is making into the Conduct of Lippincot, who is charged as being the principal perpetrator of the cruel murder of Capt. Huddy. Should this enquiry lead to giving satisfaction, by a compliance with my original demand to Sir Henry Clinton, my feelings will be greatly relieved and I need not assure you that I shall receive the highest pleasure from such an event. With very great regard & esteem, I have the honor to be, sir Your Excellency’s Most Obedient & very Humble Servant

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