George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Robert Morris, 27 December 1782

Office of Finance 27 Decemr 1782


I am duly honored with your Excellency’s Favor of the seventeenth Instant. Previous to the Receipt of it Admiral Digby had transmitted the polite Application of which a Copy is enclosed. In Answer to it I wrote a Letter of which a Copy is also enclosed and which I think Consists with your Excellency’s Sentiments. As this Letter involved Engagements which were of an extensive Nature whether considered in a pecuniary or political Point of Light I thought it best to submit it to Congress, more especially as it militated in some Degree with their Resolutions. To avoid the tedious Discussions which might have attended any Resolution as well as to leave it on the Basis of a mere ministerial Act in which the Sovereign Authority might not be compromised in any supposable Case, I desired the President to read it and take the Sentiments of Congress without a formal Minute that so their Approbation or Disapprobation might be verbally expressed. This was done and the Letter was approved. What may be it’s Fate with the Enemy I know not but hope it may prove agreeable to our Wishes. With perfect Respect & Esteem I have the Honor to be Sir your Excellency’s most obedient & humble Servant

Robt Morris

DLC: Papers of George Washington.


New York 3d December 1782


As I understand you have the Management of the Marine Department, I must desire you to order the Seamen you have Prisoners in Philadelphia Goal and those in the Jerseys to be sent into New York. Surely Sir you cannot mean to detain these poor People after receiving above a thousand Prisoners well cloathed from England in Addition to a Debt of about Seventeen Hundred. There are a Number at Trenton and Brunswick that have been offered to the Commissary of Prisoners for particular Persons here, by a Lieutenant Colonel John Taylor. If he is an Officer he must be under Command. Your new Commissary of Prisoners has also given Certificates of Exchange to some of the Prisoners I have indulged with Paroles Home, and Paroles to Others to effect an Exchange here or to return. This cannot be allowed whilst you are in Debt near three Thousand, and if continued can only be done to check my Indulgencies to your own People. What can be the Reason you have not on your Side accepted the Offer made to receive Soldiers for Sailors—those Soldiers not to serve for twelve Months? I cannot conceive—If every other Motive was extinct, Gratitude and Humanity should plead the Cause of these poor People, as well as of those confined here. Can it be necessary to appoint Commissioners to pay an acknowledged Debt? Is he an honest Man who owes a Thousand Pounds, and because he is not possessed of Specie, will not pay in other Commodity? And will you murder your own People Prisoners, by letting them remain without Cloathes during the Winter, because there are not so many as you have of our Soldiers, in order to gain What? To defraud the British of a Debt accumulated by giving Way to Humanity and the Sufferings of our Fellow Creatures. I have directed a great many to be paroled, and shall probably parole more as it is the only Means left of giving them Relief. I must beg your Answer soon, as the chief Object of this Letter is, to enable me to extend Indulgencies to Others, which I cannot do consistent with my Duty, ‘till those Seamen Prisoners in your Possession are returned. I am Sir Your very obedient Servant

Robert Digby


Marine Office 18th December 1782


I have received your Letter of the third Instant. If you had been perfectly acquainted with the Principles which actuated my Conduct you would undoubtedly have spared both your Reasonings and Reflections. If you will take the Trouble to apply to your marine Commissary he will inform you from Captain Turner’s Correspondence that I am perfectly disposed to do you Justice as well as to relieve the Prisoners both british and american.

There has been so much of Complaint upon this Subject on all sides that every Body must wish a final Settlement. To effect it I will now make you a plain and simple Proposition. Let us liberate all marine Prisoners on both Sides taking proper Receipts. Let us come to a Settlement of the Account as speedily as possible. If the Balance is against us I will pay you in Money immediately according to the Terms of Cartel existing between England and France Provided you will agree to do the like.

In the mean time I shall be glad to have your Permission to send in some Wood which I am told the Prisoners want. If you agree I will load one or more Vessels and send them in under the Protection of Flags with my Passports. You will cause the Vessels to be searched and if there be any thing on Board of contraband I shall not object to their Confiscation. The wood I shall deposit in the Care of some Person with you for the Purpose of supplying the Prisoners and with Direction to sell a Part if necessary to purchase Cloathing and other Necessaries for them, as I presume that fuel is scarce with you, this is an object which may minister to mutual Convenience.

I shall not make a vain Boast of Liberality either to elevate or depress any Character. You shall judge from the Face of these Propositions whether my Disposition is such as tends to cultivate the Principles of Benevolence and to extend the Acts of Beneficence to those who are in Distress. I am Sir Your most obedient and humble Servant.

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