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To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, 17 March 1780

From Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton

Amboy [N.J.] 17 March 1780

Dear Sir

I duly received your letter of the 14th and shall not fail in conjunction with General St Clair to attend to the military object of it.1

I am much obliged to your Excellency for the communication of your Southern advises—The enemy are still in the dark about their fleet and army gone that way as we gather from the Commissioners2—They pretend to have little European news, though a vessel arrived two or three days since from England after ten weeks passage3—We send you some late New York papers.4

The Commission has been several days at an end—The enemy as was supposed had no idea of treating on national ground5—We are now in private conversation and so far not without hopes that the liberation of our prisoners will be effected on admissible terms. Two or three days more will probably put an end to the interview.6 General St Clair and Col. Carrington beg their respects may be presented to Your Excellency.7 I have the honor to be Very respectfully and affectionately Yr Excellency’s Most Obedt ser.

Alex. Hamilton

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, DLC: Alexander Hamilton Papers. The date on the ALS is in the writing of GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman and follows a struck-out number that cannot be read with certainty. The copy clearly is dated 17 March 1780.

Hamilton also wrote Elizabeth Schuyler, whom he would marry in December, on this date: “Every moment of my stay here becomes more and more irksome; but I hope two or three days will put an end to it. …

“Our interview is attended with a great deal of sociability and good humour; but I begin notwithstanding to be tired of our British friends. They do their best to be agreeable and are particularly civil to me; but after all they are a compound of grimace and jargon; and out of a certain fashionable routine are as dull and empty as any Gentlemen need to be. One of their principal excellencies consists in swallowing a large quantity of wine every day, and in this I am so unfortunate that I shall make no sort of figure with them” (Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 2:285–87).

1GW’s letter to Hamilton of 14 March has not been found, but it may have conveyed recent intelligence indicating British preparations for an attack on Continental army positions (see Johann Kalb to GW, 11 March, and GW’s second letter to Robert Howe, same date).

2Hamilton is referring to the three British commissioners designated to negotiate a prisoner exchange agreement: Maj. Gen. William Phillips, Lt. Col. Cosmo Gordon, and Lt. Col. Chapple Norton. For preliminaries leading to this meeting of British and American commissioners at Perth Amboy, see GW to Samuel Huntington, 4 Jan., and n.1 to that document; Wilhelm von Knyphausen to GW, 19 Feb. and 4 March; Phillips to GW, 21 Feb.; GW to Knyphausen, 29 Feb.; and GW to the Commissioners for the Exchange of Prisoners, 7 March.

Hamilton also is referring to the British expedition that left New York on 26 Dec. 1779. The Americans lacked authoritative information on its presumed operations in the south at this time (see GW to Lafayette, 18 March; see also Anthony Wayne to GW, 26 Dec. 1779, source note, and John Laurens to GW, 14 March 1780).

3In his journal entry for 11 March 1780, New York City printer Hugh Gaine wrote: “No news yet from Sir Henry Clinton that can be depended upon.” On 18 March, Gaine reported “an account of Several Vessels below from Europe.” His entry for 19 March identified the vessels as two “Ships from Glasgow, and a Brig from Liverpool, and another from Cork.” Not until 21 March did Gaine receive a reliable account “of the safe Arrival of G. Clinton at Charlestown, after a tedious Passage of about 7 Weeks” (Ford, Journals of Hugh Gaine description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed. The Journals of Hugh Gaine, Printer. 1902. Reprint. [New York] 1970. description ends , 2:82–83). The bearer of this news almost certainly was New York royal governor Maj. Gen. James Robertson, who returned to New York City from Georgia on that date (see Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs . . . of William Smith, Historian of the Province of New York. 2 vols. New York, 1956–58. description ends [1971], 242–43, and Royal American Gazette, 23 March 1780; see also Robertson to Jeffery Amherst, 10–25 March 1780, in Klein and Howard, Letter Book of Robertson description begins Milton M. Klein and Ronald W. Howard, eds. The Twilight of British Rule in Revolutionary America: The New York Letter Book of General James Robertson, 1780-1783. Cooperstown, N.Y., 1983. description ends , 73–80).

4The enclosed newspapers have not been identified.

5Earlier negotiations aiming at a prisoner exchange cartel had failed on the same point (see both letters from GW to the Commissioners for the Exchange of Prisoners, 10 April 1779 [letter 1, letter 2], and Robert Hanson Harrison to GW, 18 April, and n.3 to that document).

6Official prisoner exchange talks were held 9–14 March 1780. The American commissioners—Hamilton, Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair, and Lt. Col. Edward Carrington—subsequently detailed the disappointing results of negotiations (see both letters from the Commissioners for the Exchange of Prisoners to GW, 26 March [letter 1, letter 2]).

7GW’s assistant secretary James McHenry responded to Hamilton from Morristown on 18 March: “His Excellency commands me to acknowlege and thank you for the News-papers and your letter of ——The general has the letter, but I believe it wants both date and locality.

“Meade, writes you all that is interesting, and conducts the most weighty matters with a great deal of seeming sagacity. He thrust himself up the chimney this morning, while we were dressing round the fire, in order, to be more at liberty as I supposed to read your letter, or hide any thing it might contain, from profane eyes. This peculiarity was soon followed by another. In short, he managed the business with so much management, that had I been less attentive to his operations I must have found out their objec⟨t⟩.

“I would add to this by way of consolation, or rather of countenance, that the family since your departure have given hourly proofs of a growing weakness. Example I verily believe is infectious. For such a predominancy is beauty establishing over their hearts, that should things continue to wear as sweet an aspect as they are now beheld in, I shall be the only person left, of the whole household, to support the dignity of human nature. But in good earnest, God bless both you, and your weakness” (DLC: James McHenry Papers).

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