George Washington Papers
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From George Washington to William Livingston, 25 March 1778

To William Livingston

Hd Qurs Valley Forge March 25. 1778.

Dr Sir

I have strong reasons to suspect a Mr Banksson late a captain of Marines in our service, of being in the employ of the enemy as a spy.1 His family lives at Princetown. We have nothing against him that amounts to proof, and to seize him at present would answer no end; but to put it out of our power to detect and punish him. It were to be wished Your Excellency without discovering our Suspicions could fall upon some method to have him well watched, and if possible find out something to ascertain the fact.2 He is lately from Philadelphia and has offered me his services in that way as he proposes to return, in a few days taking this Camp in this way—If in the mean time any circumstance should arise within your knowledge you will be pleased to transmit it to me. I am Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt Sert.

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s and Robert Hanson Harrison’s writings, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Alexander Hamilton gave further details about the inquiry in his letter of 3 April written at GW’s direction to Col. Stephen Moylan: “There is a certain Mr Bankson, late of the Continental marines, who has a family at Princeton. We suspect him to be a spy to Mr Howe, though he offers himself as one to us. We wish to find out his true history. He left this camp the 24th of March, on pretence of making a visit to his family, and is now returned with renewed offers of service. It is doubted whether he has not, in the mean time, been at Philadelphia. The General wrote some days since to Governor Livingston, requesting he would take measures to explore Mr Banksons conduct and views. He directs you immediately to see the Governor and learn from him, if he has been able to make any discovery—and to take cautious methods to ascertain whether Bankson has been at home, since he left camp—how long—and when he left home—in short any thing that may throw light upon his designs—Let him hear from you as soon as possible on the subject. Manage the business with caution and address” (DLC:GW). Although Livingston’s investigation failed to clear Bankson, GW satisfied himself of Bankson’s loyalty and employed him for “secret service,” paying him $100 on 11 April and again on 1 May (warrant book, 13 Aug. 1776–1 Aug. 1778, DLC:GW, ser. 5, vol. 18; see also Livingston to GW, 9 April, 20 and 23 May, and GW to Livingston, 1 June 1778).

2Hamilton’s draft continued, “I am persuaded He is a spy,” but Harrison struck out that sentence and completed the letter.

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