George Washington Papers
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From George Washington to Joseph Reed, 12 February 1779

To Joseph Reed

Head Quarters Middle Brook 12th Feby 1779

Sir

In my last I omitted to answer that part of your Excellency’s letter of the 5th inst. respecting Capt. Campbells proposal of attempting to bring off our Officers prisoners upon parole on Long Island.1 Was the measure justifiable, of which I have my doubts, it would in my opinion be impolitic. We could not hope to be compleatly successfull, and strict confinement would certainly be the fate of all those who remained or who may hereafter fall into the enemy’s hands.

I have good reason to suspect that many persons (Women particularly) who obtain leave from the Executive Council to go and come to and from New York under pretence of visiting their Friends, have, in fact, no other Business but that of bringing out Goods to trade with. Some have been detected within a few days and their Goods confiscated, by a law of the State of Jersey, to the Captors.2 To avoid the disagreeable necessity of seizing the property of individuals, and to put a stop to a Commerce which creates a great deal of uneasiness among the well affected inhabitants, I shall be obliged to you for inquiring well into the circumstances of those who apply for passes, and if their applications appear so well grounded as to obtain them, caution them against bringing out any kind of Goods, as they will most certainly fall into the hands of the Guards posted upon every Road in order to cut off this pernicious communication, which is contrary to Resolve of Congress and positive laws of this State.3 The property has been only hitherto confiscated, but there will, if the practice is persisted in, be a necessity of inflicting a punishment upon the persons of those who knowingly and so repeatedly violate the Laws.

If, as is urged by some, it is good policy to get Goods out of New York by any means, let the license be general; but in the present situation of things, I cannot, consistent with my feelings and my duty suffer those only to reap the Benefit of a trade, who from their peculiar characters can gain admittance within the Enemy’s Lines. I have the honor to be with great Regard Your Excellency’s Most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 69; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Reed’s letter to GW of 5 Feb. has not been found. GW had replied to other parts of that letter in his letter to Reed of 9 February. The proposal for freeing paroled American officers on Long Island may have been made by Thomas Campbell, who, as a captain in Col. Michael Swope’s Pennsylvania regiment of the Flying Camp, had been captured at Fort Washington, N.Y., on 16 Nov. 1776 and had been held prisoner on Long Island until his release in November 1778. On 7 April 1779 the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council appointed Campbell captain of a company of rangers to be enlisted in Cumberland County, Pa., for protection of the Pennsylvania frontier (see Joseph Reed to Thomas Campbell, 7 April, Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 7:301; see also Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 11:740–41). Campbell subsequently raised his company and was stationed with it at Fort Crawford, Pa., until sometime in the winter of 1780.

2For the New Jersey law passed on 8 Oct. 1778 and amended on 11 Dec. 1778 that empowered soldiers to seize goods from New Jersey citizens visiting New York without valid passes, and which authorized only the governor of the state or GW to provide such passes, see William Livingston to GW, 21 Dec. 1778, and n.2 to that document (see also Livingston to Reed, 22 Oct. 1778, Prince, Livingston Papers description begins Carl E. Prince et al., eds. The Papers of William Livingston. 5 vols. Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J., 1979–88. description ends , 2:471–72).

3GW apparently is referring to the congressional resolutions of 13 and 21 Aug. 1778 regarding passes for crossing enemy lines. The resolution of 13 Aug. authorized only Congress and GW to grant passes for the purpose of visiting New York (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 11:779). The resolution of 21 Aug., however, directed persons wishing to cross enemy lines to apply to their state executive. Then the state executive, if he saw fit, could “recommend them to the officer commanding troops next to the enemy, who, upon such recommendation, may at his discretion permit the persons to go in” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 11:825).

For instances of the Pennsylvania council issuing passes to New York on its own authority—in each case to a woman—between 9 Dec. 1778 and 28 Jan. 1779, see Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 11:640, 644, 649, 666, 673, 679 (see also GW to William Livingston and Joseph Reed, 17 Dec. 1778). On 20 Feb., however, the Pennsylvania council—possibly in consequence of GW’s letter to Reed of this date—referred to Congress the petitions by ten people for such passes and then resolved “that persons desirous to go within the Enemy’s lines, be referred to the Hon’ble the Congress for their permission or licence” (Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 11:703–5). The problem of passes to New York eventually prompted the Pennsylvania council to adopt a resolution on 24 April 1779, which reads: “Whereas, it hath been heretofore represented by His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief to this Board, that the intercourse which has been maintained by the passing of so many Persons to New York, is exceedingly prejudicial to the Interests of America generally, & the safety of the Army in particular; & it being also apparent that some persons who have been recommended to go within the Enemies line on condition of not returning, have nevertheless returned, & are now residing in this State.

Resolved, That this Board will not in future give any recommendation but in cases of a particular & extraordinary nature, & then only to such as shall be recommended to the Board by persons of known good Character: And that in all cases where a recommendation is given upon condition of not returning without the permission of Public Authority, & two good Securities be given for the performance, or the application be rejected” (Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 11:757).

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