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To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel William Stephens Smith, 25 January 1778

From Lieutenant Colonel William Stephens Smith

Lancaster [Pa.]
Jany 25th 1778

May it please your Excellency

Inclosed I have the Honour of transmitting an Order sent to me from the Board of War which Last Night I executed. the Gent. are now in Town Prisoners. they are treated with all the Dellicacey their Situation will admit of ⟨&⟩ their Behaivour on the Occasion has been unexceptionable. I should be happy to receive your Excellency orders concerning them.1

Inclosed I also send a Letter from Doctor Beaumont who does not immagine that he is alluded to in the Order.2 Your Excellency’s Commands shall be with Pleasure Receiv’d By Your ever devoted S⟨ervant⟩

Wm S. Smith ⟨Lieut. Col.⟩

ALS, CSmH; Sprague transcript, DLC:GW. The ALS is mounted in vol. 6, p. 198, of Thomas Addis Emmet’s copy of Benson John Lossing’s Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution, rare book 39002 in CSmH. The text in angle brackets is illegible on the manuscript and has been taken from the Sprague transcript.

1The enclosed order to Smith has not been found. Gen. William Howe had dispatched by agreement with GW a number of wagons from Philadelphia on 16 Jan., with clothing for Hessian and British prisoners in American hands. Accompanying the wagons were, according to the deposition of an American officer, British quartermaster Thomas Sandford, Loyalist Capt. Norman McLeod, “Lieut. Sterling, said to belong to the Royal Highlanders,” a German commissioned officer, and “a surgeon & two surgeon’s mates, and divers non Commissioned officers & Waggon drivers” (Capt. James Chrystie’s deposition, 3 Feb. 1778, in Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:233).

Thomas Sandford, “Quarter Master to the [British] Brigade of Guards,” recorded the tribulations of the expedition in an undated document that William Howe sent to GW on 21 February (DLC:GW, filed under January 1778). After leaving Philadelphia and passing the American outposts where their passports were inspected, they delivered an unidentified letter to GW and proceeded on the Lancaster Road. “On the next Evening,” Sandford says, “Mr Bradford, Deputy Commissary of Prisoners, arrived, who, after examining in a very particular Manner the Passports, Letters, and some small Parcels, dispatched the former to General Washington. In the Morning of the 18th Colonel Fitzgerald, Aid de Camp, came from Valley Forge, and in General Washingtons Name objected to more than one British and one Hessian Quarter Master going forward. He also observed that Sir William Howe had not mentioned any Design of sending Surgeons to visit the Sick; but as Genl Washington did not chuse to oppose a Duty, where the Relief of the Sick was intended, he had consented to their proceeding.” After agreeing to Sandford’s informing Howe of these developments, Fitzgerald appeared again the next morning with GW’s orders that only two quartermasters should accompany the party and “appointing Captain Wilson to go with the British, and Lieutt Patterson with the Hessian Officer” (see GW to William Patterson, 18 January).

The party proceeded to the Spread Eagle Tavern on the Lancaster Road in Radnor Township, Chester County, Pa., where GW ordered McLeod and Sterling back to Philadelphia along with “two Bags containing bills of Credit” that had been discovered in one of Sandford’s wagons (see William Howe to GW, 19 Jan., GW to Howe, 30 Jan., Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:233). The rest of the party continued to the White Horse Tavern on Lancaster Road and then to Lancaster, where they arrived on 21 January. At Lancaster the British entered into a dispute with an innkeeper over the price of provisions, while other members of the party were arrested after being caught in possession of counterfeit money (see Thomas Wharton, Jr., to GW, 23 Jan., Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council to GW, 22 January, Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:217).

Pennsylvania supreme executive council president Thomas Wharton, Jr., wrote GW about these events on 22 Jan. and also wrote to the Pennsylvania delegates to Congress, who referred the matter to the Board of War (see Daniel Roberdeau to Thomas Wharton, Jr., 26 and 30 Jan., ibid., 206–7, 214–15). Horatio Gates as president of the Board of War then ordered the arrest of the entire British party. Col. William Stephens Smith carried out the Board of War’s orders around midnight on 24–25 Jan., at a tavern where the wagons had stopped after leaving Lancaster that afternoon, as reported in this letter to GW. GW repudiated this measure as a breach of his agreement with Howe (see GW to Gates, 26, 27 Jan.; see also 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 , 10:101. A letter of 31 Jan. from the Board of War to Wharton and the Pennsylvania supreme executive council’s reply of 16 Feb. are in Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:216, 268–69). On 27 Jan. GW ordered Smith to release the prisoners immediately, which he did the next day.

The British prepared to continue on their way despite the damage they claimed had been done to their horses and wagons; but when Dr. Hammond Beaumont attempted to depart for Reading on 29 Jan., he was stopped by Col. George Gibson who, according to Sandford, “questioned the Propriety of the Doctors proceeding.” Lafayette, on his way to Congress at York in order to prepare his Canadian expedition, then appeared and began to examine Beaumont’s papers “and seemed perfectly satisfied, ’till General Conway appeared, who urged, that the Party had been confined for having brought a Quantity of Counterfeit Paper Money to distribute thro’ the Country, and that none but Congress or the Board of War could, in his Opinion, give Leave for any Part of the Flag to proceed—The Marquis desiring to speak to him apart, they retired into another Room, where they remained for a considerable Time—During this Interval several Persons who seemed to be in Authority were very illiberal in their Reflections upon the cruel Treatment of Prisoners in the Possession of the King’s Troops, upon the Impropriety of allowing Officers to traverse the Country, and upon General Washington’s Authority as to permitting them to proceed after the Matter had been laid before Congress—These and many more Observations were urged to the Marquis by the Company after his Return into the Room, tho’ he seemed to pay little attention to them; and addressing himself to Colonel Gibson, declared his Opinion that the last Orders received from General Washington should be obeyed.”

Disgusted at the long delays and the mistreatment of their horses and wagons, the British resolved to return to Philadelphia. William Patterson departed to inform GW of the fact, and at the Spread Eagle Tavern on 2 Feb., John Fitzgerald spoke to the returning British officers, expressing “the great Surprize of General Washington upon hearing of the Party’s Return” and urging “that the Obstacles complained of had been thrown in the Way without the Knowledge and totally contrary to the Intentions of his General, which,” admitted Sandford, “there was every Cause to believe.” GW remonstrated with Gates over the affair in a letter of 10 Feb., but by then the British wagons were already back in Philadelphia. See also William Howe’s account of the affair in his letter to GW of 21 Feb., and Duane, Marshall’s Diary description begins William Duane, ed. Extracts from the Diary of Christopher Marshall, Kept in Philadelphia and Lancaster, during the American Revolution, 1774–1781. 1877. Reprint. New York, 1969. description ends , 163–64.

2Hammond Beaumont had been surgeon of the British 26th Regiment of Foot since March 1761. His letter to John Fitzgerald, dated 25 Jan. from Lancaster, reads: “I beg Leave to represent to His Excellency General Washington thro’ you, that last Night at the Nine Mile Stone on my Road to Reading, I, together with my two Mates, were made Prisoners by Lieut. Colonel Smith, and my Waggon and Horses seized; now, Sir, as my Duty is of a distinct Nature, I cannot suppose myself included in any thing that might affect the Quarter Master Generals Department, especially as I was travelling under the Sanction of His Excellencys Pass, therefore hope for your Interposition with his Excellency for Leave to proceed on my Journey to Reading where I understand I am much wanted by the Sick there, or to return directly to Philadelphia” (quoted in Thomas Sandford’s account, January 1778, DLC:GW). Fitzgerald replied to Beaumont the following day: “I have received your Favor of yesterday and was a little surprized at your meeting any Detention on the Way—The Circumstances have been represented to His Excellency General Washington, and it is found that the whole have been grounded upon a Misrepresentation of Facts—As soon as the Letters which will be carried by Lieutt Patterson, are delivered to Lieut. Colol Smith, you and the other Gentlemen will be set at Liberty to pursue the Business on which you came out” (quoted in Thomas Sandford’s account, January 1778, DLC:GW).

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