George Washington Papers
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To George Washington from Henry Laurens, 19 November 1777

From Henry Laurens

york [Pa.] 19th Novemr 1777

Sir

Since I had the honour of writing to you the 13th to 15th Inst. I have received no other Commands from Congress your Excellency with except the two Inclosed Resolves.

the 15th Inst. relative to Clothing & Blankets for the Army.1

the 17 Inst. for appointments to Rank in the Army the Chevalier Duportail, Messrs Du Lemoy, dela Radierre & Govion—Commissions in obedience to the Resolve are granted & the Several dates Noted on the Resolve.2

A person from Philadelphia well known by the Name of John Brown was Reported to Congress yesterday by Mr Morris as having come to him with a Message from Genl Sir Wm Howe through the medium of Mr Willing to Congress—importing generally that Sir William & Lord Howe were desirous of treating for terms of Peace with Congress that every thing that ever had been expected by America (Independency as he understood excepted) would be granted & Congress Money ratified.

this Man pretends to have come through Genl Potters Camp & to have dined with the General—he had been Some eight or ten days from Philadelphia at Manheim Lancaster & other places—at Lancaster the Executive Council of this State had ordered him into Custody. he was released from confinement upon Mr Morris’s application and promise to bring him before Congress—the House Refused to see him & Resolved to remand him under Guard to the power of the State Council.3 I have the honour to be Sir your Excellencys Most Obt humble Servt.

P.S. Congress in this Morning Session Resolved to make a Strict enquiry into the treatment of American Soldiers & other Inhabitants of America now or late prisoners in Philadelphia, a Copy of the Resolution will be added to those above mentioned—I have been instructed by Congress to add a request to your Excellency to demand access by a proper Officer to Such prisoners as remain alive in order an effectual enquiry may be made & a Satisfactory answer as to facts returned—Congress are of opinion that the demand may be justly founded on the precedent of Agents from the Enemy appointed on their part & permitted by Congress to visit Hessian prisoners on this Side.4

LB, DNA:PCC, item 13; ADf, ScHi: Henry Laurens Papers.

1Laurens enclosed Congress’s resolution of 15 Nov. directing that Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia “be requested to send, without delay, to the army under [GW’s] command, the blankets and other articles of cloathing that may be collected . . . to answer the pressing demands of the army previous to the arrival of supplies of cloathing expected by Congress” (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 , 9:906–7). GW had written to Laurens about this matter on 11 November.

2Ibid., 932.

3According to the testimony of John Brown, given to the Pennsylvania council of safety on 21 Nov., Brown left Philadelphia on 4 Nov. as the messenger of Robert Morris’s business associate Thomas Willing, who had met with Gen. William Howe at Howe’s request. Willing had told Brown that Howe had stated that he and his brother, Admiral Richard Howe, had “full power to treat with Congress . . . provided they would Rescind Independency . . . [and] desired this to be made known to some Member of Congress . . . that he (General Howe) would put them in the same State they were in 1763, and give them more priviledges than they had ever Asked; that he did not desire us to lay down Our Arms nor cease from our preparations ’till matters were accommodated; that upon such accommodation he would withdraw his Fleet and Army, and no Standing Army should be kept up in this Country; And that the paper Currency should be established” (Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 11: 345–46). Brown traveled to Robert Morris’s house at Manheim, where he waited several days for Morris’s arrival. After revealing the news to Morris and to William Duer, whom Morris summoned to hear the story, Brown went to Lancaster where he was brought before the committee of safety, but Morris and Duer provided bail, enabling him to proceed to Congress at York.

Congress resolved on 18 Nov. that Brown should “be arrested and sent under guard to the Executive Council of Pennsylvania, to be dealt with as they in their Wisdom may deem proper,” and he was so arrested on 19 Nov. (ibid., 344–45). After hearing Brown’s testimony, the council of safety on 21 Nov. ruled that Brown appeared “to have aided and assisted the Enemies of this Commonwealth at open war against this State, and to have formed Combinations with them for betraying the United States into their hands” and ordered him to be confined in the Lancaster jail (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:25). Four days later the council ordered that Brown’s testimony be published with a rebuttal charging that Howe had chosen such an indirect mode of communication to allow him to evade his promises if necessary and warning citizens not to be deceived by the “base Artifices of Tyrants” (Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 11:348–49; see also the Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser [Lancaster], 29 Nov. 1777). On 30 Nov., Morris wrote supreme executive council president Thomas Wharton, Jr., about Brown’s case. “I firmly believe him innocent in his Intentions,” Morris said, and he asked that Brown, who “was many years a faithfull servant in my employ, & is justly entitled to my Friendship,” be paroled to Manheim (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:45). Indeed, on 23 Jan. 1778 the supreme executive council paroled Brown to Manheim, where he evidently remained until finally discharged on 8 April 1778 (Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 11:406–7, 453, 459). Brown should not be confused with the marine committee secretary of the same name, another associate of Morris. Manheim is in Raphoe Township, Lancaster County, Pa., about ten miles northwest of the town of Lancaster.

4Congress’s resolution asked GW to inquire into the mistreatment of American prisoners by the British and report to Congress (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 , 9:939). For the “precedent of Agents from the Enemy,” see Congress’s resolution of 21 May 1776 which set forth the rules regarding prisoners of war and stipulated that the British had the right to inspect prisoners for whom they were supplying provisions and other necessaries (ibid., 4:370–73).

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