George Washington Papers
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From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 23 November 1779

To Thomas Jefferson

Head Quarters West-point 23d Novr 1779.

Dr Sir

I have been honored with your Excellencys favors of the 1st 2d and 8th of October and the several inclosures.

The measure of the Council in remanding Governor Hamilton and his companions back to confinement, on their refusing to sign the parole tendered them, is perfectly agreeable to the practice of the enemy. The particular part objected to I have always understood enters into the paroles given by our officers.1

In regard to your lettre of the 8th, I would hope with your Excellency, that there will be no necessity for a competition in cruelties with the enemy.2 Indeed it is but justice to observe, that of late, or rather since Sir Henry Clinton has had the command, the treatment of our prisoners has been more within the line of humanity, and in general very different from that which they experienced under his predecessors. I shall not fail however as a matter of duty to pay proper attention to such deviations from this conduct, as may appear the result of mere wantonness or cruelty and that have not been incurred by the irregularities of our prisoners. I &.

Df, in James McHenry’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Henry Hamilton, who had been British lieutenant governor of Detroit, and other officers and officials captured at Vincennes had refused to sign Virginia paroles that obligated them to “not say or do any thing directly or indirectly to the prejudice of the United States of America or any of them” (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 3:96). For Hamilton’s continued refusal to sign his parole, see Jefferson to GW, 28 Nov.; see also GW to Jefferson, 26 December. Hamilton finally was paroled in October 1780 (see Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 4:24–25).

2In his letter of 8 Oct. to GW, Jefferson promised to treat enemy prisoners just as the British treated Virginia prisoners. He wrote: “I shall give immediate orders for having in readiness every engine which the Enemy have contrived for the destruction of our unhappy citizens captivated by them The presentiment of these operations is shocking beyond expression. I pray heaven to avert them: but nothing in this world will do it but a proper conduct in the Enemy. In every event I shall resign myself to the hard necessity under which I shall act.”

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