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To George Washington from the Board of War, 25 April 1780

From the Board of War

War Office [Philadelphia] April 25. 1780.

Sir

We have the honor to inclose you the copy of a letter from the Governor of Maryland proposing the exchange of Lt Col. Conolly for Lieut. Col. Ramsay, the eldest prisoner of that rank in the Maryland Line.1 We will take the liberty of stating to your Excellency the facts that occur to us; respecting Lt Col. Conolly.

It appears by the Journals of Congress of Decr 1st 1775, that Conolly & his associates were apprehended by the Committee of Frederick Town, who desired the advice of Congress with regard to the prisoners.2 On the 8th of the same month, Congress resolved that Conolly & his Associates should be confined in prison at Philadelphia at the Continental expence until the further order of Congress;3 from that time Conolly has been, whether in confinement or on parole, wholly under the direction of Congress.

On the first of Novr last, Congress resolved that he should be considered as a prisoner of war, & exchangeable for a Lieut. Colonel in the Service of the States:4 Of this the Comy Genl of prisoners was duly notified. On the 13th day of Jany last Congress adopted a plan proposed by the board for placing all prisoners under the direction of the Comy Genl of prisoners; a part of which plan (in order to induce the States to acquiesce in it) provided that Individual States should from time to time receive the first benefit of exchanges of prisoners taken by their respective Citizens; the residue of their prisoners to be applied to the Continental account. the journals of Congress containing this plan are herewith transmitted.5 It is under this provision that Maryland claims a right to Exchange Lt Col. Conolly, for Lt Col. Ramsay. We cannot deny the Justice of the claim: and think it rather a favorable circumstance that they are desirous of giving Conolly in exchange for a continental Officer. We now beg leave to submit the affair to your Excellencys direction; and to request (if your opinion of the claim coincides with ours) that you would take the measures requisite to effect the exchange. Col. Ramsay imagines every attempt will be fruitless unless Col. Conolly is permitted to go into New York personally to solicit the Exchange.6 We have the honor to be With the highest respect Yr Excellency’s Most Obed. Servts

by ord.
Ben. Stoddert Secy

ALS, DLC:GW. GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison docketed this letter as “recd 2 May.”

1The enclosure was a copy of a letter written at Annapolis on 8 April by Gov. Thomas Sim Lee, on behalf of the Maryland Council, to the Board of War: “We have been informed there have been frequent instances of States exchanging Officers taken by their Militia for those of their respective States in the hands of the Enemy even without an Application to your Honorable Board or His Excellency. If we are rightly informed and such practice has generally prevailed and been a[c]quiesced in, it is our earnest desire that Lieutenant Colo. Connolly, who was captivated in this state and is now in your Custody, being deemed and adjudged by Congress, a prisoner of War and redeemable, should be exchanged for Lieut: Colo. Ramsay, an Officer of extraordinary and distinguished Merit in the Maryland Line: as those Gentlemen are equal in rank, we flatter ourselves no Objection can be made to such exchange. This Application would not have been so long delayed, if we had not expected that a Genl Cartel would have been established and rendered it unnecessary” (DLC:GW).

2See 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 , 3:394.

3See 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 , 3:415.

4See 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 , 15:1231.

5The enclosed congressional resolutions dated 13 Jan. are in DLC:GW; 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 , 16:48–52.

6GW replied to the Board of War from headquarters at Morristown on 4 May: “I have received the Honor of Your Letter of the 25th Ulto with the Inclosure. In consequence of the requisition by His Excellency the Governor of Maryland—and the Board’s opinion of the propriety of the claim—Mr Skinner has been directed to propose to the Enemy the exchange of L. Colo. Ramsay for Lt. Colo. Connolly. Previous to this, I had supposed that Citizens or Inhabitants—captured by the Enemy—were the Objects to whom the Act of the 13th of January meant a preference should be given in exchanges for prisoners taken by particular States—and that all Officers in captivity were to stand upon a common footing to be released on the usual principle of priority of capture. But be this as it may, the Act is only recommendatory and the Council of Maryland have settled the point in the present case in favor of a Military Officer by claiming his exchange & the rights that have been exercised on several similar occasions by Other States. The indulgence has never been directed in any instance to a more deserving Officer than Colo. Ramsay. He set out for New York yesterday and would carry the proposition for his release” (Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

GW had written Abraham Skinner, deputy commissary general of prisoners, from Morristown on 3 May: “By a Letter I have just received from His Excellency the Governor of Maryland and One from the Honourable the Board of War upon the same subject, I find that the State, by whom Lt Colo. Conolly was taken in 1775 and who is still a prisoner, are very desirous of having him exchanged for Lt Colo. Ramsay. They claim it as a right which has been exercised by Other States in similar instances and which it is farther said is reserved by the late Resolution of Congress—and they have requested that it may be carried into effect. Under these circumstances I can not object to the exchange—and You will write to the British Commissary and make the Exchange if he will agree to it” (Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

GW also wrote Lee from Morristown on 4 May: “On the 2d Instant I received the Honor of Your Excellency’s Letter of the 8th Ulto and also One from the Board of War on the same subject. The information the Council had received, of particular States having made exchanges of prisoners taken by them for Officers belonging to their line, was well founded. It has been done in several instances, though without any interference in the business on my part—and therefore I could not but direct the Commissary of prisoners on Your Excellency’s application and the Board of War’s opinion that it was also warranted by a late Act of Congress respecting prisoners in the like predicament, to propose to the Enemy the Exchange of Lt Colo. Ramsay for Lt Colo. Conolly. For my own part I have wished to see the Exchanges of prisoners conducted on the broadest & most general footing—in the order of their captivity—as being the most equitable mode, and that All taken from the Enemy whether by the United or Individual States, should be considered as One—common stock, for the common relief of Ours according to this Rule. This has been the case with respect to the prisoners made by the Army in every instance of exchanges under my direction; but the System having not entirely prevailed—Maryland has certainly the same right to benefit her Officers by those of her own capture, that Other States had. And the indulgence has not been exercised in any instance in favor of a more deserving Officer than Colo. Ramsay. He set out for New York yesterday and would carry with him the proposition for his release” (LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, MdAA: Brown Books; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; see also the Maryland Council to GW, 8 April). For further correspondence related to the exchange of Lt. Col. Nathaniel Ramsay and Loyalist lieutenant colonel John Connolly, see the Board of War to GW, 13 June; GW to the Board of War, 16 and 25 June; and GW to Skinner, 17 Sept. and 7 Oct. (all DLC:GW).

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