Benjamin Franklin Papers

Notes for a Report from the Committee of [Secret] Correspondence, [after 25 January 1776]

Notes for a Report from the Committee of [Secret]Correspondence

Two ADS:9 National Archives

The arrival of captives taken in Canada, and the camp followers who were with them, created a new set of problems for the towns where the uninvited guests were billeted. Local authorities, hard pressed to house and feed the new arrivals, took their difficulties to Congress, which followed its usual practice of referring such matters and others to standing or ad hoc committees. The Congressional Journals are often uninformative about why these committees were given particular assignments, and the referral to which Franklin is responding here is a case in point. On January 25, 1776, Congress asked what it designated as the committee of correspondence to report on four letters.1 One was from a local committee, one from a captured surgeon, one from a group of British officers in custody, and one from General Washington. Those letters had one thing in common: they were not the business of the standing committee appointed the previous November, which later came to be known as the committee of secret correspondence; its rubric was to maintain contact with friends of America abroad.2 But Congress seems to have been so busy improvising a workable system that it ignored its own rubrics and used that committee, at least in its early months, for other kinds of correspondence.3 Franklin and his fellow members had a Pandora’s box of problems.


[After January 25, 1776]

The Committee to whom the Letter from the Committee of Trenton was referred, are of Opinion,

That the Receipt thereof be acknowledged, and the Thanks of the Congress express’d for the Readiness with which its Orders relating to Gen. Prescot and Capt. Chace had been executed.4 The Same Committee on considering Dr. Huddlestone’s Letter, are of Opinion

That he be immediately set at Liberty on the Terms he mentions. And that a verbal Proposition be sent by him to General Carleton to enter into a Stipulation on both sides, not only to release all Physicians and Surgeons; but that if by the Fortune of War, the Hospital of either Army should fall into the Power of the other, the same Subsistence and Supplies should be afforded to the Sick and Wounded as if Friends; and that neither they nor the Attendants of the Hospital should be considered or detain’d as Prisoners. And it is farther the Opinion of the Committee, that if Govr. Carleton should not agree to the mutual Release of Surgeons Dr. Huddlestone is to be on his Parole to return immediately hither.5

Notation: Report on Letter from Come. of Trenton and on Dr. Huddleston’s Letter Pospon’d 1776


Agreed to set Dr. Huddlestone at Liberty on the Terms he mentions. And send by him a Proposition to Gen. Carleton, that it be Stipulated on both Sides, not only to release all Surgeons; but that if by the Fortune of War, the Hospital of either Army should fall into the Power of the other, the same Care should be taken of the Sick and Wounded as if Friends, and that nether they nor the Attendants of the Hospital should be considered as Prisoners. And if Govr. Carleton should not agree to the mutual release of Surgeons, Dr. Huddleston is to be on his Parole to return immediately.6

Officers Answer at Lancaster

1. To be left on the Footing it was plac’d on in our Letter of the 18th.7

2. Resolve related merely to the Officers at Trenton, no Complaint having been received of those at Lancaster.8

3. 2 Dollars per Week was the Allowance of Congress, the Officers may refuse it or add to it on their own Acct as they please.

4. Enquire the meaning9-High Accounts from Trenton.

5. See the Resolution of Congress-express Stronger than before what relates to Gen. Schuyler’s Promise.1

6. We shall be extreamly sorry to be reduc’d to the Necessity of confining them in Prison if they cancel their Parole.

7. Cloathing ordered by us. Their Cloathing ordered to be brought up.2

8. Provided for in our former Letter.3

9. and 10. It is not desired to remove any Officer to the Prejudice of his Health. Directions given in former Letter relating to the Women and Children.4

Gen. Washington’s Letter

All the Tent Cloth to be got, shall be forwarded. Some arrived in Maryland.

No Arms to spare here. Write to the Assemblys &c. to strengthen G. Washington’s Application.5

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9BF’s two sets of notes, which we have numbered, are separated in the papers of the Continental Congress, although they must have been written at virtually the same time.

1JCC, IV, 87, 90–1.

2See the headnote on the committee’s letter to Lee above, Nov. 30.

3A better substantiated example is the report to Congress below, Feb. 14, which dealt with a matter that was again outside the committee’s rubric. The writers there refer to themselves, as far as we know for the first time, as the committee of secret correspondence; the adjective did not appear in the JCC until May: IV, 345.

4The letter of Jan. 23 from the Trenton committee (National Archives) acknowledged an order from Congress the day before to send the two prisoners to Philadelphia. Brig. Gen. Richard Prescott had been captured in Canada; he was kept in close confinement, until ill health brought him relief, as reprisal for the way he had treated Ethan Allen as a captive in Montreal, and was later exchanged for Gen. Sullivan. Robert Chase had commanded the Gaspée, the brig on which Carleton had tried to reach Quebec, and had been captured with her in November; he was eventually returned to Trenton, paroled, and then sent to York, Pa. JCC, IV, 23, 78, 101, 112; Richard Cannon, The Historical Record of the Seventh Regiment, or the Royal Fusiliers. . .(London, 1847), p. 108; Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution (John R. Alden, ed.; 2 vols., New York, 1952), I, 260; 2 Pa. Arch., I, 410.

5On Jan. 23 Richard Huddleston, the surgeon of Prescott’s regiment, explained in a dignified letter to Congress (National Archives) that he had given all the assistance he could to sick American soldiers retreating from Canada, and asked to be sent back because Quebec needed surgeons. They were friends to both sides, he argued, and by the rules of war might not be made prisoner; he promised if returned to carry no intelligence.

6This repetitive paragraph, we conjecture, was BF’s draft of a resolution on which Congress did not act.

7The Lancaster committee had reported difficulties with the British officers in custody there, and on Jan. 18 Congress had sent advice on how to handle the problems: JCC, IV, 66–7. The committee replied on Jan. 22, enclosing the officers’ answer to that letter: National Archives. BF’s notes are on points raised in the answer, in this case a query whether bills that the officers drew for their support would be honored.

8On Jan. 12 Congress had castigated the officers for their extravagance, and limited captured officers to a weekly allowance of two dollars: JCC, IV, 51–2.

9The officers explained that they were billeted in taverns, which were expensive.

1This was an old issue. The officers had complained that the paroles they had given were conditioned on Schuyler’s promise not to separate them from their men. The Congressional letter of Jan. 18 pointed out that the General had said nothing about such a promise and had no authority to make it; the officers’ answer insisted that it had been made and confirmed by Congress.

2The private soldiers, according to their officers, had too little clothing to cover themselves.

3The officers contended that when the baggage arrived they had to be with their men to insure a fair distribution. The letter of the 18th allowed two to be present for the purpose of paying the soldiers.

4The officers explained that they could not change quarters because they were short of baggage and many were in bad health. Their answer closed by thanking Congress for promising, in its letter, to repay the Lancaster committee for the food it was distributing to the women and children.

5In his letter, Jan. 14, Washington requested tents. He also stressed the shortage of arms; he was asking the assemblies of Mass. and adjacent colonies for whatever weapons could be spared. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, IV, 237–9.

Index Entries