Thomas Jefferson Papers

William Phillips to John Jay, 11 July 1779

William Phillips to John Jay

CharlottesVille July 11th. 1779.


The inclosed dispatch from me to Sir Henry Clinton contains copies of a variety of papers relating to Lieutenant Governor Hamilton a British prisoner of war now in confinement in Virginia. I have thought it my indispensable duty to give information to Sir Henry Clinton of the Lieutenant Governor’s situation and of the means I have taken to endeavour at procuring his enlargement. I have imagined that transactions of so publick a nature must necessarily become known to all the parties concerned and my solicitude which is natural for the welfare of a brother Officer at present in great distress has induced me to be earnest in my hopes that some mode might be fallen upon between General Washington and Sir Henry Clinton for Lieutenant Governor Hamilton’s release.

Upon my sending the inclosed dispatch with my other letters for the examination of Colonel Bland that Officer was pleased to sign his permission for all my letters to pass but the dispatch in question, observing upon it that he did not think himself authorised to sign his permission as it was a matter of a publick nature.

I take the liberty, therefore, of sending it to you, Sir, under Colonel Bland’s seal, requesting the favour of your Excellency to have the goodness to allow of its being sent into New York by Captain Edmonston who will have the honour of waiting upon you for that purpose. I have the honour to be, Sir, with great personal respect Your Excellency’s most humble servant,

W Phillips

Tr (DLC: PCC, No. 57). In an unidentified hand and endorsed in two different hands: “M Genl. Phillips to the President of Congress July 11, 1779. desiring permission for E. to carry to Sr. H. Clinton an inclosed account of Hamilton.”

The inclosed dispatch: I.e., Phillips’ letter to Sir Henry Clinton, dated 8 July 1779 (copy in DLC: PCC, No. 57), the contents of which are indicated in the letter above and its endorsement. Phillips’ letter was referred by Congress to the Board of War, which reported on 7 Aug. that “the affair of Lieutenant Governor Hamilton … lies entirely with the Government of the State of Virginia, and Congress do not therefore now choose to take any measures therein” (report dated 5 Aug.). This report was referred to a committee of three, who in turn reported, and Congress voted, 21 Aug., “that as the imprisonment of Lieutenant Governor Hamilton was the act of the executive power of the State of Virginia, to whom it properly belonged to decide on the treatment suitable to his conduct: and as the American prisoners of war in New York have been hitherto denied the liberty of communicating to any public body within the United States the severities exercised upon them, Congress ought not to indulge Major General Phillips with forwarding his letters and papers respecting the said Hamilton” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. W. C. Ford and others, Washington, 1904–1937 description ends , xiv, 933–4, 985). On the Hamilton case generally, see TJ to Bland, 8 June, and references there.

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