Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Weedon, 25 April 1781

From George Weedon

Fredericksburg Ap. 25. 1781.

Dear Sir

I have the honor to enclose your Excellency Copy of Genl: Phillip’s Letter of 12th Inst. also Copies of his returns of Prisoners, and my answer of this date. General Phillips seems from the Complexion of his Letter to complain of an enfringement on the sacred rules of Flags and mentions that borne by Mr. Armstead; In justification of myself, I enclose your Excellency Copy of Mr. Armstead1 Credentials; My Letter to the British General on this subject had the honor of transmitting you Copy of, dated 6th Inst. I know not who Mr. Armstead has taken with him under the sanction of his Mission and have therefore enclosed Genl. Phillips a Copy of my Flag with the persons names and Business they went on. On perusing the List of Prisoners, your Excellency will judge how far an Exchange for them can be carried into Execution with propriety. I would only add that if we have any, not already given up to the Continental Commissary of Prisoners I think they had better be order’d to a Convenient place for Exchange. It would give contentment to the Militia and would be a means of stimulating them to more ready Exertions, when they found the attention of the Executive not wanting to serve them. There are some few in this Town and I make no doubt but we have several in Winchester, indeed I should judge it right to order down as many as would Exchange all those actually taken in Arms, carrying this as far into execution as possible, with such as have not been deliver’d over to the Continental Commissary of Prisoners and obtaining Baron de Steuben’s Order for as many as would make up the deficiency. We have a number of Prisoners there, that are, I fear little attended too, and should for my own part be for liberating as many of our Countrymen with them, as the just rules of War would authorize. The Marquis is now crossing the River. I understand the Frederick and Berkely Men were to March last Monday, they are not however yet arrived.

I am with perfect Esteem & Regd. Your Excellencies Most Obt Servt.,

G Weedon

RC (PHi); in an aide’s hand, signed by Weedon; endorsed. Dft (PPAP). Enclosures: (1) Copy of Phillips to Weedon, 12 Apr. 1781, missing. (2) Copy of Weedon to Phillips, 25 Apr. 1781, missing. (3) Copies of Phillips’ returns of prisoners. These may have included a “List of Prisoners on board the Prison Ship, Portsmouth,” dated 23 Feb. 1781 (see below) and embracing 22 names (NHi); the two lists of British and German prisoners referred to in the note to TJ to Steuben, 6 Apr. 1781, q.v.; and possibly other unidentified returns. (4) Copy of credentials of Armistead, missing.

On 26 Apr. Weedon wrote Steuben: “I was yesterday favored with a second letter [the first being that of 6 Apr.] from Genl Phillips inclosing returns of the American prisoners of war in his hands as also a list of some British and German prisoners of war in our possession. Copies of his letter with the returns and my answer of this date have the pleasure to transmit. On perusing the several Documents you will judge on the propriety of carrying this matter Generally into Execution. My first views were nothing further than a partial transaction, which might, or might not be improved, and if I may be allowed to give my opinion, I would now close with General Phillips so far in a General Exchange as to liberate all our Countrymen in their possession who ware actually taken in Arms, beginning with all those first, who have not been delivered over to the Continental Commissary of prisoners of which we have several in this state and Ordering down as many of the Exchangeable lines as would compleat any deficiency in that of Soldier, Sailor, or Citizen. It would give contentment to the Militia and would be a means of stimulating them to more ready exertions when they found the Authority of the commanding officer interposed in their behalf. We have a great number of prisoners in Winchester who are at liberty to range at large, many of whom I dare say find means to make their escape. Would it not therefore be better to Exchange them on a liberal plan, than suffer them to get from us, and our men to remain on Board a prison ship in Captivity? I have informed Genl. Phillips that anything considered in a general way of Exchange must be first approved by you, and woud therefore submit it whether a letter from you to the British Genl. on the subject might not be necessary” (Weedon to Steuben, 26 Apr. 1781, NHi). So far as is known, Steuben did not write to Phillips in response to Weedon’s suggestion. On the day that Weedon wrote, Steuben was much engaged with Phillips in another kind of exchange—the battle of Petersburg—out of which came one of Phillips’ typically irritating letters. On the day following the battle Phillips wrote Steuben that a servant of one of his aides-de-camp had been taken and requested that he be sent back as soon as possible. “I conceive,” Phillips added with ill-becoming sarcasm, “nothing but the little hurry of yesterday could have prevented this being done without application, as I imagine you are a Gentleman who perfectly understands those civilities, which have been practiced by the King’s Officers on all occasions, particularly in the instance of General Stubens Servant and others taken by Lieutenant Colonel Simcoe in the last expedition, who were sent back immediately” (Phillips to Steuben, 26 Apr. 1781, NHi). Steuben replied coldly: “Before I received your letter … relative to your Aide de Camps servant, orders had been given to send him in. Be assured sir that I know and that I wish to observe that politeness from Gentleman to Gentleman and from Officer to Officer. If I was deficient in not sending him in the same day he was taken, yourself have been happy enough to find my Excuse—a Retreat from before three times my number, commanded by General Phillips, certainly demanded all my attention. When my aide-de-camps servant was taken, I wrote politely by a flag to Colo. Simcoe for his exchange and he was polite enough to grant my request. You Sir cannot be more inclined than I am to alleviate the misfortunes of war by admitting every mutual good office that the most liberal customs will allow”; Steuben did not underscore the word “politely” though his repetition of the word in the same sentence had that effect (Steuben to Phillips, 30 Apr. 1781, NHi). By an ironic circumstance that must have filled Steuben with chagrin, orders concerning the aide-de-camp’s servant were not carried through; for Robert Gamble reported on 2 May: “The Waiter belonging to Genl Phillips Aid de Camp instead of going in has been sent here, I suppose thro’ mistake. He is sent down to the Marquis accompanied with the waiter belonging to Lieut. Lalor of the Queen’s Rangers” (Gamble to Steuben, Cumberland Old Courthouse, 2 May 1781, NHi). In view of this contretemps, it is very doubtful whether Steuben could have brought himself to carry forward Weedon’s suggestion of a general exchange even if he had approved it.

There are some few in this town: There is in NHi, dated 20 Apr. 1781, “A Return of the British Prisoners at Richmond,” numbering twenty-three and including two whom TJ subsequently paroled—Captain William Thompson “of a privateer on parole near this place” and James Downie (see Downie and Thompson to TJ, 4 May 1781); from this it is evident that the prisoners in Richmond on 20 Apr. must have been transferred to Fredericksburg before 25 Apr. and must have been those alluded to here.

1Deleted in RC: “has taken with him.”

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