James Madison Papers

Matthias Halsted to Virginia Delegates in Congress, 17 December 1780

Matthias Halsted
to Virginia Delegates in Congress

RC (Virginia State Library). Halsted’s signature at the close of his statement is followed by an unsigned addendum of five lines in a different and unknown hand. The docketing note on the cover sheet erroneously attributes the statement to “Mathew Halstead.”

[17 December 1780]

The Subscriber Matthias Halsted1 of Elizabeth Town in the State of New Jersey, Who was a Prisoner of War & Confined in the Sugar House Prison in the City of New York, from the 25th Day of March untill the 27th Day of September last, Hereby Represents & Declares; That Charles Williamson Esqr. & Lieut. John Smith, Both of Princess Ann County in the Common Wealth of Virginia; were During that time Confined in the same prison[;] That the Subscriber was Informed by the said Williamson & Smith that they & John Hancock Esqr. of the Said Princess Ann County, had been held in Close Confinement from the time of their Captivation Which was in May 1779, sometimes in the Sugar House Prison & sometimes in the Provost Prison,2 in which last Mentioned place the said John Hancock was Confined During the Confinement of the Subscribers in the Sugar H[ouse;] That the above named Mr. Williamson had Ap[plied?] to the British Commissary General of Priso[ners?] for a Parole to Return to Virginia, to Effect his Exchange, & the Exchanges of the Other Gentlemen above Named, to Which no satisfactory Attention has been paid; That he (Mr. Williamson) had been Informed that Neither of the Above Named Gentlemen would be Exchanged or Liberated until a Colonel Elligood3 in Virginia, should Either be sent into the British lines, Set at Liberty in Virginia, or some treaty Concluded Respecting him; That upon Mr. Williamson Requesting a Proposal in form[?] Respecting Col. Elligood, he was Informed Proposals must be made from this side; That the foregoing were Assigned as Reasons, for their not being Exchanged for some persons sent from Virginia with Proposals for them, Together with the following Reason, that the Persons sent from Virginia were Naval Prisoners, they Citizens, Consequently in Different Departments; That from Prisoners Who had left the Different Prisons in New York since the first of this Month, The Subscriber has learned the above Named Gentlemen Remain in the Situation before Described; That their Situation is truly Distressing; friendless, Moneyless, with an Allowance scarcely sufficient to support Nature, And too far Distant from home to procure Any supplies from thence—That in Making this Representation, the Subscriber has no Other Motive than the feelings of humanity toward persons suffering for their Attachment to their Country’s Interest, Whose Distress is Encreased by the Inattention of their Country to them; And his Anxious [De]sire to Procure the liberation of all in their situation, particularly of those Who Appear to Merit Attention; And That in Describing their Distressed Situation, The Subscriber is Restrained by a Parole from saying so much as Might with great Propriety be urged and from Which he could be withheld by no Other Consideration. In full Testimony of all Which I hereunto subscribe my Name at Philadelphia the 17th December 1780.4

Matthias Halsted

The Above representation is made to the Honl. the Delegates of Virginia, who are desired to remember that Mr. Halstead is a Prisoner on Parole, his Name on that Acct. it is expected will be kept a Secret.

1Matthias Halsted (1736–1820) had resigned as quartermaster of the 1st New Jersey Regiment in August 1776. Staten Island Tories took him captive during their raid into Elizabethtown on 24 March 1780 (Edwin F. Hatfield, History of Elizabeth, New Jersey: Including the Early History of Union County [New York, 1868], pp. 484–85). In 1781, when he was a brigade major and aide to Major General Philemon Dickinson of the New Jersey militia, Halsted again displayed interest in captives of the British by bringing charges (which he later failed to support) against Mr. John Adam, deputy commissary of prisoners (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1931–44). description ends , XXII, 73, 213, 423–24).

2To which of the sugar houses, used for the storage of rum, molasses, sugar, etc., on the city’s wharves, Halsted refers is not known. There were also a number of provost or common jails for the incarceration of criminals in times of peace. Halsted may mean the most notorious of these prisons—the one situated at the northeast corner of City Hall Park and known for many years after the Revolution as the Hall of Records (Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds., Public Papers of George Clinton, V, 192 n.; VI, 722 n.; James Grant Wilson, ed., The Memorial History of the City of New York, from its First Settlement to the Year 1892 [4 vols.; New York, 1892–93], II, 540). Williamson, Smith, and Hancock, all prominent civilians and active in the affairs of Lynnhaven Parish in Princess Anne County, were probably taken by the British during Commodore Sir George Collier’s invasion of Virginia in May 1779 (George Carrington Mason, ed., The Colonial Vestry Book of Lynnhaven Parish, Princess Anne County, Virginia, 1723–1786 [Newport News, Va., 1949], pp. 94, 114–26; above, Henry to Jay, 11 May 1779 and notes). They may have been captured to insure loyalists in Princess Anne County of kind treatment or, perhaps, to be exchanged for loyalists held by the patriots. Charles Williamson (ca. 1747–1797) became a justice of the peace in 1777, and was appointed the next year a commissioner to supply provisions to women whose husbands were in continental service, and a co-commissioner (with John Hancock, Sr.) to administer the estates of several British subjects (Princess Anne County Court Records, Will Book, No. 2, pp. 83–85, and Minute Book, No. 10, pp. 179, 246, both on microfilm in Virginia State Library; H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia [Richmond, 1931——], II, 245). John Hancock, Sr. (ca. 1732–ca. 1805), had been intermittently since 1762 a justice of the peace and was his county’s presiding justice at the time of his capture. He had been sheriff in 1772 and was to serve for four years between 1786 and 1804 as a member of the House of Delegates (Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, XIV [1921], 61; Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia 1776–1918 and of the Constitutional Conventions [Richmond, 1918], pp. 24, 40, 44, 63). John Smith (ca. 1741–1815) was frequently a constable after 1770. There is no evidence that he ever held a military rank (Princess Anne County Court Records, Minute Book, No. 9, p. 1, and Will Book, No. 3, p. 119). Although the date of their release is unknown, they were probably the three men on whose behalf the Virginia delegates moved for support from Congress on 22 December (q.v.).

3Jacob Ellegood (Elligood, Alligood) (b. ca. 1740), a leading Tory landowner of Princess Anne County, was lieutenant colonel of Virginia militia in 1775 when he accepted Governor Dunmore’s commission to raise the Queen’s Loyal Virginia Regiment, the first royal partisan corps organized during the Revolution. It consisted of about five hundred Tories recruited in Princess Anne and Norfolk counties. Ellegood was captured at the Battle of Great Bridge on 9 December 1775, and remained a prisoner until April 1781, when he was paroled after much negotiation. He continued on the roster of Lynnhaven Parish, where he had been a justice of the peace, until November 1778, when he was replaced as a lay official because he was “out of the county.” In 1788 he returned briefly to Virginia, where his wife had remained in order to safeguard the property interests of a minor son. Then he moved to New Brunswick (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , III, 665; IV, 164, 622 n., 644 n.; V, 428; Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, XIV [1906–7], 252 n.; George C. Mason, ed., Colonial Vestry Book of Lynnhaven Parish, pp. 98–109; Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine, V [1923–24], 144; “Transcript of the Manuscript Books and Papers of the Commission of Enquiry into the Losses and Services of the American Loyalists … in the Public Record Office of England, 1783–1790,” LVIII, 72–92, in the New York Public Library).

4Although the present location of this manuscript (see headnote) permits little doubt that JM and Bland forwarded it to Jefferson, no reference to it has been found in the papers of JM or Jefferson. The preceding footnotes furnish evidence of the release of the four principals named in the document but not as the result of exchanging Ellegood for the other three men. See Board of War to Virginia Delegates and Motion of Delegates, [22 December, 1780].

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