James Madison Papers

Committee Report on Relief to Prisoners, [8 January] 1781

Committee Report on Relief to Prisoners

MS (NA: PCC, No. 19, VI, 329–30). Written by JM. Docketed by clerk “Report of Comee. on report of Comee. on letters from Gen. Washington of Decr. 8th &c. Read & Passed Jany 8th. 1781.”

[8 January 1781]

The Committee to whom was referred the Report of a Committee on Letters from Genl Washington &c.1 report the following Resolutions.

Resolved, That it be earnestly recommended to the States from N. Hamshire to N. Carolina inclusive to procure & forward to the Treasurer of the U. States or to their Commissy of Prisoners appointed to reside in N York by the first day of March next for the use of the officers in captivity at that place and on Long Island2 & to be charged to the United States the following sums respectively in specie or bills of exchange on N. York3 viz N. Hamshire 2,319. Massachussetts 13,334. Rhode Island 1,160 Connecticut 9,855 New York 4,347. New Jersey 5,217. Pennsylvania 13,334. Delaware 987. Maryland 9,159. Virginia 14,492 No Carolina 5,796.4

Resolved that it be permitted to such of the said States as can not provide their respective proportions within the limited time, in specie or bills as aforesaid, to export to N York Lumber boards scantling Iron Hemp Tar or pitch to be consigned to the American Commissary of Prisoners sending them, in sufficient quantity to procure the same.5

That to prevent a repetition of the distresses to which the want of Specie has exposed the Officers of the United States in Captivity, it be further recommended to the States above named to procure & transmit to the Treasurer of the United States half yearly during the war reckoning from the first day of March next, the sum of   Dollars in specie in the proportions above assigned. The same to be6 credited to the sd States respectively.

1In his letter of 8 December 1780 to the president of Congress, Washington explained that he could not proceed further in his negotiations with General Henry Clinton for the exchange of prisoners until an arrangement had been agreed upon concerning the expenditures of each belligerent for subsisting and otherwise caring for the captives taken from the other (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 , XX, 443–44). The “&c.” stands for a letter of 16 December, with its inclosures, from three of those captives held on Long Island—Brigadier General James Irvine of Pennsylvania, Colonel John Ely of Connecticut, and Colonel George Mathews of Virginia. Having been chosen in November 1780 by their fellow prisoners of commissioned rank to present their hard situation to Congress and ask it for immediate relief and support, these three officers gained their temporary release on parole from Clinton. He assured them that Congress or the state governments might send various commodities to New York City, where the proceeds from their sale could be used to pay the prisoners’ debts and provide for their future subsistence. Clinton stipulated only that these goods should be sold at fixed prices, so as not to undercut the Tory merchants in that city, and that he be permitted to provide relief in a similar way to the convention prisoners in Virginia and Maryland (NA: PCC, No. 78, XII, 195–96, 199–200, 203–9). Thereupon the three officers proceeded to Philadelphia, addressed the above-mentioned letter of 16 December to Congress (ibid., No. 78, XII, 191–94), and included with it their correspondence with the British military authorities. On 18 December Congress referred these documents, together with Washington’s dispatch of 8 December, to John Sullivan, John Mathews, and Theodorick Bland. On 6 January 1781, the day that their report was read, Congress assigned it for reconsideration by JM, Joseph Montgomery (Pa.), and Jesse Root (Conn.). Judging from the resolutions here given, Congress had deemed the briefer report of the Sullivan committee too mild in tone and not sufficiently specific in content (Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 31 and n. 2).

2Here JM wrote and crossed out “the sum of 80,000 dollars.”

3Following “York,” JM wrote and then deleted “in the following proportions.”

4Only to this point was the report acceptable to Congress. Each of the remaining two paragraphs is lined out in the published journal (ibid., XIX, 38–39) and marked out with a rough cross in the manuscript. Although Jefferson had been informed as early as 12 October 1780 that the British would permit tobacco to go to New York for this purpose, Congress resisted the proposal as “an absolute breach of faith” pledged to France (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 , IV, 33–34, 550, 656).

5The meaning becomes clearer when the sentence’s final comma is shifted to follow “Prisoners” and when “the same” is replaced by “the quota mentioned above.”

6Following “to be,” JM struck out “charged to the United.”

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