George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Pelatiah Webster, 19 November 1777

From Pelatiah Webster

Philada 19th Novr 1777.

I am desired to give a State of the American Prisoners now in this City, which is as Near as I can collect as follows—I calld this day at the State house Where the Officers are confin’d (Abt 60) Saw Majr Join, Capt. Plunket & Leiut. Teagle who were Well, & Informd that their Allowance of Provisions were not half Sufficient, their fire wood Very Scant. Sometimes for Several days they had no fire. Many of them without Money And At great Distance from their Friends, that their Bedding & blankets were greatly deficient, that they had Sent in a Petition to Genl How relative to their Provisions & firing to Which they hoped An Answer but had not Recd it.1

I have Tended on the American Prisoners (Privates) in the New Goal abt 400—for Abt three Weeks & Carried them Sundry Supplies of Provisions & Cloathing procured by the Charitable contributions of Sundry Inhabitants of this City. their Sufferings Are Very great Many of them already Naked, with Very little Bedding & blankets Their Allowance of Provisions by no means Sufficient, with Very little firing.2 the Supplies from the Inhabitants cant be of Long continuance the Scarcity & high price being really Alarming. beef 3/ @ 5/ lb. Veal same Flour 4 @ 6 £ hund & Very little to be bot butter 10/ lb. & Other things in proportion Blankets & Cloathing & firing Are Most Indispensibly Necessary to the Officers & Privates, Especially the Latter.

It Were to be Wished that Whatever Relief is Sent in to them might be directed to Some Citizen in Town Who may See it Distributed. This wod prevent Many Jealosies that Individuals do not receive the parcels or Quota Designed for them—As I am Ignorant of the Dispositions of the American Army, & know not to What department A Representation of this Sort ought to be directed. I address this Generally to Any officer of that Army, with desire that it may be Communicated to the proper Department by their Very hume Servant

Pelatiah Webster

N.B. the prisoners in the New Gaol, (privates) have Lately received Some Supplies of blankets but by no means Sufficient.

ALS, DLC:GW. This letter is addressed “To Any Officer of Genl Washingtons Army to be forwarded to the General or any other officer Whom the Contents may concern.”

1For copies of the Continental army and navy prisoners’ petition to William Howe, dated 17 Nov. and signed by Maj. Oliver Towles “for himself & the other Officers at their request,” and Howe’s reply to the prisoners of 24 Nov., see Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 12 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964–. description ends , 10:519–20, 591–92. Officers Levin Joynes, David Plunket, and Severn Teackle had been captured by the British in October 1777. Levin Joynes (1753–1794), who had been commissioned a captain in the 9th Virginia Regiment in 1776 and promoted to major of the 11th Virginia in February 1777, was captured at the Battle of Germantown on 4 Oct. 1777. Taken to Staten Island, N.Y., and held there at least until 1779, Joynes was promoted to lieutenant colonel in December 1777, but he apparently did not rejoin the army after his release. David Plunket (d. 1793), the older brother of a later chancellor of Ireland, William Conyngham Plunket, settled in Baltimore before the Revolutionary War. He served as a second lieutenant in Col. William Smallwood’s 1st Maryland Regiment from January to December 1776 and as a captain in Col. Elisha Sheldon’s 4th Continental Dragoons beginning in January 1777. Captured on 20 Oct., Plunket reputedly escaped from the British in December 1777 by “impersonating a British officer in passing five sentries who guarded his room & afterwards by putting on the Cloathes of a Quaker girl he obtained a pass and passed the lines” (Jackson, With the British Army in Philadelphia description begins John W. Jackson. With the British Army in Philadelphia, 1777–1778. San Rafael, Calif., 1979. description ends , 124). After the Revolutionary War, Plunket became involved in Baltimore’s mercantile affairs. He was lost at sea in 1793. Severn Teackle (1756–1794), who also had been captured at the Battle of Germantown, was a second lieutenant in the 9th Virginia Regiment. He was exchanged in 1780 and promoted to captain of the 5th Virginia in 1781, with rank from 1779. Teackle retired from the army in January 1783.

2Such privations induced American prisoner of war Charles Moale Croxall, a first lieutenant in Col. Thomas Hartley’s Additional Continental Regiment who had been captured at the Battle of Brandywine on 11 Sept. 1777, to write a letter from Philadelphia on 20 Nov. to “any Continental Officer,” pleading for assistance: “The scaresity of provision obliges me to request your assistance in procureing me a Small quantity of meat or any thing eatable, the bearer has continental money to pay for anything that can be got” (DLC:GW). Undated lists of American prisoners held during the British occupation of Philadelphia show that up to 553 persons were incarcerated at one time at the New Gaol, a two-story prison built on the corner of Walnut and Sixth streets in 1775 (Frazer, General Persifor Frazer description begins Dr. Persifor Frazer. General Persifor Frazer: A Memoir Compiled Principally from His Own Papers by His Great-Grandson. Philadelphia, 1907. description ends , 239–43).

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