George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Livingston, 26 December 1777

From William Livingston

Ringos1 Hunterdon County [N.J.] 26 Dec. 1777


I am quite content to have Lieut. Boskirk, Lieut. Earle & Surgeon Hammel treated as Prisoners of war, being fully convinced by your Excellency’s observations on the Subject of the Propriety of the Measure—They therefore wait your order, being now confined in Trenton Gaol—If you think it for the good of the Service to have Browne treated in like manner, I shall have no Objection after his Tryal, it not being in my Power, to prevent that, without giving great Umbrage to the Subjects of this State.2

I inclose your Excellency a Copy of General Campbells Letter to General Dickinson on the Subject of those Prisoners, with my Answer.3 I also take the Liberty of inclosing you a Copy of a Letter which I send by this Express to Congress, & which I thought it my Duty to the united States, to write—If it produces any Inquiry, & an alteration of Measures I shall think myself happy: If not, I have obeyed the Dictates of Humanity, and am at Peace with my own Conscience.4 With the highest Esteem I have the honour to be Your Excellencys most humble & most obedient Sert

Wil: Livingston


1Ringo’s Tavern was established in 1720 by John Ringo on the site of the present-day town of Ringoes, New Jersey.

2For more on these prisoners, see Philemon Dickinson to GW, 28 Nov., and GW to Livingston, 11 and 31 Dec. 1777.

3The enclosed letter from Brig. Gen. John Campbell to Maj. Gen. Philemon Dickinson, written at British “Head Quarters Staten Island,” N.Y., on 19 Dec. 1777, reads: “I have heard with surprise of the treatment, that his Majesty’s Officers taken on this Island the 27th Ultmo have received since in your power; I am credibly informed that Lieut. Jacob Buskirk, Lieut. Edward Earle, and Surgeon Hammel of his Majesty’s 4th Battn of New-Jersey Volunteers, and Mr Brown a Deputy Commissary, are now confined like Felons in the common Jail of either Princeton or Trenton: I desire to know whether my Information is right? and whether such Treatment has the Sanction of Authority, and is intended to be continued? That, in case, Officers of equal Rank, who were taken on this Island the 22d Day of August last, may be selected to undergo like Treatment, however repugnant to the Humanity of Britons to inflict it: But I’m in Hopes, that either my Information is wrong, or these Officers have been thus used without proper Authority” (DLC:GW).

Livingston addressed his reply of this date to Col. Sylvanus Seely of the New Jersey militia, who had forwarded Campbell’s letter to Livingston: “In answer to General Campbell’s Letter of the 19th Instant directed to General Dickenson, his Information is right that Boskirk, Earl, Hamel and Browne are now confined in the Jail at Trenton—They were sent to me by General Dickeson as prisoners, but finding them to be Subjects of this State and to have deserted it to Join the Enemy since such Adherence was declared Felony by our Law, I was Oblidged as a Civil Magistrate to treat them Accordingly And therefore committed them for their tryal unless General Washington should chuze to treat the three first, who are Officers in the British Army, as Prisoners of War. This is the Method I shall pursue with all such Unnatural Traitors, that shall come to my Hands It being Impossible for me to act Otherwise without a Manifest Violation of my Duty—General Washington Informs me [on 11 Dec.] that he intends to treat them as Prisoners of Warr and they are therefore at his Service whenever the Commissary of Prisoners shall direct concerning them—as to their being confined in Jail, even were they not in the above predicament, it ought not to excite any Surprize in General Campbell, who cannot be ignorant that Many of our Prisoners are used Infinetly Worse, And as to the Humanity of Britons, Either he must not comprehend the Troops of his Britanic Majesty in America under that Description, or it is a Burlesque on Common Sense, there bring Scarcely a Speicies of Inhumanity of which they have not been guilty. “Browne is no Officer, and had committed a Number of Robberies in this State (as it is represented to me) before he Joyned the Enemy, and I can hardly persuade myself that General Campbell will be of Opinion that in Consideration of Law A Man can Expiate the Guilt of a Prior Robbery by a Subsequent Treason” (DLC:GW).

4“My purpose,” Livingston says in this letter to Henry Laurens of 25 Dec. 1777, “is only to give you such a State of Facts respecting our Hospitals, as may occasion an Inquiry by Congress; and in Consequence of it, a Reformation of those abuses in them, which, unless seasonably checked, will probably reduce our Troops to such a Degree, that General Washington will be able before next Spring, with the same melancholy Propriety that he did last Winter, to call himself a General without an Army.” Livingston’s “State of facts,” which was based largely on an unsigned and undated report sent to him by Benjamin Rush (see Prince, Livingston Papers description begins Carl E. Prince et al., eds. The Papers of William Livingston. 5 vols. Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J., 1979–88. description ends , 2:146–47), is very similar in content to the numbered statements in Rush’s letter to GW of this date. The enclosed copy of Livingston’s letter to Laurens of 25 Dec. is in DLC:GW, and the LS is in DNA:PCC, item 68. Laurens assured Livingston on 1 Jan. 1778 that his letter was “under Consideration of a Committee of five” and that “Congress seem determined to make every practicable improvement in that momentous concern” (Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 8:511).

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