George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Laurens, 1 March 1778

From Henry Laurens

[York, Pa.] 1st March 1778.


My last was on the 21st Ulto by Messenger Millet since which I have not been honoured with any of Your Excellency’s favors.

Under Cover with this Your Excellency will receive the following Acts of Congress—

1  of the 26th February—for filling up the Battalions of Continental Troops.1

2  An Act also of the 26th ffebry—for ascertaining the Amount of demands for supplies of necessaries by the several States &ca for the use of British prisoners.2

3  of the 27th—for the speedy punishment of any of the Inhabitants of these States who shall be detected in acting as Marauders & partisans on the part of the Enemy.3

In a seperate packet I likewise forward six half quire of blank Oaths of Office & of Allegiance for the use of the Army.

I have the honour of being specially charged to signify to your Excellency that Congress highly approve of your Excellency’s conduct in support of the Civil authority of the United States as expressed in your Excellency’s Letters in answer to General Howes Letter of the 19th January & 25th February.4

I am also directed to intimate to your Excellency as a recommendation from Congress that every proper precaution be taken against putting it in the power of the Enemy to take any unfair advantages in the Exchange of prisoners—& that Congress take for granted, Genl Lee is included in the late stipulation between Your Excellency & the British Commander & have therefore refrained from repeating a special demand for the restitution of that Officer. I have the honour to be with the highest Regard &ca.

LB, DNA:PCC, item 13. A notation on the letter book indicates this letter was carried “by Sharp.” However, it was “detained by Susquehana” and later sent with Laurens’s letter to GW of 5 March. GW received it on Mar. 8. With Laurens’s dispatches of 1 or 2 Mar., he also “forwarded a miniature of the General to Mrs. Washington, from Majr [Nicholas] Rodgers” (see GW to John Parke Custis, 1 Feb., n.1).

1The resolutions of 26 Feb. required the states “forthwith to fill up by drafts from their militia, or in any other way that shall be effectual, their respective batallions of continental troops”—three from New Hampshire, fifteen each from Virginia and Massachusetts, one each from Rhode Island and Delaware, eight from Connecticut, five from New York, four from New Jersey, ten from Pennsylvania, nine from North Carolina, and eight (including the German Battalion) from Maryland. The men so drafted were to serve for nine months, but “an exact return . . . of the deficiencies of men in the Continental army” was to be made on 1 Oct., “to the end, that such deficiencies may be supplied (by an equitable draft from the militia of the several States) according to the proportions heretofore established in Congress.” Congress encouraged the states “to exert themselves to procure recruits for their respective continental batallions by inlistments for three years, or during the war,” in lieu of drafts and resolved “That no prisoners of war or deserters from the enemy be inlisted, drafted, or returned to serve in the continental army” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 10:199–203).

2In this act Congress took note of GW’s letter to Gen. William Howe of 10 Feb. agreeing to an exchange of prisoners and pointed out that “by a resolution of Congress of the 19 December last, a release of prisoners in the power of these states cannot take place before the account of all provisions, and other necessaries, which have been supplied by the public to such prisoners, are liquidated and discharged.” In consequence Congress directed “the several legislatures, or supreme executive authorities of the respective states” to make up their accounts by 1 Mar. for transmission to the commissioners in April and June. Congress further ordered that army officers concerned with supplying prisoners send their accounts to the commissioners of claims at the Board of Treasury by 15 April and resolved “that no exchange of prisoners be made until the balance due thereon to the United States is discharged” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 10:197–98).

3Responding to the “few deluded inhabitants of these states, prompted thereto by arts of the enemy,” who were assisting the British forces, Congress resolved in this act “That whatever inhabitants of these states shall kill or seize, or take any loyal citizen or citizens thereof, and convey him, her, or them, to any place within the power of the enemy, or shall enter into any combination for such purpose, or attempt to carry the same into execution, or hath assisted or shall assist therein; or shall, by giving intelligence, acting as a guide, or in any other manner whatever, aid the enemy in the perpetration thereof, he shall suffer death by the judgment of a court martial, as a traitor, assassin, and spy, if the offence be committed within seventy miles of the head quarters of the grand or other armies of these states, where a general officer commands.

“And, whereas, small parties of the enemy, encouraged by the evil dispositions of some of the inhabitants of these states, may make excursions into the country for the purposes above mentioned, or others not warranted by the custom of war:

Ordered, That General Washington determine and publish, in such way as he shall deem proper, the number under which no party of the enemy shall be suffered to go beyond their lines, on pain, if taken, of being treated as marauders and punished with death” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 10:204–5).

4Laurens is referring to GW’s letters to Howe of 30 Jan. and 10 Feb. in reply to Howe’s letters of 19 Jan. and 5 February. The “25” is likely a copyist’s error.

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