George Washington Papers

To George Washington from a Board of General Officers, 2 June 1778

From a Board of General Officers

[Valley Forge] June 2d 1778.

In Obedience to Directions received from the Commander in Chief relative to the Examination of a certain Thomas Shank, charged with being a Spy sent from Philadelphia: The Board, after a careful Hearing of the Prisoner, and of the Witnesses against him, are of Opinion.

First—With respect to the Criminality of said Thomas Shank, the Board divided; Ten being clear that he is guilty, & four not satisfied.

Second. Whether he is a proper Subject of Punishment, and Example?

The Board divided; nine of the Ten being of Opinion that he is a proper Subject for Example.

Third. Eight of the nine are of Opinion that he ought to suffer Death by the Cord.1

Charles Lee President


1The proceedings of the board, signed by Charles Lee, read: “At a Board of General Officers, held by order of His Excellency, The Commander in Chief, at General Knox’s Quarters, Valley Forge June 2d 1778[:] Major General Lee President[,] Major General[s] Arnold[,] Lord Stirling[,] Mifflin[,] De La Fayette[,] Steuben[,] Brigadiers—Knox[,] Poor[,] Varnum[,] Patterson[,] Wayne[,] Mughlenberg[,] Huntington[,] Portail[.] Thomas Shanks appeared before the Board, charged with being a spy for the enemy.

“William Sutherland, a deserter from the British army, late serjeant of Grenadiers, in the 45th Regiment, declares, that last saturday evening, the prisoner came to the guard he belonged to (a guard from the British army) stationed at the Middle ferry, on Schuylkill, and that his officer, ordered him to let the prisoner pass out at any time he pleased; and that he the deponent left the prisoner in the Guard house half past two in the morning, and came to this camp.

“Ensign Luke Cannon of the 15th Virginia Regiment says, that yesterday morning, at day break, on receiving intelligence, that a person answering the description given of the Prisoner Thomas Shanks was at a house, near his picket, he went and found the prisoner there, whom he brought off to Colonel Morgan—That the Prisoner pretended he came from York County, and was coming to enter a volunteer in this army, denying he had been into Philadelphia.

“Thomas Shanks, formerly an officer in the American service, dismissed on the charge of stealing shoes; by his own information to the Board—confesses, That he went into Philadelphia this day week. That he came out on saturday evening, and the guard at the Bridge refusing to let him pass, went back to Mr Galloway and obtained a pass—That he promised Mr Galloway to come and view this camp and army, and to return to Philadelphia and inform him of its situation and movements—That Mr Galloway promised to give him a handsome reward, if he did, and that he promised to return this day—But that he did not intend to return having only made the promise to obtain the pass—That he went into the city to see his Brother, whom he saw at his dwelling on League Island. He further confesses, that he denied to Ensign Cannon his having been at Philadelphia—He says that he had no cloaths with him, when he went into Philadelphia, except one bad shirt which he exchanged with his brother for a better; which is now marked with his own mark.

“The Board after a careful hearing of the Prisoner and the Witnesses against him are of opinion.

“That he is guilty of the charge (on a division of ten against four).

“That he is a proper subject for an example (divided nine against five).

“That he ought to suffer death by the cord (divided eight against six)” (DLC:GW).

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