George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 22 June 1778

From Major General William Heath

Head Quarters Boston June 22d 1778.

Dear General

Perhaps ere this reaches you, you will hear that an Officer of the Convention troops has been lately shot at Cambridge by one of our Sentinels.1 this happened on the 17th Instant, the Officer attempting to ride out of the Chain of Sentries with two Women, which by express orders are not to pass without passports, the Sentry did his duty—repeatedly ordered the Officer to stop, and was at length necessi[t]ated to use severity. Imagining that your Excellency would be desireous to be acquainted with the particulars I do myself the honor to enclose sundry papers that passed between Genl Phillips & myself on the occasion2—Genl Phillips is still confined—The packet addressed to the Honble the president of Congress is on the Subject.3 Capt. Horton going on to your Excellency induced me to send them by him, as a considerable expence would be saved to the public.4 I am to request that you would please to forward them by the first oppertunity as I apprehend you have frequent intercourse to Congress, and pardon me in giving this trouble—The resentment of the people here towards Genl Phillips for the indecent and dishonorable expressions contained in his letters, is very great.

Enclosed is a request from Ensn Pond for leave to resign his Commission in the Army.5 I have the honor to be Your Excellencys Most Obed. Servt

W. Heath

LS, DLC:GW; ADf, MHi: Heath Papers.

1The dead officer was second lieutenant Richard Brown of the 21st Regiment of Foot. The sentry who killed him, a fourteen-year-old boy who was savagely beaten by British soldiers immediately after committing this deed, was eventually acquitted by a court-martial.

2Heath enclosed copies of the following letters: Maj. Gen. William Phillips to Heath, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21 June; Heath to Phillips, 17, 18, 19, and 20 June; Heath to Jonathan Pollard, 18 June; and Phillips to Gen. Henry Clinton, 21 June. Phillips’s letter to Heath of 17 June reads: “Murder and Death have at length taken place—an Officer riding out from the Barracks on Prospect Hill has been shot by an American Centinel. I leave the horrors incident to that bloody Disposition, which has joined itself to Rebellion, in these Colinies, to the feelings of all Europe. I do not ask for justice for I believe every principle of it, is fled from this Province. I demand liberty to Send an Officer to General Sir Henry Clinton with my report of this murder” (DLC:GW).

Heath replied from his headquarters at 9:00 p.m. on the same date: “I am this Moment informed that an Officer of the Convention has been shot by one of our Sentry’s—The man is ordered into close Confinement and I have directed the Town Major to desire the Coroner of the County of Middlesex to summon a Jury of Inquest to sit on the Body, and I desire that it may not be removed untill that step be taken.

“I can only Say, Sir, that you may be Assured that I will take every Step in my power which honor & justice require.

“Your Letters of this date were handed to me by the person who brought the disagreeable news of the Officers being shot—I will answer them tomorrow” (DLC:GW).

Heath wrote to Phillips again on 18 June: “Immediately upon my recieving the disagreeable report the last evening that an Officer of the Convention had been shot by an American Centinel, and that the Centinel was confined, I ordered him to be closely kept so, and the Coroner of the County of Middlesex to be notified that a Jury of Inquest might be Summoned to Sit on the Body of the Officer. Decency and the utmost attention in any Country could not have done more; a few Minutes after I had dispatched the Officer with the foregoing Orders I received your letter couched in such terms that I am at a loss what epithet to give it. Were it even certain that the Shooting of the Officer, was an Act of the most deliberate, wilful murder, why should you charge these free Independent States with a bloody disposition and with Rebellion, and this State in particular as void of every principle of Justice. Such expressions Sir, although I ever had, and still have a personal regard for you, and wish in every respect to treat you with the utmost generosity; yet that duty which I owe to the honor and dignity of the united States, will not allow me to pass unnoticed such expressions as are contained in your Letter: and I cannot put any other interpretation upon them than that they are a most violent infraction of your Parole most sacredly given. I do conceive it to be my duty, and I do hereby restrict you to the limits of your House, Gardens and Yards, and to the direct Road from your Quarters to the Quarters of the Troops of the Convention on Prospect & Winter Hills, expecting from you a Parole for propriety of Conduct within those limits, which if you refuse I shall be under the necessity of ordering you to narrower Limits until I can obtain the pleasure of the Honourable Congress touching this matter, to whom I will transmit your letter and crave their directions.

“As to your demand of liberty for an Officer to proceed to Sir Henry Clinton with a ‘Report of this murder’ as you are pleased to express yourself, I have only to reply that as soon as the Coroner has taken an Inquisition in which all the Evidence respecting this unhappy affair will be contained, I shall transmit Copy thereof to Congress, and I shall have no Objection to your Sending a Copy also to Sir Henry Clinton by the way of the Head Quarters of His Excellency General Washington (if His Excellency would Approve of it) together with any just and decent representations which you may think necessary to make on this Occasion, or any Other after I have examined such Letters; but as to an Officers going to Sir Henry Clinton, it is altogether unnecessary so you will please to excuse my refusal of it. … P.S. I Shall not at this time Comment on the indelicate manner in which your letter is addressed” (DLC:GW).

Phillips wrote to Heath from Cambridge on the same date: “Lieutenant Browne of the 21st Regt who was shot Yesterday by an American Centinel, died about midnight in the last night.

“I am informed Some person whom you have sent to examine the body is now doing it, and as I suppose every inspection of that Sort will be over to morrow, I would prepose to bury the Corpse tomorrow Evening—I am to desire to know if you have any Objection, and whether you have any particular intentions relating to the Body of the murdered Officer—If it is to be Allow’d Christian burial, I would wish to deposit it in the Vault appropriated for Strangers in the Protestant Church at Cambridge; In this case I am to desire you will give the necessary permission for this purpose, and allow A Sufficient number of men from the Barracks to Assist in carrying down the Corpse from the Barracks to the Church.

“As I am totally ignorant to whom it may be necessary to apply for leave to open the Church, it obliges me to give you this trouble, and I hope if permission is granted, that it may be done So fully, as will prevent the Sanguinary people of this Country from insulting and treating with indignity the dead Body of the unfortunate Officer, who in their rage, revengeful tempers and barbarity they have put to death” (DLC:GW).

Heath replied on 19 June: “Yours of yesterday Afternoon was handed to me the last evening—I most sincerely regret the unfortunate Death of Lieut. Browne.

“As I apprehend the Coroner, has taken his inquisition, or will do it this Morning, which is in conformity to the laws of the Land in that Case made, and provided for the sole purpose of investigating, the truth of facts, you not only have my permission, but request that every mark of respect may be paid to the Corpse of the deceased; and you have my permission also for such a number of Non Commissioned Officers or Privates to attend as may be necessary to bear the Corpse from the funeral House to the place of interment.

“I do not know under whose direction the Church at Cambridge now is; but I have given orders for Major Hopkins and the Town Major to Afford every kind of Assistance in their power, and to enquire who has the direction, and to Obtain permission. I have also given orders that strict decency be exhibited by our Troops, during the time of procession And Interment, which, the Solemnity of so mournful an occasion points out as the duty of rational Beings. And from the universal respectful behaviour of the People of this Country on such Occasions, you may be Sure that not the least insult will be Offered” (DLC:GW).

Phillips responded on the same date: “I shall not animadvert upon or answer any part of your letter of yesterday, except in what relates to your meaning to restrict me to my House, Gardens and Yards, and to the direct Road from my Quarters to the Quarters of the Troops of the Convention on Prospect and winter Hills and requiring my Signing a new Parole for my propriety of conduct within those limits.

“When by the Treaty of Convention of Saratoga the Officers were to be admitted on Parole it was clearly intended that a liberal interpretation was to be given to that agreement and, to use your own words, generous limits were to be granted—I will not deny that the limits have been sufficient.

“I apprehend, Sir, that under no Sense or explanation of the Treaty the Officers were to be denied intercourse with the Soldiers—indeed there is an Article particularly on that point—and by restricting Me to my Quarters allowing me only the passage to the Barracks by the direct road you would certainly have restricted me as you have done Several other Officers from whom you have taken the benefit of their Parole, allowing for the distinction of my Rank having Obtained me a Quarter in place of A Barrack—It seemed therefore a very extraordinary proposal made to me, that I should sign a Parole under a Situation which deprived me of every advantage Arising from my given one, according to the Article on that subject in the Treaty of Convention of Saratoga, and on this consideration I refused it.

“you have, Sir, made me a Prisoner in my Quarters under a Guard, and I am perfectly at ease of mind about it—shall bear it, Sir, and any other Violence of Power which may happen to me with more patience than you may suppose—I am very regardless about insults or injuries done me personally—I feel only, and then severely, when any are Offered the Troops I command.

“But, Sir, you attempt at much more than restricting my person, for in a Paper sent me this day, being your instructions to Lieutenant Colonel Pollard dated June the 18th 1778 you direct him after he has planted Centinels round my Quarters that he is to ‘wait on the next Senior Officer and acquaint him of General Phillips being confined.’ I am to inform you, Sir, that bearing the Kings Commission I shall consider myself Senior Officer of the Troops of the Convention—and every Officer of them will obey my Orders so far as their present Situation will allow—You may confine my Person, but cannot have power to take from me my Military place nor my Connection with the Convention Troops—It is too extravagant an Idea for me to suppose you capable of, so little can it be in the power of an individual to deprive me of the Commission I hold, that were these Colonies really acknowledged Independent and Sovereign States it would not be in the power of their Government to deprive an Officer of another Nation of his Military Commission, how far soever they might Stretch and extend their power over his person—But, Sir, I must be allowed to declare that untill the Colonies are acknowledged by Great Britain to be Independent Sovereign States I cannot view them in any other light than that in which they are considered by Great Britain.

“As you will not allow me to send an Officer to Sir Henry Clinton I must request to take advantage of your express for sending my report and representations to him, and I will beg to know when I must send you my letters” (DLC:GW).

Heath wrote to Phillips on 20 June: “Another of your favors of yesterday was handed to me this morning—You may be Assured that my restricting you to your Quarters the day before Yesterday was personally no agreeable service; duty to the Honor and Dignity of my Country made it indispensably necessary—Apprehending that so great a restriction from your former limits as I pointed out might be construed by you a dissolution of your Parole, I thought it necessary and also reasonable that you should give Anew one. I wished that you might retain your Quarters and at the same time have a free intercourse with the Troops who are quartered at a distance from you, this distance is so considerable that a parole is necessary. I acknowledge that by the Convention you are to be admitted on parole, and this Parole is for propriety of conduct under such admittance; but that parole, being forfeited by misconduct, ceases to be, and Confinement in proportion to the Offence, no breach of the Convention, but fully justifiable upon every principle of reason and justice.

“It was never in my Idea to take away your Commission or dissolve your Connection with the Troops of the Convention; but while under confinement, your power of Acting might with propriety be suspended, so far as respected the transacting of public Business between myself and you; but personal regard has prevented my going that length any further than to notify the next Officer of your Confinement.

“I do not insist that you as an Officer in the British Army are Obliged to view the Free, Independent & Sovereign states of America in any other light than they are acknowledged by the Government whose Service you are in; but under your present Situation and circumstances I do insist that you shall not openly insult the honor and dignity of these Sovereign States with impunity…. P.S. If you will please to Send your letters for Sir Henry Clinton tomorrow evening I will examine them, the express I hope will set off on Monday next” (DLC:GW).

Phillips wrote to Heath on the same date: “Warm as I am in my resentments when I consider myself injured in the Character I hold in the British Army, I am, also, sensible of an Obligation—And I am, therefore, to thank you for the orders you gave for preserving decency and against insult at the Funeral of Lieutenant Browne” (DLC:GW).

He wrote again to Heath on 21 June: “My being confined A prisoner to my Quarters under a Guard is a matter so totally indifferent to me, that I do not wish to make it a Subject of our Correspondence, or to give you and myself any trouble or pain concerning my present or future Situation.

“But Sir regardless as I am in what affects only my person, I cannot Suffer an imposition upon my understanding to pass unnoticed, and I, therefore, once more and for the last time Assert that when you restricted me to my House, Gardens and Yards, and to the direct road from my Quarters of the Troops on Prospect and Winter Hills I certainly could not construe it in any other manner than as a dissolution of my parole and that I was, the consideration of my Rank having Obtained me a Quarter excepted under the same restricted circumstances and Situation as those Officers whom you have at times and at your pleasure confined to the limit of the Barracks—under this description it would have been rediculous for me to give a new Parole.

“But, Sir, whether I am under a Parole or not, I am perfectly sensible that I am under the Articles of the Treaty of Convention made at Saratoga, and that neither I or the Troops mean to violate or to infract that Treaty—Nothing can make me Swerve from my attachment to the Troops or my duty and Allegiance to the Kings Service” (DLC:GW).

Heath also enclosed a copy of a letter from himself to Jonathan Pollard, his deputy adjutant general, written on 18 June: “You will immediately repair to Cambridge and wait upon Major General Phillips, present him the Letter addressed to him; after he has read the letter, present the Parole, if he signs it well, if he refuses, you will please to inform him that in consequence of the indecent, dishonorable and highly insulting expressions in his Letter of yesterday against the Honour and Dignity of the Free, Sovereign and Independent States of America, and in prejudice of the measures and proceedings of the Honourable Congress as it is my duty so it is my express order, that he the said Major General Phillips be restricted to the limits of his House, yards and Gardens beyond which he is not to pass untill it be otherwise ordered, and that you immediately plant and continueley relief so many Sentry’s as may be necessary to prevent his exceeding those limits; you will give orders that the Sentrys so planted observe a strict decorum and Soldier like behaviour, avoiding insult and behaving with becoming Dignity, after which you will wait on the next Senior Officer and acquaint him of General Phillips’s being confined” (DLC:GW). Phillips’s house arrest continued until Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates replaced Heath in November.

Heath also enclosed a letter of 21 June from Phillips to Gen. Henry Clinton: “I have to report to your Excellency some Occurrences which have happened to the Troops of the Convention of Saratoga under my Command, and to Me.

“Lieutenant General Burgoyne undoubtedly reported to Sir William Howe, the many unhappy accidents which befel the Troops before his departure—For many weeks after which there was much quiet, and a general tenor of good conduct towards the Troops from the Americans—But an unhappy event has just happened by the Death of a very worthy young Officer, Lieutenant Browne of the 21st Regt who has been killed by an American Centinel.

“An Inquest has been held on the Body of the unfortunate Officer, and a Court of Enquiry is to be appointed to examine into the conduct of the Centinel.

“The Inquest has deposed that, “The Said Richard Browne was Shot with a fire arm by the Centinel in Charlestown near Prospect Hill, between the hours of five and Six P.M. on the 17th day of June Anno Domini 1778, in attempting to pass the Centinel, with two Women after being properly challenged by Said Centinel, and So came by his death.”

“The American Court of Enquiry sits tomorrow and I cannot, therefore send your Excellency a full account of this unhappy affair at present, as it would be an anticipation of opinion, upon the further conduct which may be held upon this matter by the Americans and I am called upon for ⟨mutilated⟩ as I am able, send a perfect report of the whole transaction with Copies of all the proceedings.

“I Cannot easily describe the Sorrow this Melancholly accident has occasioned among the Troops, but it has been Sorrow only that they have Shewn, and they have behaved with a propriety and patience which does great honor to the prudent conduct of the Officers, and affords subject of just approbation of the Obedience and Discipline of the Soldiers, and under this description I will most respectfully request of your Excellency to represent them to His Majesty.

“You may be assured, Sir, that every Officer and Soldier is convincd of the honourable necessity there is, for observing the strictest good conduct, and as there has nothing essential, yet, arisen to give colour to an assertion of the contrary by the Americans, so you may depend, Sir, there will not in future.

“Having reported as far as I am now able what relates to the Troops on this occasion, I am to inform your Excellency, that feeling all the horror incident to a misfortune of so Severe A Nature, Stung to the Soul at the Melancholly account of a British officer being thus killed, I expressed what I felt to Major General Heath, and that these Colinies had joined A bloody disposition to Rebellion—Major General Heath is pleased to declare this, an Offence highly injurious to the Honor of what he terms the Free, Independent Sovereign States of America, and has confined me to my Quarters under a Guard.

“Major General Heath offered me a liberty of going from my Quarters by the direct Road, to the Quarters of the Troops, but upon a Condition of my signing a new Parole, which I declined for reasons which will appear in the enclosed Letters, which have passed between Major General Heath and Me. ⟨mutilated⟩ Free, Independent Sovereign States, I cannot view them in any other light than as they Stand considered by Great Britain.

“Retaliation, I hope, will never be allowed to Sully the British Character, or to diminish the lustre of those shining Qualities of humanity, and justice, which distinguish the British Army—I well know the probity and honourable way of thinking, which has always governed your Excellencys Actions will prevent you, Sir, from adopting this principle, and I am therefore, assured no situation I am in, will cause even the Slightest retaliation on the part of your Excellency, but that all your Prisoners of war will be treated with Compassion and generosity—But, Sir, having expressed thus the real and genuine feelings of my mind on this Subject, let me not be understood to mean, that I should wish any exertion with held, or act of justice remitted on my Account—Be assured, Sir, that in my Apprehension close confinement—a Prison or a Dungeon have no terrors—Guilt might appal the boldest mind—I have reason, I hope, to be firm in the integrity of fair Actions and honourable conduct.

“I Send this Letter by an Express of General Heaths going to the American Congress—I have to recommend the Troops of the Convention to your Excellencys protection” (DLC:GW).

3Heath’s letter of 19 June to Henry Laurens, with its enclosed copies of the same letters he sent to GW, is in DNA:PCC, item 57.

4Jotham Horton (1749–1795) served from April to November 1775 as a first lieutenant in Col. Richard Gridley’s Massachusetts Artillery Regiment and in 1776 as a captain-lieutenant in Col. Henry Knox’s Continental Artillery Regiment. He was captured at Fort Washington in November 1776 but served as a captain in the 3d Continental Artillery Regiment from January 1777 until September 1778.

5Enoch Pond (1756–1807) of Wrentham, Mass., had been appointed an ensign in Col. William R. Lee’s Additional Continental Regiment in January 1777; his enclosed letter has not been identified.

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