George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 31 October 1778

To Henry Laurens

Head Qrs near Fredericksburg October the 31st 1778


Your Excellency’s favor of the 23d Instant, was delivered me yesterday, with the Resolution respecting Monsieur L’Eclise. As soon as I am notified of the place of his residence, I will give the necessary directions, for carrying into execution the humane & benevolent intention of Congress towards him.1

I take the liberty to inclose a Letter from Doctor Connolly, representing his situation, His case I am persuaded, will have due attention, & such a determination as humanity and policy will justify.2

By intelligence received yesterday evening it is said, that Transports with Ten Regiments on Board had fallen down from York to the Watering place—that there were several other Ships laden (not said with what);3 and that there were Others at the Wharffs, taking in Troops. I cannot tell whether this intelligence is certain; for we have been deceived of late in points of information, that seemed to carry equal marks of authenticity. I have the Honor to be with the greatest respect & esteem Your Excellency’s Most Obedt servant

Go: Washington

p.s. Just as I was closing my Letter, I received one from Lord Stirling dated yesterday at 9 oClock A. M. by which he informs me that on Wednesday & Thur[s]day about Eighty sail of Ships, chiefly Transports with Troops, fell down from New York to staten Island—and that Sixty or seventy sail lay there before.4

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The LS is docketed in part: “reed 5 Nov.” On 5 Nov. 1778 Congress read this letter and referred Connolly’s letter “to the committee on the letter of 15 September, from Mr. Beatty, commissary general of prisoners” (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 , 12:1102). On 6 Nov. Laurens replied to this letter from GW and GW’s letter to him of 29 Oct. (DNA:PCC, item 13).

1It had been in Laurens’s letter to GW of 25 Oct., not in his letter to GW of 23 Oct., that he had enclosed a copy of Congress’s act of 23 Oct. regarding Dominique L’Eglise’s pay and subsistence (see Laurens to GW, 25 Oct., n.1; see also 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 , 12:1056–57).

2John Connolly had written GW on 16 Oct. from Philadelphia: “It being impossible for me to think upon your Excellency without persuading myself of the certainty of your humane & generous disposition, I can not avoid once more laying my distress before you—Having now suffered an imprisonment of an uncommon length, accompanied with every circumstance shocking to human Nature; rendered an Object of compassion to every unprijudiced beholder from unrelenting sickness; & for this last year without the least cause of provocation; to whom can I apply? To your Excellency I appeal, who knew the nature of my former connections, & whose liberal sentiments can admit apologies for the prijudice arising from Company & education, & who must feel for the unavoidable consequences of diversity of opinion in this unhappy Æra—Having come down this far on Parole in order to be exchanged, I see myself again thrown into Prison, notwithstanding my great infirmity, & all my former Scene of wretchedness re-newed. Lieut. Canison who was made Prisoner with me was exchanged last Winter; & every other Gentleman since that period has been released while I alone experience the most unrelenting severity—A Body emaciated, & relaxed, & a Mind sunk into the darkest despondency find no charms in the hurry of a Camp: & therefore I am little solicitous with regard to going into N. york.

“My grand Object being the recovery of Health, I sigh for retirement, Air & exercise, & am ready to give the most solemn assurances of my pacific disposition—Can your Excellency remain inexorable to the repeated intreaties of an Unhappy Man, whose sense of gratitude has been his greatest crime, whose sufferings have been severe, & singular, & who has ever held the Character & person of your Excellency in the highest veneration. The Members of Congress know me not: ’tis to your Excellency they look for A recommendation of the Mode of my treatment—It has been said latterly that I ought to come under the denomination of a Spy. whether this has been advanced to protract my unhappy confinement, after a three Year’s captivity as a prisoner of War, or not, I submit to the impartial determination of your Excellency. Let not the cold form of ceremony object to my request; but suffer me to intreat the interposition of your Excellency so far as to procure my inlargement on Parole—The reasonableness of my request must plead in my behalf; & ’tho I demand no mark of friendship, yet the Justice of your Excellency will cooperate, I hope so far with my desire as to render my application successfull” (ALS, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169).

GW replied to Connolly on this date: “I received your favor of the 16th Inst. As you are confined by the immediate order of Congress, I have transmitted your Letter to them; and I am certain, that they will not only attend to your representation; but that they will decide upon it, with the strictest propriety” (Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). For Congress’s determination on 12 Nov. that Connolly should not be considered a prisoner of war and that his grievances were unsubstantiated, see Laurens to GW, 14 Nov., DNA:PCC, item 13; see also 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 , 12:1125–29, 1136. Exchanged in October 1780, Connolly was captured again the following year in Virginia, and he was released in March 1782. For Connolly’s visit to Kentucky during the winter of 1787–88, allegedly as a British agent, see Harry Innes to GW, 18 Dec. 1788, and note 1 to that document, in Papers, Presidential Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series. 17 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1987–. description ends , 1:187–90.

3See Henry Lee to Charles Scott, 30 Oct., in Scott to GW, that date, n.1.

4See Stirling’s first letter to GW of 30 October. The previous Wednesday and Thursday were respectively 28 and 29 October.

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