George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General William Maxwell, 19 December 1778

From Brigadier General William Maxwell

Elizth Town [N.J.] 19th Decmr 1778


I have the plasure to inclosed to Your Excellency two New York papers one of which contains a parragraph with a large sample of the old Story of the Fox & Sower grapes.1

and in another the distressed and disapointed state of the Refugees more than I thought they would be permited to express to the Publick.2 I wish Your Excellency would give me some directions concerning Hatfield and the others imprisoned here by Your Excellency’s & Lord Stirlings Orders, the Torys and their connections is making a great dust about them, they have been at the Chief Judge for a Hebuscorpus and has presented it as they said, but I would not look at it, they told me it was to have them moved with their Crimes to the Judge. If You will give me Orders I will send Hatfield with the others to Your Excellency and I am of opinion that Summerset Jail would be a much better place for them than this;3 but I submit it to your Excellency and am Your Most Obedt Humble Servant

Wm Maxwell

N.B. Your Excellencys Instruction to me seems to prevent me from sending over a Flagg of any kind unless By Your Excellency’s or the Governors orders;4 The Comy Genl of Prisoners will want to send Letters Frequently and Prisoners also, very possably Flour for <the> Prisoners, Money &Ca, I should be glad to know whether Your Excellency means that I should obey the Orders Litteraly or not.


I have sent the Brigade Quarter Master for the Remdr of the Cloathing for the Brigade Your Excellency will please to give him an Order for that purpose.5


1Unable to reach some grapes hanging on a tall vine, the fox in Aesop’s “The Fox and the Grapes” gives up, declaring that the grapes are sour anyway. The moral of the story: it is easy to despise what you cannot get. Maxwell apparently found an analogy in an article by “John Bull” in the 16 Dec. Royal Gazette. The author of the article declared that the North American climate and geography doomed all who lived in the region to perpetual ignorance and savagery, “never to be capable of any collected strength or steady union,” and that Great Britain might as well abandon her colonies in the region.

2An article in the 19 Dec. Royal Gazette announces a collection “for the relief of the refugees in this city, who have little means of support left.” A letter from “Scotus Americanus” in the 16 Dec. issue decries the mistreatment of Loyalists by both sides in the conflict.

3Cornelius Hatfield, Jr. (1742–1823), owner of a large estate in Essex County, N.J., had joined the British in December 1776 and directed many Loyalist raids into New Jersey from his base on Staten Island. He escaped from jail on this occasion (see William Livingston to GW, 9 Jan. 1779), and in February 1779 he was appointed a captain in the Loyalist New Jersey Volunteers. Handsomely pensioned by the British, he lived in England after the war.

4See GW to Maxwell, 8 and 21 December.

5The docket indicates that Maxwell enclosed a “return of deficiency of Cloathing for his Brigade.”

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