From Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hanson Harrison
Amboy [N.J.] 18th April 1779
Colo. Davies and myself beg leave to inform Your Excellency, that with respect to the business of the Commission with which we are honoured, we have been busily engaged in it, ever since Tuesday morning—and thus far but to little purpose.1 The Gentlemen appointed on the other side, though they profess the greatest liberality of sentiment and generosity on the part of sir Henry Clinton, have not made a single proposal—admissible in our opinion. As for a general Cartel—all idea of accomplishing one—was over in a very short time after we met—and we have been chiefly employed on the subject of a particular one—for relieving the Officers on Long Island, in which we have found many difficulties and such as are not and we fear will not be removed. It is likely we shall have some new propositions to day or to morrow morning; if we cannot acceed to ’em, which we are almost certain will be the case, we mean to make the British Commissioners an offer.
In the course of negociation—the British Commissioners have exhibited a Return, reviving their claim to 400 Men & Officers taken at the Cedars.2 This we found no difficulty in rejecting—They have also exhibited an other, comprehendg the prisoners, as they say, captured in the late actions in Georgia, amounting to Sixty one Officers & 800 Non Comd rank & file, besides which they tell us, there are several Other prisoners, both Officers & Men. This too we have endeavoured to reject from our consideration—and we are determined not to go into it. We are not officially informed of the captures—nor do we wish to be. We are exceedingly sorry the old rule of exchange was departed from—or at least that it should be allowable to give a proportion of privates for Officers while we had any Officers of the Enemy’s in our hands. The mode will operate most severely against us—and introducing it in one case, whatever declarations we may be able to make to the contrary, will establish the precedent both with the Enemy—and with every Officer of ours now in captivity—or who may be hereafter—and who will claim the same indulgence.
If we should be able to effect an exchange of Our Officers on Long Island—We believe it will be insisted on—that the Convention troops given for ’em, shall embark on board Vessels to be sent to Virginia. Advantages would attend their marching by land; but the proposition for a Water transportation is so much more reasonable—that we shall not be able to get over it. We shall however, in such case, insist on the immediate liberation of all our Officers on parole—to be discharged and entirely freed from every tie & obligation—the moment the Convention troops are on board; and, as well as providing for the performance of the treaty on the part of the Enemy as above—We shall try to prevent them from any advantages from desertion. As We are not acquainted with James River—and think it will be adviseable to stop the Enemy’s Ships as low down it as we decently can—we should be happy—to have a line from Yr Excellency as early as may be convenient on the subject. We shall also, as a further precaution, limit if we can the number of Vessels to be sent. If the Commissrs will not consent to an immediate liberation of our Officers on parole, in case we agreed about an exchange, we think at present to urge the necessity of the Convention troops coming by land—that a return of both may happen at the same time. Genl Burgoyne—at least his exchange—is a great obstacle in our business.3 I have the Honor to be with great respect Yr Excelly’s Most Obedt servant
Rob: H: Harrison
P.S. Colo. Davies is better acquainted with Js River—than I at first apprehended—he mentions Richmond & Warwick4 as the nearest places of embarkation.
2. For a discussion of the dispute over the status of American soldiers taken prisoner at the Cedars on 20 May 1776 and subsequently liberated by Benedict Arnold, see John Sullivan’s first letter to GW, 2 March 1778, n.5.
3. The negotiations for a prisoner exchange ended in failure on 23 April, when the British commissioners returned to New York City. Davies and Harrison explained what had transpired during the negotiations in a long, undated report to GW: “We the Commissioners appointed by your Excellency ‘to treat, confer, determine and conclude upon a Cartel for the exchange of prisoners, and for all matters whatsoever which may be properly contained therein,’ beg leave to report.
“That in pursuance of your Excellency’s orders we repaired to Amboy, and on Monday the 12th instant were met by Colonel Hyde and Captain André, Commissioners on the part of Sir Henry Clinton: That the next day we produced our respective powers; Those from Sir Henry Clinton professing ‘to treat, determine and agree upon all matters whatsoever relative to the settlement of a General Cartel.’
“That the British Commissioners opened the conference by observing, that it was Sir Henry Clinton’s expectation that the first object of the Cartel we came to establish, should be an immediate delivery of all prisoners in the possession of either party, comprehending the Convention Troops as well as others: that the proposal appeared to them humane and just, and even generous, as from the estimates they had conceived there would be a balance of prisoners in their favor, however, if it should turn out otherwise, upon a settlement, and the balance should be found on our side, it should be applied to our credit and discharged by the first prisoners taken: But that they did not mean there should in future be any delivery of prisoners, except on the terms of an equivalent being received at the same time.
“This proposal, for an immediate and general release of all the prisoners in our possession, surprized us much, and we could not but view it as an unfavorable presage to our future proceedings. We had no certain knowledge that any of our privates were prisoners in their hand⟨s⟩ but we knew that we had near 700 in ours, besides General Burgoyne and his whole Army; all which, according to the terms of the proposal, were to be comprehended in the delivery: And we knew also, that Sir Henry Clinton himself by a Letter to your Excellency on the 10th of November last, when we beleive the proposition respecting an exchange of the Convention Troops was first made, did not seem to entertain even an idea that he ought to receive for the whole of our Officers then in his hands more than a proportion of Officers and men of that Army: That by a still more recent transaction, a ‘State of Exchange of Privates’ agreed to and settled on the 23d of the same month between the Commissaries of prisoners of the two Armies, it appeared there had been an actual delivery of 80 privates more on our part than we had received from them; and that no mention had been made on their side of any other claim against us on the score of privates: And that the ‘State of Officers,’ supposing our Commissary’s account in this instance to be just, after placing officer against officer of equal rank, left a balance in our favour of General Burgoyne, 2 Major Generals, 22 Captains and several Staff; and in the enemy’s of only 14 Feild Officers and 11 Subalterns; and that even allowing their own account to be right, in which the balance on their side would be stated to be 29 Feild Officers and 61 Subalterns, and on ours General Burgoyne 2 Major Generals, 3 Captains and 44 Staff, still the rated value of such Officers, estimated on any reasonable principle, we could not conceive would be found to be much in their favour. It is true, we discovered from subsequent conversations in the course of our different interviews, that the British Commissioners pretended to lay claim to 400 privates under the capitulation of the Cedars; and that they had counted upon a considerable Number of prisoners, said by them to have been captured in Georgia to the amount of 64 officers and 800 men: But as the former claim had been already decided by Congress, and as we had not obtained any Official or proper information of the latter, or indeed any regular intelligence of any event since the above settlement, which could make a material alteration of circumstances in this respect; and as every vulgar report itself fell far short of their demands, we confess under these ideas and with so large a number of prisoners in possession, we were greatly astonished that they could intimate an opinion that the ballance could possibly be in their favour; or that even the admission of every authenticated claim of theirs could by any mode of exchange justify their proposal for a general release.
“That besides the foregoing unequal proposition we had the mortification to find, that the powers granted by Sir Henry Clinton to his Commissioners were defective, as we conceived, in a very material point.
“Those we obtained from your Excellency recited, that they were granted ‘in virtue of full powers to you given’; by which the public faith became plighted for the performance of our engagements, which can be the only proper foundation of public treaty—while those from Sir Henry Clinton did not contain any acknowledgement, that they were founded upon any authority vested in him for the purpose: which, according to reason and the uniform practice of Nations, is indispensibly requisite. His powers therefore afforded no substantial security for the performance of the engagements of his Commissioners, farther than his personal authority extended, and stood upon the insufficient footing of private confidence only.
“We were, however, unwilling to suppose, that Sir Henry Clinton had not powers himself competent to ensure in all respects, the engagements, which those to his Commissioners professed to authorise; and were surprized to find the Commission of the recital, as the same point had been so fully and conclusively discussed on a similar occasion, between Commissioners appointed by your Excellency and Sir William Howe; and as your Excellency, with a view of obviating every difficulty, had, in your letter to Sir Henry Clinton so long since as the 14th of last month, expressed your hope that ‘the Gentlemen on both sides, apprized of the difficulties which have occured, and with a liberal attention to the circumstances of the parties, would come disposed to accomodate their negociations to them, and to level all obstructions to the completion of the Treaty.’
“That we mentioned this defect to the British commissioners, who intimated in reply that such a recital might affect the political claims of Great Britain over this country. This, however, we neither intended nor could conceive would be the Consequence, and therefore declared our readiness to insert a clause in the Cartel to provide expressly against it: or if they chose, to receive from them a signed Counterpart or Duplicate, as had been done in similar cases of dispute, in which they might stile us Colonies or Provinces, or use any other terms of discription they should think necessary, provided the like indulgence was granted to us.
“That these offers were rejected, having produced nothing more on the part of the British Commissioners than a farther declaration, that they did not know whether Sir Henry Clinton had any special authority to grant such powers, as we thought necessary; but that he would use his best offices, they did not doubt, to have the Cartel ratified by the king, if it should be requisite; and that in the mean time it should take effect. This we could not think reasonable, as by this means, it would be carried into full execution and all the purposes answered which they could wish on their part, previous to its ratification, which possibly might never take place.
“That in the course of further conference concerning the objects of the Cartel, and at the time when the British Commissioners had in contemplation an immediate delivery of all prisoners, as well the Convention Army as others, they declared very unexpectedly, we confess, that from a desire of avoiding difficulties and of putting aside every thing that could occasion dispute, they were directed to propose, that all accounts and claims on either side should be cancelled and extinguished. We represented that we conceived we were justly intitled to very large demands, for the maintenance of General Burgoyne’s army in particular, as well as for the other prisoners in our possession: They replied they had apprehended the balance was in their favor; but that at all events they were restricted by positive instructions from acceding to any article proposing a liquidation and payment of any accounts incurred previous to the release of the prisoners.
“Under these difficulties, not to mention others, your Excellency will perceive the impracticability of accomplishing a General Cartel, and the necessity to which we were reduced of attempting the releif of our unfortunate prisoners, upon a more limited and contracted scale.
“That with an earnest view to effect this desireable purpose on any reasonable terms, we went into a consideration of the state and number of prisoners, and proposed, that as the pretext, for departing in this instance from the common mode of exchange upon the principle of equality, was founded cheifly on the supposed inconvenience of seperating Officers and men, General Burgoyne, already absent from the Army and in England, as well as all other Officers abroad on parole, the objection not applying to them should be first exchanged on the principle of equality or equitable composition. This, however, was refused; yet, as the proposal led to the discussion of the light in which we should consider General Burgoyne, we expressed our oppinion, and we conceive with justice, that he ought to be estimated in the rank of a Commander in Cheif, or at least as a Lieutenant General commanding in a seperate department; and founded our oppinion as expressed to the British commissioners upon the independence and extent of his command, upon the stile assumed in his proclamations, upon the circumstances of his receiving his orders from the Secretary for the American department, as appeared from his own official Letter soon after his surrender, and from the declaration of Lord George Germaine in the British house of Commons. It was denied on their side, that he commanded in a seperate department when he was taken, or that he had ever had a seperate Command; as it was alledged that while he was in Canada he was subject to Sir Guy Carlton, and the instant he was out of it he was under Sir William Howe. They refused therefore to consider him in higher command, or in other light, than General Grant, Lord Cornwallis or any other Leiutenant General acting under the immediate direction of Sir Henry Clinton, or to estimate him higher in exchange.
“That we considered the refusal in both instances, as well with respect to General Burgoyne’s exchange among the first prisoners, as to the rank in which we thought he should be estimated, to be unreasonable and far from being founded in liberal negociation. Its direct operation in the first case, would compel us to give privates for the redemption of our officers, when their release might have been effected by his exchange alone; and in the second, would lessen the number of officers, which we ought to receive for him, and of consequence would retain the more in their hands to be redeemed by privates in the same manner. Nor could we find that we were to derive any benefit from either of their Major Generals, prisoners with us, till the exchange should have proceeded to a considerable extent in men, Till then their release was to be postponed; and the delay of consequence would opperate in the same manner as in the case of General Burgoyne. We complained to the British commissioners of the hardship this proceeding would impose upon us; and were answered it was the only mode they could think of adopting—Finding then that their principal object was the acquisition of privates, and having already spent several days in conferences to little effect, we requested to know how many men and Officers they would accept in exchange for our Officers; hoping that possibly we might agree upon a gross number. To this they replied, that it was not their intention to exchange for any Officers in our hands, unless the Regiments to which they belonged could be exchanged at the same time. They then proposed, in order to give a more precise and accurate idea of their views, to commit them to writing, To this we readily consented, and in the afternoon of the third day following we received a billet from the British Commissioners, requesting a conference for a few minutes, to which we immediately agreed and they delivered the following.
“‘Definitive Proposals to Colonels Davies and Harrison, Commissioners on the part of General Washington for an exchange of prisoners.
“‘We renew our first offer which we still think the most equitable, that could be adopted; That a general restoration, of all prisoners of war now in possession of both parties take place including the Troops of the Convention of Saratoga: the ballance in favor of either to be accounted for by the other with the first prisoners taken: In default of equal ranks unequal to be interchanged, on the Tariff annexed.
“‘But as this was objected to on a supposition that the prisoners of one party would not extend to the redemption of those of the other, a more partial mode was suggested: Having in our several conferences, fully investigated the matter, we now offer the following terms, as the result and as a final proposal.
“‘1st The troops of the Convention shall be first exchanged and in the following succession, as far as the prisoners in the hands of the British, in any part of the Continent will suffice to exchange them[:] Right wing[:] Half the Artillery[,] One British Regiment[,] One Foreign[,] One British[,] A Major General[,] One Foreign Regiment[,] One British[,] One Foreign[,] Lieutenant General[;] Left wing[:] One British Regiment[,] One Foreign[,] One British[,] A Major General[,] One Foreign Regiment[,] One British[,] One Foreign[,] Half the Artillery.
“‘Dragoons, Staff and Corps not included above to be exchanged, half with each wing and disposed as may be agreed upon.
“‘Brigadier Generals with their regiments,
“‘2d In the above exchange the officers shall be accounted for according to the ranks they held on the 17th Octobr 1777, the day of signing the Convention, and shall be exchanged for officers of equal ranks as far as numbers will admit: In cases where ranks and numbers will not exactly apply, officers shall be exchanged by an adequate proportion, for other ranks nearest to their own, according to the Tariff annexed.
“‘In the exchange of our General Officers we will return those of the highest ranks in our possession, reserving a sufficient number of Brigadiers and Feild Officers to release all those of ours who are prisoners according to the principle of equality.
“‘On the other hand the private soldiers of the Convention who may exceed the number of privates we have to return for them shall be exchanged by an adequate proportion (according to the Tariff) of such Staff officers Subalterns and officers of next inferior rank, as may remain in our possession more than the number of Subalterns and Staff officers &ca of the Convention troops. The account of these balances to be settled according to the returns of officers and men actually and bona fide restored on each side; And such British Regimental officers as are absent on parole, shall be accounted for as making part of the regiments to which they belong or if required, be exchanged amongst the first, on the footing of being already restored.
“‘3d And should there after this, remain prisoners in the hands of the British in any part of the Continent, (Georgia particulary included) they shall be assigned to a further exchange of prisoners as far as they will extend.
“‘4th Officers who being on parole have not complied with the summons to return, or officers who have violated their parole are to be sent back immediately or accounted for in the first exchange. and Sir Henry Clinton leaves it in the present case with General Washington to determine, as to the Officers of the American Army, which shall be accounted for as having unwarrantably absented themselves.
“‘5th And altho we are instructed to assert the just pretentions, and to claim in the most explicit manner, the due performance of the capitulation of the Cedars, yet that no obstacle may remain to impede the immediate object of these proposals, We consent that the discussion of that affair shall remain for some future opportunity.
“‘6th And we further consent in the same view of removing difficulties that serjeants continuing to be exchanged as heretofore for privates, Subaltern officers shall only be rated as you propose at six men, tho we think the appreciation inadequate.
“‘7th In case either party from motives of generous confidence and to accelerate releif, should be induced to dispossess themselves of a portion of prisoners, before circumstances admit of receiving an equivalent, the plighted honors of the Generals or some adequate security must guarantee the delivery of the said equivalent, so that no pretence whatever may be assumed to evade or delay it.
“‘8th We are not unwilling to frame regulations to establish and facilitate future periodical exchanges upon terms of mutual advantage and which can leave no room for altercation or misconstruction. Whether such an instrument shall be called a General Cartel we will not dispute, and we shall be contented with powers on the part of the American Commissioners of a like tenor with our own. But we can, nither in the present, nor in any future case admit, that officers and soldiers of Militia, when not in service, shall be exempted from being made prisoners of war. Signed West Hyde John André Commissioners for an Exchange of prisoners on the part of Sir Henry Clinton.
“‘Tariff[:] General Commanding in Chief 5,000[;] Lieutenant General 1,200[;] Major General 350[;] Brigadier General 250[;] Majors of Brigade & Aides de Camp according to their rank[;] Colonel 150[;] Lieutenant Colonel 75[;] Major 35[;] Captain 20.[;] Lieutenant 10.[;] Ensign 5[;] Adjutant 10[;] Quarter Master 10[;] Chaplain 10[;] Serjeant 2[;] Corporals 1[;] Drummers 1[;] Privates 1.
“‘If the above proportions should be agreed upon, it would be easy to settle adequate proportions for the numerous Staff Officers of each Army on the same principles of equity.’
“We beg leave further to report to your Excellency—That we took these propositions into the earliest consideration and gave them the most assiduous attention in our power. We found that they involved a variety of matter, and that the consequences they led to, required the closest investigation. We had however, prepared the draft of our answer when we received the following letter from the British Commissioners.
Amboy Thursday April 22d 1779
“‘With a patience inspired by our anxious wishes to effect the end of our Commission and supported by the duties of personal politeness, we have waited three days to receive your assent or negative to the proposals we offered you on monday. As they are determinate and unalterable, so we hope they are clear; In the first case we can only require a decisive answer, Should they be deficient in perspicuity we shall be happy to explain them.
“‘We present you on our part terms unpropped by argument and resting only on the basis of their equity; Should you not be inclined to acquiesce in them, we trust you will not on your side, detain us for the purpose only, of entering at large into your motives, especially as we have Sir Henry Clinton’s orders to bring this negociation to a speedy conclusion and to return to New York so soon as we are convinced there are no hopes of success.... West Hyde John André.’
“To this we returned the following Answer.
Amboy April 22d 1779
“‘We are very sensible of your personal politeness through the whole of our negociation, and should be extremely unwilling you should indulge the idea, that in any instance we would wish to detain you unnecessarily. We affect not delay; but actuated by the warmest desires to accomplish the humane purposes of our appointment, we have paid the closest attention to the proposals you have offered. We have found them extensive and important in their consequences, involving a variety of interests, which necessarily required much consideration. With a truly anxious zeal we have endeavored to accomodate them to our mutual advantage and that of the prisoners, and are sensibly distressed to find ourselves unexpectedly restricted to a bare assent or negative to your proposals. Should they however, be finally determinate and unalterable, as you express, we have only to lament that they are such as we cannot accede to, without manifest injury to our Country, and incurring the disapprobation even of our unfortunate prisoners themselves.... William Davies Robt H: Harrison.[’]
“In a little time after the delivery of this letter the British Commissioners communicated their determination of going to New York in the morning, and accordingly took their leave early the next day.
“As a farther explanation of our conduct, we beg leave also to report to your Excellency, the draft of the answer we had prepared to the propositions made by the British Commissioners as before mentioned.
“‘Answer of Colonel Davies and Lieutenant Colonel Harrison, Commission⟨ers⟩ appointed by His Excellency General Washington to treat, confer, determine and conclude upon a Cartel for the exchange of prisoners, and for all matters whatsoever, which may be properly contained therein, in virtue of full powers to him given”—to definitive proposals by Colonel Hyde and Captain André, commission⟨ers⟩ for an exchange of prisoners on the part of Sir Henry Clinton.
“‘Although it is our most earnest wish to promote the cause of humanity, and afford relief to the unfortunate, yet we cannot accede to your first offer, expressing, as was stated by you at the commencement of our interview, Sir Henry Clinton’s idea of the principal object of the Cartel he was desirous to establish. This offer, however it may appear to profess a spirit of equality, would have a very partial and unequal operation; and while it would give a great accession of force to your army, would add but little to ours: for such is the disparity of prisoners between us, that were your account admitted in its fullest extent, which however, is utterly impossible, it would bear upon any equitable calculation, but a small proportion to General Burgoyne’s Army and the other prisoners in our hands.
“[‘]This offer is still the more inadmisable, as it does not stipulate that the ballance of prisoners in our favour, after your demand should be satisfied, which according to the terms of the proposal are to be delivered to you, should be held upon parole, until you had paid us an equivalent: and of consequence, they might be employed to capture prisoners to redeem themselves. An offer so unequal in its effects, so advantageous to you and injurious to us, cannot be accepted.
“‘And here you will permit us to observe, before we go into a discussion of the terms which you state as your ‘final proposal’, that besides the foregoing offer, there were sundry other points in the course of our interview, which concurred to render the settlement of a General Cartel impracticable, and which suggested the necessity of taking up matters on a more partial scale than we either wished or expected. You declared yourselves restricted by positive instructions from acceding to any article that should propose either a present or future liquidation and payment of any debts which had arisen on account of prisoners, previous to the general release you were desirous to obtain. This restriction we could not but consider as unreasonable, attended as it was with a proposal for the release of all the prisoners for whose support we conceived considerable debts had been incurred.
“‘Your powers too, as we suggested in the course of our interviews, we were concerned to find were liable to strong objections, and wholly unequal to what they professed. Their declared object was the settlement of a General Cartel, and yet they did not express that they were granted in virtue of any authority vested in Sir Henry Clinton, from whom you derived them. Such a declaration we apprehend to be material, as the power of entering into public Treaties, is not naturally inherent in military command; nor can personal credit or private authority in any measure be competent to such extensive obligation; neither can the validity and substantial operation of an Act, intended to pervade and comprehend the exchange of prisoners, their treatment, the payment of monies and the various cases incident to captivity through the stages of a war, ever be founded on a less solid basis than national faith. Indeed a Cartel framed on such powers as you possess, must be limited in its extent, uncertain its duration, requiring a renewal upon every change in the Cheif command of your Army, dependent altogether upon the will and interest of every successor, and liable on all occasions to be defeated without the imputation of public or private dishonor, by the interposition of superior authority. And if it were necessary to add any strength to our arguments on this head, we might adduce the declaration of Sir William Howe himself on a former occasion, when a treaty was proposed by Commissioners with powers substantially the same as yours. He then declared it was ‘meant to be of a personal nature, founded on the mutual confidence and honor of the contracting Generals, and not intended either to bind the nation, or to extend beyond the limits and duration of his own command.’ Any negociation, therefore, for a general Cartel under powers so dificient, must be entirely nugatory.
“‘We thought it necessary to mention these matters, and shall now proceed to consider the terms you offer, as your ‘final proposal.’ As to those comprehended under the heads or articles.
“‘1st & 2d ‘There will be no objection on our part to the exchange of the Convention Troops before others prisoners in our hands, upon equitable conditions, and the officers may be accounted for according to the American rank they held at the time of capture, provided the stipulation be reciprocal, and rank at the time of capture be observed as a governing principle. Upon this occasion however, as we are entirely ignorant of the relative state of prisoners in other quarters, and indeed have no official or particular information respecting them, we can only comprehend in the exchange which may be agreed on, the prisoners in your hands, who were the original objects of Sir Henry Clinton’s proposition to General Washington. If there are others in your possession proper subjects of military capture, they will be exchanged of course, as soon as it is known. But we cannot agree to the mode you have proposed.
“‘Fixing the exchange of the Convention troops upon a fanciful arrangement in order of battle, and making the release of each of your officers, Brigadiers included, inseparable from that of their regiments.
“‘Reserving for the exchange of your Brigadiers and Feild Officers, such of our Officers, your prisoners as are of equal rank; and of consequence from your proposed mode of exchange by regiments, excluding from releif some of our Brigadiers and Feild Officers, as long as there shall remain unexchanged any regiments of yours in our hands, having officers of similar rank.
“‘Witholding the exchange of your first Major General till after the release of one fourth part of the Convention Army—of General Burgoyne till after that of the half—and of the second Major General till after that of three fourths; and of consequence compelling us to purchase with privates a number of officers in your hands, whose release might have been effected by the exchange of those General Officers.
“‘Depriving us of the full benifit we ought to receive from the exchange of General Burgoyne, by estimating him only on the footing of a common Lieutenant General, and thereby retaining in your hands a greater number of our officers to be redeemed with privates.
“‘Confining the exchange of your superior officers, where equality will not apply, to equivalents to be taken from the ranks nearest their own, and of consequence postponing the enlargement of all our Colonels at least, we having no such officers of yours in our hands, till the periods of exchange you have assigned for your two Major Generals and General Burgoyne.
“‘Excluding us from the right of applying according to circumstances and convenience, the surplus in our possession, after the exchange you suppose of privates for privates; and restricting their application to the releif of our most Inferior Officers only—a measure tending to embarrass the liberation of our superior officers, and precluding priority of capture from any preference in releif, which is undoubtedly an equitable principle, where equality of rank does not interfere. And altho’ officers for officers of equal rank and adequate proportions of inferior for superior are certainly good rules for exchange; yet upon the present occasion, they are so fettered down by your first and fixed principle of exchanging by regiments, that at best they can have but a very confined and partial operation.
“‘These are the natural and obvious consequences of the mode of exchange you propose, which, in it’s opperation on the principles of your Tariff, would give you a large accession of privates, and contribute to the releif of only a part of our officers.
“‘No objection will be made on our part to the settlement of the ballance of prisoners on every exchange, according to the number of lawful captives, actually restored on either side. And altho we are willing to exchange your Officers who are absent on parole, we cannot perceive the justice or the propriety of confining it to regimental Officers in exclusion of General Burgoyne: for if the former may ‘be exchanged amongst the first on the footing of being already restored,’ so ought the latter being in the same predicament—absent from the Army and in England.
“‘3d All present and future prisoners in your hands belonging to the United States, would have been comprehended within the benifits of a General Cartel: but as your positive restriction with respect to the settlement of accounts, and the essential deficiency of powers, have defeated all expectations of success on that point; and as we have no knowledge of the relative state of prisoners in other quarters; nor, indeed, any official or particular information respecting them—the present exchange can only include such prisoners in your hands, as were the original objects of Sir Henry Clinton’s proposition to General Washington. Should there be others in your possession, proper subjects of military capture, they will be exchanged of course as soon as the fact is known and their number ascertained.
“‘4th We view every violation of parole with the utmost abhorrence and agree fully in opinion, that all under this description should be sent back without delay. Where this cannot be effected, they ought to be accounted for in regular turn; but we think a preference in exchange would operate as a reward by annexing benefit to misconduct—as well as injure those who have preserved their honor. We are happy to find however, from the information of our Commissary that a great [number] of those comprehended under this description were either not officers at all, or effected their escape properly.
“‘5th The Congress having already decided on the capitulation of the Cedars, that claim is inadmissible and any discussion unncessary.
“‘6th It was your original proposal that Serjeants should be rated equal to two privates: This we think too high an estimation altho in the present exchange it would be advantageous to us. We are however of opinion they ought to be rated something higher than privates as was suggested by you. And here you will permit us to observe that altho we objected to your setting a higher value upon Subalterns than was fixed between France and England last war, which you had exceeded by two thirds, yet we never did propose, nor indeed, can we ever consent, considering the circumstances of our Country, that an estimation of Subalterns should be rated at the number of privates mentioned under this article—We cannot but remark the merit which is assumed, by a pretended willingness to accomodate your interest to ours, and consenting with seeming difficulty to depreciate the Serjeants, altho’ that depreciation would be highly advantageous to you and injurious to us, as you have few if any of ours in your hands and we many of yours.
“‘7th If either party from motives of generous confidence and to accelerate releif should at any time dispossess themselves of a portion of the prisoners in their hands, without obtaining an equivalent at the time, the party receiving, we should suppose, would account without scruple for all, who should be subjects of military capture and military exchange, by returning a like number as soon as circumstances and a regard to the order of their capture with respect to others, would permit. But it would be necessary previous to such release that notice should be given to the adverse party of such intended delivery that proper Officers might be appointed to receive the prisoners.
“‘8th Periodical exchanges would be mutually advantageous, and their establishment is much to be desired; but as they must depend upon certain equitable conditions, which ought to be regulated by permanent engagements, to which neither your powers nor instructions are adopted as has been already shewn, they must be the result of occasional correspondences founded on principles of justice to the parties and humanity to the prisoners. The name of the instrument can have no operation on the stipulations contained in it, and whether it is called a ‘General Cartel’ or not, their validity would depend upon the competency of your powers, and could not acquire any additional strength from the deminution of those on our part. Your claims of officers and soldiers for the exchange of citizens taken when not in arms, under which discription are all Militia not in military service, cannot be admitted: even their capture is totally inconsistent with the practice of civilized war.
“‘We cannot agree to the proportions in your Tariff. The relative value between Officers and men is stated at too high a rate, and even that rate is disproportionate. Inferior Officers, of which class those in your hands cheifly consist, are estimated at a much higher proportion, than those of superior rank, the ballance of those being in our favour.”
“We have now given your Excellency a full state of our proceedings under the Commission with which you were pleased to honor us; and tho we have not been able to accomplish the humane and benevolent purposes you had in view; yet we trust, the reasons we have assigned for the failure will fully justify us to the States, to Your Excellency, and to our unfortunate prisoners themselves” (DNA: RG 360, PCC, item 28). For the British commissioners’ perspective on these events, see their letter of c.24 April to Gen. Henry Clinton, in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 17:110–11. GW forwarded this report to Congress on 7 May, and the delegates signified their approval three days later; see GW to John Jay, 7 May, and Jay to GW, 10 May (second letter).
4. The town of Warwick was located along the James River, about five miles south of Richmond in Chesterfield County, Virginia.