George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 10 July 1779

To Thomas Jefferson

Head Qrs New Windsor July the 10. 1779


On the 4th Instant I had the Honor to receive Your Letter of the 19th of June. Your Excellency will permit me to offer you my sincere congratulations upon your appointment to the Government of Virginia.1

I thank you much for the accounts Your Excellency had been pleased to transmit me of the successes of Cols. Clarke & Shelby.2 They are important and interesting—and do great honor to the Officers and Men engaged in the Enterprizes. I hope these successes will be followed by very happy consequences. If Colo. Clarke could by any means gain possession of Detroit, it would in all probability effectually secure the friendship—or at least the neutrality of most of the Western Indians.

I have no doubt of the propriety of the proceedings against Governor Hamilton—Dejean and Lamothe. Their cruelties to our unhappy people who have fallen into their hands—and the measures they have pursued to excite the savages to acts of the most wanton barbarity—discriminate them from Common prisoners, and most fully authorise the treatment decreed in their case.3

Your Excellency will have heard of the Enemy’s movements up Hudson’s river. It was generally supposed from the force in which they came—and from a variety of Other circumstances that our posts in the Highlands were their Object; however they did not attempt them. They took post themselves on Verplanks & Stoney points, on the opposite sides of the River—where they have established very strong Garrisons, and from their peninsular and indeed almost insular forms—it will be very difficult if practicable to dislodge them. The taking of these positions was, among other considerations, to distress and cut off our best communication between the States East & West of the River.4 Since they have done this—Genl Clinton with the main body of his Army has fallen down the River to philipsbourg & the Country above Kings bridge.5 They seem determined to prosecute the6 system of War—threatned by the Commissioners and afterwards sanctioned by parliament on a discussion of the point.7 And a Detachment sent up the Sound last week disembarked plundered New Haven—burnt some Houses there and at East Haven—reimbarked and on the 7th relanded & burnt almost the Town of Fairfield, except a few Houses. The Militia upon these occasions, considering their number and the sudden manner in which they assembled, behaved with great spirit. Genl Tryon it is said commands these disgraceful expeditions.8 I have the Honor &c.

G. Washington

P.S. The Enemy have burnt Norwalk another Town on the sound.9

Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1The Virginia legislature had chosen Jefferson as governor on 1 June, and he accepted the following day (see Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 2:277–78).

2GW is referring to colonels George Rogers Clark and Evan Shelby.

3The Virginia council deliberated on the actions of the prisoners—Henry Hamilton, who had been British lieutenant governor of Detroit, Philip Dejean, and Guillaume La Mothe—on 16 June 1779 and found “that Governour Hamilton has executed the task of inciting the Indians to perpetrate their accustomed cruelties on the citizens of these states, without distinction of age, sex, or condition, with an eagerness and activity which evince that the general nature of his charge harmonized with his particular disposition … They find that his treatment of our citizens and soldiers, captivated and carried within the limits of his command, has been cruel and inhuman … that Governour Hamilton gave standing rewards for scalps, but offered none for prisoners, which induced the Indians, after making their captives carry their baggage into the neighbourhood of the fort, there to put them to death, and carry in their scalps to the Governour, who welcomed their return and successes by a discharge of cannon …

“It appears to them that the prisoner Dejean, was on all occasions the willing and cordial instrument of Governour Hamilton, acting both as judge and keeper of the jail, and instigating and urging him by malicious insinuations and untruths, to increase rather than relax his severities, heightening the cruelty of his orders by the manner of executing them; offering at one time a reward to one prisoner to be the hangman of another, threatening his life on refusal, and taking from his prisoners the little property their opportunities enabled them to acquire.

“It appears that the prisoner Lamothe, was a Captain of the volunteer scalping parties of Indians and whites, who went out, from time to time, under general orders, to spare neither men, women, nor children.

“… this Board has resolved to advise the Governour that the said Henry Hamilton, Philip Dejean, and William Lamothe, prisoners of war, be put in irons, confined in the dungeon of the publick jail, debarred the use of pen, ink, and paper, and excluded all converse except with their keeper. And the Governour orders accordingly” (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 2:292–95; see also Barnhart, Journal of Henry Hamilton, 203–5). For GW’s retraction of his initial agreement with the harsh confinement of these prisoners, see GW to Jefferson, 6–10 Aug. and 13 Sept. (both DLC:GW); see also Frederick Haldimand to GW, 29 Aug. (P.R.O.: 30/55, Carleton Papers), and Jefferson to GW, 1, 2, and 8 Oct. (all DLC: Jefferson Papers).

Philip Dejean (de Jean; d. 1795), probably born in France, moved to Detroit and became a British subject, after which he was appointed justice of the peace. Captured at Vincennes in late winter 1779, he was paroled that October and later renounced his loyalty to Great Britain. Dejean subsequently affiliated himself with France and suffered severe financial reverses that landed him in a Jamaican prison, where he died (see Thwaites and Kellogg, Revolution on the Upper Ohio, description begins Reuben Gold Thwaites and Louise Phelps Kellogg, eds. The Revolution on the Upper Ohio, 1775–1777. Madison, Wis., 1908. description ends 148–49, and Barnhart, Journal of Henry Hamilton, 191).

Guillaume La Mothe (Lamothe; c.1744–1799) was a French Canadian trader who served as a British scout and militia captain. Captured at Vincennes in late winter 1779, he remained a prisoner in Virginia until exchanged in 1781. After the war, La Mothe remained in the Great Lakes region and served as an Indian interpreter (see Thwaites and Kellogg, Frontier Defense, description begins Reuben Gold Thwaites and Louise Phelps Kellogg, eds. Frontier Defense on the Upper Ohio, 1777–1778. Madison, Wis., 1912. description ends 287–88, and Barnhart, Journal of Henry Hamilton, 177–79, 186–88).

4For British operations up the Hudson River in early June, see William De Hart to GW, 30 May, n.1, and General Orders, 1 June, n.1.; see also Alexander McDougall to GW, 4 June, and n.16 to that document.

5See GW to John Jay, 1 July, and n.3 to that document.

6At this place in the draft manuscript, Harrison wrote and then struck out the word “predatory.”

7GW is referring to British peace commissioners and their manifesto and proclamation of 3 Oct. 1778 (see GW to Philip Schuyler, 9–11 July, n.10).

8Maj. Gen. William Tryon commanded an expedition that raided Connecticut coastal towns in early July (see GW to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 7 July, source note).

9At this place on the draft manuscript, Harrison wrote and then struck out the words “and Bedford.”

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