George Washington Papers

Circular to the States, 26 August 1779

Circular to the States

Head Quarters West-point 26th August 1779.


I have the honor to inclose a list of sundry officers belonging to your State who have been in captivity, and are reported by the commissary of prisoners as violators of parole.1 A conduct of this kind so ignominious to the individuals themselves, so dishonorable to their country, and to the service in which they have been engaged—and so injurious to those gentlemen who were associated with them in misfortune, but preserved their honor—demands that every measure should be taken to deprive them of the benefit of their delinquency, and to compel their return. We have pledged ourselves to the enemy to do every thing in our power for this purpose, and in consequence I directed Mr Beatty Commissary of prisoners, to issue the summons, which you will probably have seen in the public papers.2 But as it is likely to have a very partial operation, I find it necessary in aid of it, to request the interposition of the executive powers of the different States, to enforce a compliance. Most of these persons never having been, and none of them now being in Continental service, military authority will hardly be sufficient to oblige them to leave their places of residence, and return to captivity against their inclinations: neither will it be difficult for them to elude a military search, and keep themselves in concealment. I must therefore intreat that you will be pleased to take such measures, as shall appear to you proper and effectual to produce their immediate return. This will be rendering an essential service to our officers in general in captivity, will tend much to remove the difficulties, which now lie in the way of exchanges, and to discourage the practice of violating paroles in future. I have the honor to be with the greatest respect and esteem Your most obt hble servt

G. Washington

LS, in James McHenry’s writing, addressed to New York governor George Clinton, CtY: Franklin Papers; LS, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, addressed to Maryland governor Thomas Johnson, MdAA; LS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, addressed to Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., Ct: Trumball Papers; LS, in Meade’s writing, addressed to Delaware governor Caesar Rodney, in private hands; transcript, addressed to Pennsylvania Council president Joseph Reed, MH: Sparks transcripts; Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, addressed to all recipients, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. There are minor textual variations in the different copies of this circular. A cover, signed by GW and addressed to Rodney, which probably was associated with either the LS sent to Rodney or GW’s circular of 28 Aug., was offered for sale by Remember When Auctions, Inc., on 18 July 1998 (auction catalog number 44); it is docketed in part: “Army likely to want flour & on the subject of officers who have broken their Paroles.” No copies of the circulars sent to Gov. William Livingston of New Jersey and Massachusetts Council president Jeremiah Powell have been found.

For the origins of this circular, see GW to John Beatty, 19 Aug., and n.2 to that document; see also GW to John Beatty, 12 July.

1A “List of American Officers Prisoners who have Violated their Paroles belonging to the State of New York,” an undated document in Caleb Gibbs’s writing enclosed with the letter to Clinton, lists the following officers: Lt. Col. Frederick Bellinger of Albany County, captains William DiWitt and Peter Randes, Capt. Daniel Marbring of Westchester County, and Ensign John Oakley of Westchester County.

A “List of American Officers Prisoners who have Violated their Paroles belonging to the State of Delaware,” an undated document in Caleb Gibbs’s writing enclosed with the letter to Rodney, lists the following officer: Capt. Lt. Jonathan Brewer of Newcastle County.

Gibbs appended a list of the Maryland officers at the end of the LS sent to Maryland governor Thomas Johnson: Capt. Richard Davis, Lt. William Piles, James Sool of Baltimore, and Jacob Carsdorp. The enclosed lists for the other states have not been identified.

These lists apparently included all known violators of parole and not just those returned by a board of general officers that GW had convened to examine alleged parole violations (see GW to John Beatty, 12 July).

2For this summons, which John Beatty had issued in July on GW’s orders, see GW to Beatty, 12 July, n.3.

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