George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Phillips, 30 September 1779

From Major General William Phillips

Elizabeth Town [N.J.] Septr 30th 1779


I take the opportunity of Mr Commissary Mersereau’s Express to inform you, Sir, that Major General De Riedesel and myself with our respective families are arrived at this place.

To my great surprise I have received notice that we are to be detained and not suffered to go into New York agreeable to the tenour of the agreement settled, as I suppose, between Your Excellency and Sir Henry Clinton and we move directly from Elizabeth Town.

I cannot express my feelings on this Event, and acknowledge I did not expect to be thus made to Journey through the Country under the expectation of receiving by your permission and participation, in which I am at last disappointed, a similar indulgence to what has been granted for some Months to Brigadier General Thomson and Colonel McGaw who are the officers, as I understand, opposed to me in the Parole Exchange as approved of by Sir Henry Clinton and Your Excellency.

I do not allow of any Conduct of mine or Major General De Riedesel deserving this treatment and I am to hope, Sir, from your known Candour, and Honour an Explanation.1 I have the honour to be, Sir, Your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble Servant

W. Phillips

LS, DLC:GW; copy, P.R.O.: 30/55, Carleton Papers.

1GW replied to Phillips on 10 October. On 28 Sept., two days after learning that French vice admiral d’Estaing was bringing his fleet to North America for combined operations with the Continental forces, Congress—fearing the advice that Phillips and German major general Riedesel would be able to give Gen. Henry Clinton, British commander in chief—ordered the Board of War to “detain” Phillips and Riedesel and bar them from going into New York on parole (see John Jay to GW, 26 Sept.; Samuel Huntington to GW, 28 Sept.; and 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 15:1114). The Board of War sent GW orders to that effect the same day (see GW to the Board of War, 2 Oct.). For GW’s previous authorization of the two generals’ parole, see GW to Jay, 24–27 August. Chagrined at the seemingly late action of the Board of War, GW had to countermand his authorization (see GW to the Board of War and to Abraham Skinner, both 2 Oct.). Shortly thereafter, GW learned of Congress’s main motive for detaining the generals (see Huntington to GW, 28 Sept., and the Board of War to GW, 9 Oct.; see also Phillips to GW, 6 Oct. and 10 Oct., first letter). In November, after it became clear that d’Estaing was not bringing his fleet to New York, Congress allowed the generals to proceed into New York on parole as if the legislature had never countermanded GW’s authorization (see Richard Peters to GW, 15 Nov., and its enclosures [DLC:GW]).

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