George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Samuel Huntington, 14 January 1780

From Samuel Huntington

Philadelphia Jany 14. 1780


Your Excellency will receive herewith enclos’d seven acts of Congress of the 10th 12th 13th & 14th instant.1

By the act of the 13th respecting the Exchange of Prisoners your Excellency is fully authorized to negotiate & conclude all matters & proceedings necessary for an Exchange of Prisoners agreeable to the Act of Congress of the 5th March 1779.2

The Compass of a letter would not suffice to recapitulate the Subject Matter of the several Acts enclos’d and should I give myself that trouble in the present Case it would perhaps give your Excellency unnecessary reading.

The Officers who deliver’d me your letter of the 4th Instant are Impatient to return & will have the honour of delivering your Excy these dispatches and as I am unwilling to detain them must beg your Excuse for not acknowledging in particular the receipt of several of your letters which have come to hand but are not now before me. I have the honour to be with every Sentiment of respect your Excy’s hble Servt

Sam. Huntington President

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 14.

1Huntington enclosed seven documents with resolutions extracted from the minutes of Congress, all signed by Charles Thomson, secretary of Congress. The first document’s resolution, dated 10 Jan., reads: “Resolved, That Major Genl Cha. Lee, be informed that Congress have no farther occasion for his services in the Army of the United States.” For Charles Lee’s courtmartial and suspension from command in the army, see General Orders, 1 July 1778; GW to Henry Laurens, 16 Aug. 1778 (first letter); Lee to GW, 15 Sept., n.2; and Laurens to GW, 6 Dec. 1778.

The second document’s resolution, dated 12 Jan., responding to GW’s letter to Huntington of 5 Jan., ordered that copies of the part of GW’s letter respecting the army’s need of provisions be sent “with all possible dispatch” to the legislatures or executive councils of Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware and “that they be respectively urged in the most pressing manner to send immediate supplies of provisions to the Army.”

The third document contained several resolutions passed on 12 January. The first directed that “the mustering department be discontinued and the Officers thereof discharged.” The second resolution authorized a year’s pay for the commissary general of musters and his officers. The third resolution ordered that “in future the business of mustering the Troops be performed by the Inspectors of the Army in such manner & under such regulations as the Commander in Cheif shall direct, who is hereby Authorized to make the arrangements, reporting the same to Congress.” For GW’s recommendation for the abolition of the army’s mustering department, see GW to the Continental Congress Committee on the Mustering Department, 20 Aug. 1779; see also Joseph Ward to GW, 19 Jan. 1780, and GW to Ward, 21 January.

The fourth document, dated 13 Jan., contained two resolutions passed by Congress on 12 January. The first directed “That such of the Virginia troops as by a resolve of the 15th of Decr last were required to return and join the main army be marched by their officers to the state of Virginia and there discharged, a change of circumstances rendering their junction with that army unnecessary; except such number of those whose times of enlistment will latest expire as shall be deemed necessary to be employed as guards by the board of war.” The second reads: “Resolved, That Mr Galvan receive the commission of Major in the army of the United States and be employed in the inspectorship as the commander in chief shall direct.” For GW’s recommendation of William Galvan for this commission and position, see GW to the Board of War, 12 Dec. 1779.

The fifth document, dated 13 Jan., contained three resolutions Congress passed on that day. The first, in response to GW’s letter to Huntington of 4 Jan. on the proposed opening of prisoner exchange negotiations, reads: “Resolved, That all the powers granted to General Washington by the resolution of 5th of March 1779 respecting the exchange of prisoners be and they are hereby renewed & confirmed.” For the text of the March 1779 resolution, see GW to Henry Clinton, 14 March 1779, n.6; see also 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 13:279–80. The second resolution recommended to the executives of the states “to transmit with all possible expedition to general Washington the names and rank of all Officers, and the number of privates belonging to the enemy, held as prisoners of War within their respective States, and the places they are at in order that they may be included in the general Exchange should a cartel be agreed to between the Commanders in Chief of the American & British Armies.” The lengthy third resolution, an attempt to regularize the handling and exchange of prisoners of war, reads in part: “Resolved That all prisoners of War whether captivated by the Army or Navy of the United States, or by the subjects, troops or Ships of any particular State shall be delivered into the care and custody of the Commissary General of prisoners, his Deputies or Assistants and be deemed and treated in all respects as prisoners of War to the United States.

“That it be earnestly recommended to the Governments of the respective States that they make no Exchanges of prisoners, to the intent that all exchanges may be made through the Commissary Genl of prisoners by direction of Congress or the Commander in Chief. And When prisoners are taken by the particular subjects, troops or Vessels of any state not in the service of the united states or by private ships or vessels of war fitted out in any particular State, these shall be first exchanged so far as is necessary for the Subjects or Inhabitants of the same State taken by the subjects, adherents, Ships or Vessels of the Enemy; and the Overplus if any shall go towards redeeming the prisoners in the hands of the enemy without regard to their being subjects or inhabitants of any particular State.” The remaining portions of the resolution specified regulations for handling prisoners of war. The resolution ended with the following injunctions: “That the Commissary genl of prisoners and his Deputies make regular monthly returns to the board of War of the Numbers, situation and Exchanges of all prisoners under their charge; and that they also give the said board such occasional information of all material transactions in their department as circumstances from time to time render necessary, or when they shall be required by the board so to do, under pain of being suspended or dismissed by the said board.

“That all exchanges of prisoners made in Consequence of the foregoing resolutions shall be Soldier for Soldier & Sailor for sailor.”

The sixth document’s resolution, dated 14 Jan., reads: “Resolved, That the Commander in Chief be authorised to order so many expresses to be retained in the public service as he may judge necessary for the immediate purposes of the Army.” For GW’s decision regarding retention of essential express riders, see GW to Nathanael Greene, 27 January.

The seventh document’s resolution, dated 14 Jan., authorized the indefinite retention in the army of Brigadier General Duportail, Colonel Laumoy, and Lt. Col. Obry Gouvion, pending the approval of the French king or his minister plenipotentiary (all DLC:GW; see also 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 16:33–34, 43–44, 46–52, and 54–56). For GW’s letter to Congress regarding the retention of these French officers in the Continental service, see GW to Huntington, 2 January.

2This act was prompted by GW’s letter to Huntington of 4 Jan. enclosing propositions for a general prisoner exchange.

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