George Washington Papers

Proclamation of Pardon, 26 May 1780

Proclamation of Pardon

[Morristown 26 May 1780]

By His Excellency George Washington Esquire, General and Commander in Chief of The Forces of The United States of America.

Whereas Emanuel Evans soldier in the 3d Cornelius Nix soldier in the 1st And Thomas Brown soldier in the 2nd Jersey Regiments—Also Joseph Infelt & John Earhart Soldiers in the 10th Pennsylvania Regiment—likewise Matthew Bell Soldier in the 2nd James Hanly soldier in the 4th and Lancaster Lighthall soldier in the 3d New York Regiments—and Corporal Thomas Clark of the 4th and Thomas Calvin Soldier in the 11th Pennsylvania Regiments after legal trial and Conviction of high crimes and Misdemeanors to them respectively imputed, were sentenc’d to Suffer death for the same, which Sentences respectively were by me approved and ordered to be executed this day.1

Now be it know that for Sundry weighty considerations by virtue of the powers in me vested, I have thought fit to pardon the said Emanuel Evans, Cornelius Nix, Thomas Brown, Joseph Infelt, John Earhart—Matthew Bell—James Hanly—Lancaster Lighthall—Thomas Clark and Thomas Calvin—and they are hereby pardoned accordingly, and the Sentences pronounced against them and each of them as aforesaid wholly remitted and released.

Given under my Hand & Seal at Camp Morris Town this Twenty sixth day of May Anno Domini 1780.2

Go: Washington

DS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW. GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison signed under a notation at the bottom of the document that reads: “By His Excellencys Command.”

1GW had ordered these executions in the general orders for 25 May; see also the general orders for 1 March, 5 April, and 9, 18, and 24 May.

2Dr. James Thacher wrote in his journal entry for this date: “Eleven soldiers are condemned to suffer death for various crimes, three of whom are sentenced to be shot; the whole number were prepared for execution this day, but pardons were granted by the commander-in-chief to those who were to have been shot, and the seven others, while under the gallows. This was a most solemn and affecting scene, capable of torturing the feelings even of the most callous breast. The wretched criminals were brought in carts to the place of execution. Mr. [William] Rogers, the chaplain, attended them to the gallows, addressed them in a very pathetic manner, impressing on their minds the heinousness of their crimes, the justice of their sentence, and the high importance of a preparation for death. The criminals were placed side by side, on the scaffold, with halters round their necks, their coffins before their eyes, their graves open to their view, and thousands of spectators bemoaning their awful doom. The moment approaches when every eye is fixed in expectation of beholding the agonies of death—the eyes of the victims are already closed from the light of this world. At this awful moment, while their fervent prayers are ascending to Heaven, an officer comes forward and reads a reprieve for seven of them, by the commander-in-chief. The trembling criminals are now divested of the habiliments of death, and their bleeding hearts leap for joy. How exquisitely rapturous must be the transition when snatched from the agonizing horrors of a cruel death, and mercifully restored to the enjoyment of a life that had been forfeited! No pen can describe the emotions which must have agitated their souls. They were scarcely able to remove from the scaffold without assistance. The chaplain reminded them of the gratitude they owed the commander-in-chief for his clemency towards them, and that the only return in their power to make, was a life devoted to the faithful discharge of their duty” (Thacher, Military Journal description begins James Thacher. Military Journal of the American Revolution, From the commencement to the disbanding of the American Army; Comprising a detailed account of the principal events and Battles of the Revolution, with their exact dates, And a Biographical Sketch of the most Prominent Generals. Hartford, 1862. description ends , 195–97).

Sgt. Ebenezer Parkman, Jr., who served with the artificers, wrote in his diary entry for this date: “Eleven Deserters were brought to the place of Execution—Bitterly Lamenting their Sad Fate—But through the Clemency of Genl Washington Ten were pardoned, tho 11 graves were dug—and all Things prepar’d for Their Execution” (MWA: Parkman Family Papers). For another account, see the Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia), 6 June 1780.

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