George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Abraham Skinner, 24 July 1780

To Abraham Skinner

Head Qrs [Preakness, N.J.] July 24th 1780


I have received Your Letter of the 22d Instant,1 inclosing a Copy of one from Mr Loring, the British Commissary of prisoners of the 19th.2 I find by his Letter that the En⟨em⟩y intend now, or at least wish to effect it, if they can, to connect the exchange of our officers and privates, prisoners at New York & Long Island, and to make the release of the former depend on that of the latter. This is evidently the Object at which they now aim. It is inadmissible and what I will not accede to. Exchanges, from the first that took place between us to ⟨the⟩ present time, have been conducted on a very different principle and it was never attempted in any case before to combine the release of officers & Men together, except in the instance of the Convention Troops; and the propositions contained in Mr Loring’s Letter of the 12th3 of June, whatever communications he may have thought it necessary to give since, are separate & distinct with respect to the business, and do not hint in the most distant manner, at any relation between them.4 You are therefore to govern Yourself entirely by his proposition of the 21st of June & by my Letter of the 12th Instant, with respect to the Officers.

as to the privates, prisoners in New York about whose exchange the Enemy appear solicitous at present, it might be remarked that humanity required the measure much more strongly, when it was proposed & urged on our part on the 3d of February—and that they thought proper then to decline it and not to give any Answer upon the subject till the 6th of May.5 But waiving all consideration of the motives, which induced them then to decline, what they now would accede to, You may ascertain with Mr Loring, and obtain fro⟨m⟩ him Lists of such as are really prisoners of War—whom we shall deem as such & fit subjects of exchange. This will be a good & necessary preliminary step & such as will facilitate their release.

In consequence of directions I have just received for the purpose, You will propos⟨e⟩ to Mr Loring to exchange Any Brigadier General belonging to them in our hands, for Brigadier Genl du portail, who was taken at Charles Town,6 and if the propositio⟨n⟩ is agreed to, You will take immediate measures for releasing the Officer given on our part; and will obtain an Order for the liberation of Genl du portail and for his safe conduct to philadelphia, or some part of Jersey, if Sir Henry Clinton will indulge him with a passage by Water, or if not till he arrives at such place in North Carolina as the General may mentio⟨n⟩.

As Lt Genl Burgoyne is not with the Convention Troops—and the Enemy ha⟨ve⟩ no Officers of ours of his rank to exchange for him; and as they have several of our Colonels, prisoners to them, who can never be exchanged on the principle of equal rank; I wish You to propose, for the mutual relief of the parties, his exch[ange] for our Colonels, as far as it may ext⟨end⟩ according to the tariff or grades ⟨which⟩ were discussed & thought reasonable by ⟨our⟩ respective Commissioners when at Amboy last;7 beginning first with the Officers of this rank, prisoners in this quarter after reserving one to be exchanged for Colonel Cockler,8 and extending it to the relief of those in the Continental line, prisoners at the Southward, as far as it will reach, according to the seniority of their capture & where this is equal the dates of Commission must govern.

There were Two Officers of the name of Robinson, Sons of Colo. Robinson, taken at Stony point9—You will permit them to go to New York on parole & remain till called for or exchanged. I am sir Yr Most Obedt sert

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, in private hands; Df, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Samuel Huntington, 24 Aug., DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Mutilated portions of the LS are supplied in angle brackets from the draft, also in Harrison’s writing. GW signed the cover of the LS. The last paragraph does not appear on the copies in DNA:PCC, items 152 and 169. Skinner replied to GW on 9 August.

1This letter has not been found.

2Joshua Loring’s letter to Skinner, dated 19 July at New York City, reads: “Your Letter of the 12th Inst. in answer to mine of the 21st June is just come to hand; I am very sorry to find so little attention has been paid to a matter of such consequence; and that no reply has been made to my proposal of the 6th May of exchanging all the Privates; which you was pleased in Your Letter of 22nd May to ‘Allow to be a very humane one and that it should be particularly attended to; that You was equally anxious with us for the preservation of their Lives, and that the moment you was Authorized to make the exchange you would take the earliest opportunity to signify it to me.’

“Yet two Months and more have elapsed without my receiving any Answer or the least step taken to carry this proposal into execution, even after I repeated this proposal in my public Letter of the 21st June, and gave you also the fullest assurances in my private one of the same date, ‘That unless the exchange to the full extent, comprehending Privates as well as Officers was acceded to, I was apprehensive it would put a stop to the humane intention, which was intended should extend to the Soldier as well as the Officer.’

“I own I did not expect so Vague an Answer which reduces me to the necessity of referring you to that Letter, and to assure you once more that until it is fully & explicitly answered, not any Negotiation whatever can be concluded—Nevertheless at Your request I shall be happy to meet you at Decker’s Ferry on Tuesday next [25 July] at 10 oClock in the Morning to explain any Matters that may not be fully comprehended in our business” (DNA:PCC, item 152).

3Harrison almost certainly meant to write “21st.” He wrote that date on the draft, and Loring’s letter to Skinner was dated 21 June.

4For Loring’s letter to Skinner of 21 June, see William Phillips to GW, 19 June, source note.

6See Samuel Huntington to GW, 14 July, and n.2 to that document.

7See Commissioners for the Exchange of Prisoners to GW, 26 March (two letters [letter 1; letter 2]); see also GW to the Commissioners for the Exchange of Prisoners, 7 and 8 March.

8For Col. Johann Christoph Koehler’s appeal for his parole and exchange, see Koehler to GW, 21 March.

9GW is referring to two sons of Loyalist colonel Beverly Robinson.

Frederick Philipse Robinson (1763–1852) joined the Loyal American Regiment as an ensign in July 1778 before transferring to the British 17th Regiment of Foot the following September. Wounded and captured during the Continental light infantry’s assault on Stony Point, N.Y., in July 1779, Robinson was exchanged in November 1780. While still a captive, he received a commission as a lieutenant in the 60th Regiment of Foot in September 1779, a rank he held for the duration of the war. After the war, Robinson rose steadily in the British army, eventually becoming a major general in 1814, a lieutenant general in 1825, and finally a general in 1841. He also served as provisional governor of Upper Canada in 1815 and governor of Tobago in the West Indies from 1816 to 1821.

Morris Robinson (1759–1815) held the rank of lieutenant before becoming a captain in the Loyal American Regiment in October 1777. Also captured at Stony Point in July 1779, Robinson was later exchanged, and between September 1780 and September 1781 he served in the Provincial Light Infantry. He received a commission as a captain of cavalry in the Queen’s Rangers in April 1783. After the war, he rose to the rank of temporary lieutenant colonel while serving in Gibraltar from 1805 to 1815.

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