George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Abraham Skinner, 17 September 1780

To Abraham Skinner

Head qrs [Bergen County] Septr the 17th 1780.


It having been agreed that an interview should take place at Elizabeth Town, between Major Generals Phillips & Lincoln on the subject of their exchange1—I was induced from the earnest desire I had of relieving the prisoners on both sides as far as circumstances would admit—& in compliance with the directions of Congress, to inform His Excellency Sir Henry Clinton on the 26th Ulto, that “I should direct our Commissary of prisoners to attend at Elizabeth Town at the same time, who would be instructed to execute with the Commissary on his part, if he should think proper to send him, an exchange of Officers, Prisoners of War, on the footing of equal rank or composition, as far as the number in our hands would admit, and to include also the whole of the Officers of Convention on parole at New York or in Europe.” The interview between the Two Generals is to be on the 19th Instant, when Sir Henry Clinton has informed me in answer to my Letter “His Commissary should attend.”2

You will therefore proceed to Elizabeth Town on the 19th Instant and meet the Commissary on the part of Sir Henry Clinton or Other Officer deputed by him, with whom You will make or endeavour to make, under the restrictions & exceptions hereafter menti⟨oned⟩ an Exchange of All the Enemy’s Officers who are prisoners of War in our hands, and also of All the Officers of Convention on parole in New York or in Europe for an equal number of Ours of like rank, according to the order of their captur⟨e,⟩ and where the principle of equal rank will not apply—You will exchange them on the footing of composition, confining the composition to Officers only—and according to the value or tariff treated of & judged reasonable by the Commissioners at the last meeting at Amboy.3 In the exchanges on the principle of composition, Our Officers next in rank to those belonging to the Enemy’s Army who cannot be exchanged on the principle of equality are to be included and in the order of their captivity.

The above are the general rules by which You are to conduct Yourself in the execution of the proposed business—and which are to operate only in general, with respect to Our Officers prisoners in this quarter & for their benefit whose long captivity gives them a claim to the public’s first attention. There is however, besides the exchange which it is hoped Major Genl Lincoln will effect of himself either for Major General phillips or Major Genl Riedesel and which falls within the principle of equality—the case of Brigadr Genl du portail, whose release being particular[l]y directed by Congress must be attempted and effected either upon one or other of the foregoing principles—tho it would be best if it could be obtained on that of composition.4 The case of Lt Colo. Ramsay & Conolly is also to be particularly attended to for the reasons formerly given You—and likewise Colo. Webb’s, if the several Officers taken in the Eagle packet are comprehended in your transactions & which upon every principle of justice ought to be the case.5 If there are any Other instances of Exchanges out of the General & accustomary line, about which You have received any Orders from Congress or the Board of War—You must of course regard these & comply with their directions, or at least endeavour to carry them into execution.6

You are perfectly acquainted with all the circumstances respecting Violators of parole and know who have been adjudged such & who not & the order & manner in which they are to be accounted—and also the Characters for whom we do not conceive ourselves accountable. It is therefore unnecessary for me to observe further with respect to these than that the Instructions You have had repeatedly concerning them are to govern You on the present occasion.

We have in Canada a Lieutt Colonel Stacey, a prisoner, belonging to the Massachusetts’ line who was taken at Cherry valley the 11th of November 1778. He is to be added to Your List of Lt Colonels & exchanged whenever it comes to his turn, having regard to the time of his captivity. You will also recollect the Captains who are Hostages and endeav⟨our⟩ at their release.7

An exchange of All the Officers—prisone⟨rs⟩ of War, in our hands, and also of All the Convention Officers on parole in New York or Europe, is what is earnestly wished; but if You find You can not make it so general as to comprehend the whole—make it as extensive as You can.

You will report Your proceedings to me & the Exchanges You may make—specifying the names & ranks of the Officers on both sides.8

I have mentioned Your Instructions to Major General Lincoln, who will facilatate the execution of the Objects to which they extend, as far as he can, by endeavouring to get General phillips to countenance the business either wholly or partially if it should be necessary.9 I am Sir Yr Most Obedt st

G. W——g——n

P.s. I find the following Officers belonging to the Massachusetts line are also prisoners in Canada who You are to add to your list & exchange in their turn.10

Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Samuel Huntington, 7 Oct. (Document XVI with Major John Andre’s Capture and Execution, 23 Sept.–7 Oct., editorial note), DNA:PCC, item 152; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

2See Henry Clinton to GW, 4 Sept., found at GW to Clinton, 26 Aug., source note; see also Huntington to GW, 9 Aug., and n.1 to that document.

5For Lt. Col. Nathaniel Ramsay and British lieutenant colonel John Connolly, see GW to Skinner, 12 July.

6Congress resolved for “special reasons” on 10 July that “the Board of War do take the most speedy measures for the exchange of Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens, one of General Washington’s family, and now a prisoner of war on parole” (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 , 17:598).

7For these hostages, see Huntington to GW, 21 February.

10A table in the draft postscript listed Lt. Jonathan Maynard, taken prisoner at Cobus Kill, N.Y., on 30 May 1778, as well as Lt. Aaron Holden, Ensign Andrew Garrett, and surgeon’s mate Francis Suzor Debevere, all taken prisoner at Cherry Valley, N.Y., on 11 Nov. 1778.

Jonathan Maynard (1752–1835) attended Harvard College and joined a Massachusetts militia company in 1775 that merged into the 7th Massachusetts Regiment. Commissioned a lieutenant in January 1777, he was captured at Cobus Kill in May 1778 and exchanged in December 1780. Maynard rose to captain in January 1781, left the army in November 1782, and subsequently served as a Massachusetts legislator.

Aaron Holden (1731–1802), a French and Indian War veteran, served in various Massachusetts militia and Continental regiments from June 1775 to January 1777, when he became a lieutenant in the 7th Massachusetts Regiment. Captured at Cherry Valley in November 1778, Holden was still a prisoner when promoted to captain in September 1780 and retired from the army in January 1781. He remained in British custody until winter 1782.

Andrew Garrett (Garret; c.1755–1835) joined the 7th Massachusetts Regiment as a sergeant in March 1777 and became lieutenant in October 1778. He swore an affidavit in Barnstable County, Mass., on 22 April 1818 that after being captured during “the savage battle of Cherry Valley,” he “remained a Prisoner three years, one year of which was with the Indians” (DNA: RG 15, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files). Garrett subsequently transferred to the 4th Massachusetts Regiment and remained in the army until spring 1783. He worked as a carpenter after the war and served as a Massachusetts militia officer during the War of 1812.

Francis Suzor Debevere (De Beer; De Bur), of Paris, became surgeon’s mate in the 7th Massachusetts Regiment in August 1778. Captured at Cherry Valley, Debevere remained a prisoner for the rest of the war and then returned to France.

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