George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General James Irvine et al., 25 October 1780

From Brigadier General James Irvine et al.

October 25th 1780


After due acknowledgments for your Excellency’s attention to our wants at every period of our unhappy captivity, more particularly at the present time when through your interposition a very considerable number of the officers and all the privates here are led to expect speedy liberation,1 We cannot conceal the emotions we have severely felt on hearing that Congress have resolved on the Exchange of brigadier general Du Portail and lieutenant colonel Laurens both lately captured in Charles Town; in preference to officers here of the same rank much longer in Captivity, and in pri[n]ciple injurious to the whole:2 But we leave your excellency to judge of our sensations when we are informed from undoubted authority that the insisting on the exchange of those gentlemen at this time will totally retard the humane purpose of relief which your excellency and we have so much at heart. It is foreign to the ideas of the british commander in chief that brigr general Du Portail or lieut: col: Laurens should be the subject of the negotiation now about to take place, they not having been involved in the original proposals of the present Plan.3

We therefore most earnestly request your Excellency to remove an objection which if insisted on will be ruinous in its consequences to numbers here.

We hope the length of our Captivity and sufferings ⟨a⟩dded to the partiality of the principle reprobated and objected to, will apologize for this hasty address. We have the honor to be &ca

Signed James Irvine B: Genl4

Copy, PHi: William Irvine Papers.

1See GW to Henry Clinton, 7 Oct., found at GW to Abraham Skinner, same date, n.1.

2For these resolutions, see 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 , 17:609–10, and GW to Abraham Skinner, 17 Sept., n.6; see also Duportail to GW, 17 May, and n.1 to that document.

3See both letters from the Commissioners for the Exchange of Prisoners to GW dated 26 March (letter 1; letter 2), and GW to Skinner, 7 October.

4Col. John Ely, three other colonels, a lieutenant colonel, and two majors also signed the letter.

Ely wrote GW from Flatbush, N.Y., on 26 Oct.: “I Beg leave to address your Excellency on a Subject in which to repeat Greavences or to Complain were I the sole Object would put me Severely to the Blush.

“I ever Esteemed it an Honour that I early Ingaged in Opposeing the Unjust measures of Britain, and that I have ever been active in the service of my Country since Lexington Battle Untill the Unfortunate 10th of December 1777 at which time I was made prisoner of war to the British.

“My Interist and all was Situated In and Contiguous to the Sound between Long Island and the main. I had been for five years before this Contest, Purchaseing a Small Island Known by the name of Duck Island on which two Hospitals were Built at my Private Expence which has long since been Pilliged and Plundered.

“What adds to my Misfortune the man to whom I had Rented my Small Plantation being a Refugee from this Island and Thretened by friends to Goverment has been long since Obliged to Quitt from his Exposed Situation by which my large Family Consisting of a Wife and Seven Children are Exceedingly Distressed and Unhappy.

“I therefor beg your Excellencys kiend Interposition in Behalf of them and my self that I might be Liberated either by Exchange or Parole in Such a Manner Agreable to your Wisdom as will be least Oneorous to the States or Injurious to my Brother Prisoners in Captivity” (ALS, DLC:GW). Duck Island, Conn., is near the mouth of the Housatonic River.

Sarah Worthington Ely (c.1734–1808) had married Ely in 1759. For their children, see Worthington, Worthington Family description begins George Worthington, comp. The Genealogy of the Worthington Family. N.p., 1894. description ends , 57–62.

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