George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Phillips, 4 November 1780

From Major General William Phillips

New York November 4th 1780.


You will perceive, Sir, by the report of Your Commissary General of Prisoners that the Exchanges on both sides have been made so far as possible and the Certificates have been mutually given by the Commissaries of the Exchange of all the British and German Officers Prisoners of War against an equal number of American; and a consent has been mutually interchanged for a delivery of privates prisoners of War so far as the Americans under that description in New York will apply—This humane business will be finally concluded whenever the British and German prisoners arrive at Elizabeth Town, which I take for granted Your Excellency will have the goodness to direct immediately.1

Mr Skinner carries out for Your Excellency’s Approbation proposals for the Exchange of a certain number of Officers of the Troops of Convention which I will request, and hope, may meet with your concurrence; and that you will Obligingly, Sir, send your orders to the Convention Barracks for such Officers having liberty to pass to New York.2

The present season of the Year makes it necessary that Cloathing, Necessaries and refreshments, with Specie, also, be sent to the Troops of Convention in Virginia: I have therefore to beg the favour of You, Sir, to grant Your passports and Send them in to me at New York for a Flag of Truce Vessel going, as has been the case heretofore, to James River and there receiving the directions of Governor Jefferson respecting it.

I have taken the liberty of entrusting to Mr Skinner’s care some letters from myself and Major General De Riedesel to Brigadiers Hamilton, Specht and De Gall; and I will venture to believe, as I make it my request, that these letters with the orders for the Officers Coming into New York will go to Virginia by the Same Express which Carries the Certificate of Brigadier General Du Portail’s Exchange and the order for his being permitted to leave Charles Town.3

I will not trouble Your Excellency further than to desire the favour of you to Suffer Mr Skinner to write to Mr Commissary Loring, informing him how far the matter of Exchanges has met your Approbation and will be carried into execution.4 I am, Sir, Your Excellency’s most obedient humble Servant

W. Phillips


Writing from New York on 10 Nov., Major General Riedesel reported that “General Phillips, after his exchange, was placed in command of the grenadiers, the light infantry and the 42d British regiment. This is the elite corps of the army. He is full of joy” (Stone, Riedesel description begins William L. Stone, trans. Memoirs, and Letters and Journals, of Major General Riedesel, during his Residence in America. 2 vols. Albany, 1868. description ends , 2:207–8).

1Abraham Skinner, commissary general of prisoners, apparently included this report when he wrote GW on 7 Nov., a letter that has not been found.

2For the probable exchanges, see GW to Skinner, 8 November.

3The letters Phillips entrusted to Skinner have not been identified, but for the exchanges of Convention Army brigadier generals Johann Friedrick Specht and Whilhelm Rudolph von Gall and Continental army brigadier general Duportail, see GW to the Board of War, 31 Oct., n.2. Brig. Gen. James Hamilton was another Convention Army prisoner.

4The requested letter from Skinner to Joshua Loring, British commissary general of prisoners, if written, has not been identified.

GW replied to Phillips from headquarters at Preakness on 9 Nov.: “I had the honour of receiving your favour of the 4th by Mr Commissary Skinner, who reported to me the exchanges of the Officers and privates which had been carried finally into effect by him and Mr Loring, and laid before me proposals of exchanging a further number of the Officers and Staff of the Convention Troops for a like number of ours, on equality of rank, or by Composition, where that would not apply. I have acceded to these propositions, and orders are gone to permit the Gentlemen, who are interested in the exchange, immediately to repair to Elizabeth-Town. I have forwarded all the Letters Committed to my Care by the same Express.

“I have given Mr Skinner directions on the subject of the other propositions.

“As soon as I am informed of the name of the Vessel intended for Virginia, and other particulars requisite I will grant Passports for her. If she is to return to New York, you will be pleased to mention it that the Passports may be made out Accordingly” (LB, P.R.O.: C.O. 5/183; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). Phillips replied to GW on 30 Nov. (see also Henry Clinton to GW, 4 Nov., and n.2 to that document).

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