George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Peter Gansevoort, 17 November 1780

From Colonel Peter Gansevoort

Albany 17th November 1780


I do myself the Honor to transmit Your Excellency Copies of Letters received from General Powel Capt. Monsell and Major Carleton1 by Flaggs of Truce from the Enemy, as also of my Letters written in Answer to them,2 together with Sundry Accounts of our Prisoners in Canada which were inclosed in General Powels Letter.3

Your Excellency will observe in the former part of my Letter to Genl Powell and which was sent under a flying seal to Major Carleton, I express an Expectation of the arrival of General McDugal to take the command of the Army in this Department, which was insisted for the purpose of impressing them with an Idea that there was an Army equal to Major General command for which I flatter myself your Excellency will excuse me when I inform you that I had but my own Regiment on the ground and the Enemy exceedid 1500 who were daily expected to make a descent in this Quarter.4

I have received a Letter from Lieut. Scudder of Colo. Van Schaicks Regiment (who was taken at Fort Schuyler short after the Regiment arrived at that place and who is now together with others in close confinement in Quebec) requesting me to Solicit an Exchange for him the names of the Officers are contained in the inclosed accounts, besides whom there are 4 Serjeants & ten Privates.5 I have the Honor to be with great respect Your Excellency’s most Obedient & Hume servant

Peter Gansevoort


1Gansevoort enclosed a letter from Brig. Gen. Henry Watson Powell to Col. Goose Van Schaick written at St. Jean, Quebec, on 22 September. The letter apparently accompanied a flag of truce with two women “and their Families together with Matthew Cannon and five others made prisoners by the Indians on the Mohawk River, whose advanced time of life and earnest Solicitations to return to their families have induced his Excellency General Haldiman to grant them that permission. As also Mr Williams of Detroit who desires to go to his Relations; and Mary and Betsey Lewis who beg to go to their Father near Albany.” Frederick Haldimand, governor of Quebec, sent these prisoners to show his generous treatment of those confined under his control, and to secure for British prisoners an alleviation of “the Horrors of a Dungeon loaded with Irons and the Miseries of want.” He also requested that Loyalist “Families specified in the enclosed List” be allowed “to join their Husbands and Relations in this Province” (DLC:GW; the enclosure has not been identified; see also n.2 below).

Gansevoort also enclosed a letter from British captain William Monsell to Van Schaick written at St. Jean on 19 Oct. to explain how the threat of Indian attacks delayed the flag of truce with “Powell’s Letter,” and to urge that preparations be made to send the Loyalist families to Quebec despite the lateness of the season for such travel (DLC:GW). The letter that Gansevoort enclosed from Maj. Christopher Carleton to Van Schaick written at Lake Champlain on 24 Oct. reads the same as Monsell’s communication (DLC:GW).

William Monsell (c.1737–1802) served as captain in the 29th Regiment of Foot. He rose to major before the end of the war and secured the rank of lieutenant colonel in November 1790.

2Gansevoort enclosed his letter to Powell written at Saratoga, N.Y., on 2 Nov.: “Your Letter of the 22d September last directed to Col: Van Schaick, It becomes my duty to answer as commanding in this Department until the arrival of General McDougal who is daily expected; the Prisoners which you mentioned I am informed, have taken the Rout to Albany thro’ Bennington.

“The Families specified in your List whom I believe to be all in the Vicinity of this place, were to have been sent to the British Shipping in Lake Champlain, in the beginning of the last Month: Major Carlton’s Incursions prevented their being forwarded then; and as all the Batteaus in Lake George were carried off by that Gentleman, it may have been impracticable to have sent them on since, if it had been proper whilst he remained at Ticonderoga and Crown Point. I have written Major Carlton and requested him to send Batteaus to Fort Ann, or Fort George if he can for their Conveyance, as soon as I am advised of his Determination, the necessary Measures will be taken.”

The rest of Gansevoort’s letter comments in an acerbic manner on the treatment of prisoners. He refutes the assertion “that British Subjects in our possession have experienced Execution, the Horrors of a Dungeon, loaded with Irons, and the Miseries of Want … excepting a few on whom it was thought proper to retaliate for the many, the very many indeed, of ours whom British Cruelties could inhumanly Suffer to perish for Want in Dungeons and Prison ships, loaded with Irons and with Insults.” He concluded: “The Newspapers announce that a General Exchange of prisoners is settled below, whether it extends to Canada is not specified” (DLC:GW; see also GW to Abraham Skinner, 8 Nov.).

Gansevoort also enclosed his letter to Carleton written from Saratoga on the same date seeking information on whether “ten Batteaus” could be sent to Lake George to convey the men, “Women and Children, their Number amounts to nearly three hundred,” who desired to return to Quebec. He also sought comment on a Continental deserter’s allegations that Indians under Carleton’s command “scalped” and “tormented” a prisoner “and afterwards cut his throat, and all this in your presence” (DLC:GW; see also n.1 above).

Gansevoort similarly enclosed Carleton’s reply, written at Mile Bay, Vt., on 6 Nov., in which he promised to provide five boats to convey as many of “the Families intended to have been sent in … as can be taken on Board.” Carleton flatly stated that “no Prisr was scalped or tortured alive. … I heard of one Man being kill’d after he was taken during the firing owing to a dispute between 2 Inds. of different Villages which took him. and he would not suffer himself to be conducted to the British Guard by a Loyalist Officer, the Officer was obliged to attend to his Men and after the Action I heard of the Man being killed—I believe he was a Negro, or a Stockbridge Ind[ian]” (DLC:GW; see also George Clinton to GW, 30 Oct., and n.10).

3One of the enclosures apparently was an undated document from captains Gideon Brownson and Simeon Smith and lieutenants Michael Duning and William Scudder, “Prisoners at Quebec,” that acknowledged their having received “from Richard Murray, Commissary of Prisoners,” various sums between 4 Oct. 1779 and 7 July 1780 “Amounting in the whole to One hundred and Eleven Pounds, Twelve shillings and One penny half penny … in hard Money, reckoning the Dollar at Five Shillings” (DLC:GW). Another possible enclosure was headed “Recapitulation of Money advanced to Officers, Prisoners at Quebec, by Order of His Excellency General Haldimand Commander in Chief” and dated Quebec, 7 July (DLC:GW).

4For this erroneous expectation of British attacks along the New York frontier, see Clinton to GW, 5 Nov., and notes 1 and 2 to that document; see also William Malcom to GW, 7 November.

5Scudder’s letter to Gansevoort has not been identified, but Scudder wrote William P. Smith at Elizabeth, N.J., from the provost at Quebec on 16 Nov.: “I will accept it as a great favor; if you will be pleased to make known, not only my situation, but that of several gentlemen from Colonel Warner’s regiment, who are confined with me, together with your influence with General Washington, to negociate with Sir Henry Clinton, for an exchange for us, or that we may be sent to New-York, where we may hope for an enlargement, and can receive information from our families and friends. Your humanity with his Excellency General Washington, relating to the situation we are in here, and the great distance from our friends and connexions, will, I trust, speak more feelingly to you, than any thing I can describe in a letter” (Scudder Journal description begins The Journal of William Scudder, an Officer in the Late New-York Line, Who was taken Captive by the Indians at Fort Stanwix, On the 23d of July, 1779, and was holden a Prisoner in Canada until October, 1782, and then sent to New-York and admitted on Parole: With A small Sketch of his Life . . .. [New York?], 1794. description ends , 117–18; see also n.3 above).

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