George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Phillips, 8 December 1780

From Major General William Phillips

New York Decemr 8th 1780


I take leave to address Your Excellency on the subject of Lieutenant Governor Hamilton and I will request to trouble you, Sir, with a short detail of the different propositions that have been heretofore made concerning that Gentleman.

You are apprised that Colonel Mathews obtained permission from His Excellency General Sir Henry Clinton in the Summer of last year to go to Virginia with an express view to negotiate an Exchange for Lieutenant Governor Hamilton—In this however Colonel Mathews, who it was imagined was in every respect a desirable person to Send upon this business as belonging to Virginia, unhappily failed.1

At the meeting of the Commissioners at Amboy I endeavoured to bring forward Lieutenant Governor Hamilton’s Exchange, but not being able to determine precisely the rank he should be estimated at in the King’s Army, the matter of his final Exchange was then waved, and I proposed to Your Excellency by Major General St Clair that Lieutenant Governor Hamilton and the Officers made prisoners with him should be opposed to Colonel Mathews upon a parole Exchange which however was declined.2 Lieutenant Colonel Towles belonging to Virginia having strongly solicited a permission to go out in order to effect his Exchange either finally or on parole against the Lieutenant Governor procured Sir Henry Clinton’s consent for that purpose but it appears that, on the arrival of Colonel Towles, a Lieutenant Colonel Porterfield belonging also to Virginia who had been made a prisoner in the Carolinas and who, in consequence of letters furnished by Governor Hamilton had been particularly attended to, was considered as opposed to the Governor, and upon this principle The Governor of Virginia granted him and his Officers the liberty of going to New York upon their paroles.3

Previous to this transaction Lieutt Colonel Du Buisson who had been admitted to his parole expressly with a view to the enlargement of Governor Hamilton sent in a letter, expressive of his wishes to be permitted to go for Europe. The last proposition respecting Governor Hamilton’s Exchange was founded upon Lieutt Colonel Du Buisson’s application which having been refused,4 I now think it necessary to declare to Your Excellency that, having written to England to know the Rank in which Lieutenant Governor Hamilton should be placed I find it to be that of Lieutenant Colonel in the King’s Armys. I should hope, from a consideration of the peculiar circumstances attending Governor Hamilton’s situation and the many persons who have been interrested in it, and who have obtained repeated favours upon that consideration, that Your Excellency will be induced to consent to his final Exchange against either of the Lieutenant Colonels Porterfield or Du Buisson, or if this proposal Should not be accepted of, that you will grant him an extension of Parole to go to Europe and a Similar indulgence will be given to Lieutenant Colonel Du Buisson—Major of Brigade Hay may be exchanged for any American Captain a prisoner in the Southern District you Shall please to name, and so on to the rest according to Rank or Tariff which may be adjusted by the Commissaries Skinner and Loring.

I will request an immediate answer to this as possibly the business may be settled during Mr Skinner’s residence here.5 I am, Sir, Your Excellency’s most obedient humble Servant

W. Phillips


1For the failed effort of Col. George Mathews to negotiate an exchange for Henry Hamilton, former lieutenant governor of Detroit, see GW to Thomas Jefferson, 13 Sept. 1779, and Jefferson to GW, 2 Oct. 1779.

3See Jefferson to GW, 25 Oct., and n.2 to that document; see also Hamilton’s parole, 10 Oct., in Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 4:24–25.

5GW replied to Phillips from headquarters at New Windsor on 13 Dec.: “I have recd your favr of the 8th proposing the final exchange of Governor Hamilton, or an extension of his parole to Europe—That Gentleman being considered as a prisoner to the state of Virginia and therefore solely at the disposal of the Executive Authority thereof, I do not conceive myself at liberty to enter into any negociation upon the subject—You will oblige me by informing Governor Hamilton of this—he having written to me on the same Business—Major [Jehu] Hay is also considered as a prisoner to the state of Virginia, and at their disposal also” (Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

Hamilton had written GW from New York on 7 Dec.: “Having been informed that Congress had referred to your Excellency the affair of exchange for all prisoners of War, I am induced to think the government of Virginia has relinquished the claim to myself and other persons taken at the same time, as prisoners to that particular State.

“As in the proposals hitherto made for an exchange of prisoners, I have been particularly excepted, I have to hope this point may be at length adjusted by your Excellency’s orders and instructions to Major Skinner, Commissary General of prisoners for the American army who is here at present.

“That gentleman has informed me, that he has not as yet had any orders relative to my exchange but has very obligingly assured me, my letter should be transmitted to your Excellency with all possible dispatch.

“Colonel Mathews by composition, and Lieutenant Colonels, Porterfield, DuBuysson, and Towles, having been proposed at different times, for exchange against me, and being officers whose liberation may interest the particular state of Virginia, I have room to hope your Excellency will relieve me from my present state of suspence, either by a final exchange, or an extension of my parole, which may admit of my going to Europe, in which case Lieutenant Colonel DuBuysson may (I apprehend) obtain leave also, to go for Europe on his parole, should his being exchanged against me not take place.

“Should your Excellency finally determine this affair, I must entreat the favor of you to let me have the earlyest intimation” (ALS, DLC:GW). New York City printer Hugh Gaine had written in his journal entry for 23 Nov.: “Governor Hamilton of Detroit, came in this Day by water from Virginia in three Days” (Ford, Journals of Hugh Gaine description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed. The Journals of Hugh Gaine, Printer. 1902. Reprint. [New York] 1970. description ends , 2:105).

Virginia governor Thomas Jefferson continued to resist appeals to exchange Hamilton (see Theodorick Bland to Jefferson, 29 Jan. 1781, and Jefferson to Bland, 9 Feb. 1781, in Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 4:462–63, 566–67).

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