George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Lieutenant Colonel Francis Barber, 13 December 1780

To Lieutenant Colonel Francis Barber

Head Quarters New Windsor 13th Decemr 1780

Dear Sir

I have recd your favr of the 11th. If there are good reasons for suspecting Capt. Giffords fidelity, I would by no means give him a discharge from the Army, because he might then go off to the enemy, and we should not have it in our power to treat him as a deserter should he fall into our hands again.1 I would at any rate bring him to a trial on his arrest—something may, in the course of it, turn up, which may give sufficient grounds for securing him afterwards, if the sentence of the Court should not find him guilty in a military point of light—Should he be cashierd, and then g⟨o⟩ off, the enemy will not have much to boast of, from the acquisition of such a character.2 I am &.

P.S. I am informed that a considerable embarkation has taken place at New York.3 If Colo. Dayton is yet below, and you can contrive a line to him, be pleased desire him to let me know, whether he has heard of such a matter and the particulars4—be pleased also to forward the letter for Mr Adams.5

Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Barber had written GW from Pompton, N.J., on 11 Dec.: “I take the liberty of requesting your Excellency’s instructions respecting Captain Gifford of the regiment I belong to, who was lately exchanged. Perhaps you are not unacquainted with the manner in which he was made prisoner last winter at Elizabeth town and with the unfavorable suspicions as to his present principles and intentions.

“About ten days ago he fell in with the regiment on its march from West point to this place, when he informed me, he was not exchanged, altho he expected soon to be, but was out on parole until the 14th instant, and must then return to Long Island. Having had my own suspicions of him, which were in a few days after confirmed by those of others, particularly gentlemen who had come from captivity; and he being about to return to Elizthtown, in his way, as he said, to the Island, as also being informed that he was actually exchanged, I directed him to consider himself under my orders & in arrest for crimes commited previous to his captivity, particulary disobedience of orders in leaving the regiment a day or two before he was taken, against liberty.

“I was apprehensive of dangerous consequences from his continuing with the regiment & therefore permited him to go to Elizthtown, there to remain until called for. A few days after I received the inclosed letter from him with his commission.

“I am not possessed of any I mean as to his being in the enemy’s interest proof against Mr Gifford, otherwise I should have seized his person, & committed him to a safe place. The information I had as yet is only circumstantial, but gives great reason to suppose, that he is in the enemy’s interest & perhaps is about to join Arnolds corps.

The bearer is my servant, whom I send on this errand in particular & by whom I request your Excellency’s orders” (ALS, DLC:GW; the enclosure has not been identified). For British general Benedict Arnold’s corps, see Lafayette to GW, 28 Oct., n.3.

William Bernard Gifford joined the 3d New Jersey Regiment as lieutenant in February 1776 and was promoted to captain that November. He was taken prisoner at Elizabeth, N.J., in late January 1780. The New-Jersey Gazette (Trenton) for 17 May printed a notice that Gifford had “married at New-Utrecht, on Long-Island … Miss Nancy Voorhies, a very amiable young lady, with a handsome fortune.” Gifford’s exchange apparently occurred that November (see also n.2 below).

2GW subsequently wrote Barber from New Windsor on 21 Jan. 1781: “Having considered the affair of Capt. Gifford since I saw you, I am upon the whole of opinion, as we have no testimony against him that we are at liberty to make use of, it will not be adviseable to molest him—It would have an arbitrary appearance, to commit him to or keep him long in confinement without a prosecution. I would however advise that you take measures to have him closely watched, and if possible drawn into some snare that will unfold his practices.

“His resignation must be accepted without further delay” (Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

The New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury for 29 Jan. 1781 printed under the heading “NEW-YORK, January 29” that Gifford recently had come to the city from Staten Island, N.Y., “in one of his Majesty’s Barges . … This Gentleman is of a respectable Family in the County of Cork, in Ireland, but being settled in America at the Commencement of the Rebellion, was allured to take an active Part in it on the Principles first held out to the People by the artful Leaders of Sedition. While in that Service he maintained the Character of a brave and enterprizing Officer,” but “having seen his Error, and being also sensible that it would neither redound to his Honour, nor Benefit the Cause of America, to continue longer in the service under the present System of French Polit[i]cks, he wisely embraced the first Opportunity of laying down his Commission, and returning to the Allegiance of his rightful and lawful Sovereign.” Gifford also received praise for his kindness toward Loyalists and British prisoners. Upon his return to the British, Gifford evidently brought news of the mutiny in the New Jersey line (see the entries for 23–25 Jan. 1781 in Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs . . . of William Smith, Historian of the Province of New York. 2 vols. New York, 1956–58. description ends [1971], 379–81).

4No letter from Barber to Col. Elias Dayton on this subject has been identified.

5The enclosed letter for John Adam, deputy commissary general of prisoners, has not been identified.

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