George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Captain James Willing, 23 January 1781

From Captain James Willing

Provost Goal New York
Jany 23d 1781

May it Please your Excellency

Impress’d by every sentiment that indues the humane breast, and satisfied of the Justness of the cause in which I’m engaged; I presume to appeal to your Excellency in my present unfortunate situation, destitute of almost every comfort of life and liable to suffer for the fate of others—I am inform’d that Lt Colo. Rogers is now a Prissonner in Philada Goal,1 & well satisfied his doom will be mine I most earnestly implore your Excellency to use your influence for his Admission to his parole to come within these Lines on Condition of my being sent out upon the same terms or that your Excellency will give orders for his releasement and my exchange.

I was captur’d the 2d Decr 1778 on my passage from New Orleans and confind onboard the Ardent from that time untill the 12 Feby follg in Retaliation for Captn Ourry & for others I remaind in close Confinement untill April, when I obtaind my parole on Long Island untill the 27 July when I was brought to this place where I lay in close confinement and in Irons for Colo. Hamilton untill the 25 Novr followg then releas’d upon parole & Security untill the 6 Inst. when my security was withdrawn and I brought here,2 what my destiny is God only knows—I am determin’d to bear with fortitude every suffering that can reasonably be inflicted on me provided my Country will do me Justice, at the same time I cannot help assuring your Excellency that my Constitution is much impaird.

Humanity and the inclemency of the season induces me to implore you to give such orders respecting Lt Colo. Rogers that he may at last be indulg’d with the full liberty of the Goal and not suffer by close confinement—Major Skinner our Commissary Genl inform’d me that Mr Loring would not exchange me unless he receiv’d a Lt Colo. for me3 of that I leave you to judge & being fully satisfied of your humane feelings towards a suffering Countryman and that youll render me every Justice I remain with perfect esteem Your Excellency Most Obt & very hbe st

Jas Willing

ALS, DLC:GW. No reply from GW to Willing has been found.

In April, the Board of War raised the issue of Willing’s exchange for Loyalist lieutenant colonel Robert Rogers. GW objected to the one-for-one exchange of Willing, a Continental navy gunboat captain, for a British lieutenant colonel, but he would accept an exchange by composition or, if Rogers was a prisoner of Pennsylvania, by a special exchange under the auspices of that state’s government (see Board of War to GW, 21 April, and GW to the Board of War, 1 May, both in DLC:GW). For more on the circumstances of Willing’s capture, see Lewis J. Costigin to GW, 19 Dec. 1778.

1After the dissolution in March 1777 of the Queen’s Rangers, of which he was lieutenant colonel commandant, Rogers briefly retired. (In 1779, the Queen’s Rangers regiment was reformed under a different commandant.) In May 1779, British general Guy Carleton, commander in chief of Canada, commissioned Rogers lieutenant colonel commandant of the first battalion of the King’s American Rangers regiment, which operated from Nova Scotia. In early January 1781, Rogers was captured at sea. The Pennsylvania Packet or, the General Advertiser (Philadelphia) for Tuesday, 9 Jan., reported that two days earlier the brigantine Patty had brought into Philadelphia as a prize “A large schooner from Penobscot bound to New-York, laden with spars. … The famous major Rogers, of the British army, was a passenger in this prize, but is now safely lodged in the new jail.” The New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury for 22 Jan. republished the story under the dateline “PHILADELPHIA, January 10.” Rogers was not exchanged until May 1782.

2For the capture of British naval captain George Ourry after his 64-gun ship Somerset was wrecked in a gale off Cape Cod in November 1778, see John Sullivan to GW, 10 Nov. 1778, n.2. For the Virginia government’s severe treatment of Henry Hamilton, former lieutenant governor of Detroit, and subsequent British protests, see Thomas Jefferson to GW, 19 June 1779; see also GW to Jefferson, 6–10 Aug. 1779, and n.1 to that document.

3The letter of Abraham Skinner, commissary general of prisoners, to Willing has not been identified, but see Willing to GW, 12 Dec. 1780; see also Skinner to GW, 5 Jan. 1781, and GW to Skinner, 8 January.

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