George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Captain George Dawson, 2 February 1781

From Captain George Dawson

Iris off New York February 2d 1781.


As Commanding Officer of His Majesty’s Ships at New York, I have received your Letter of the 25th Ulto,1 and inclose you the result of a very particular Examination of the treatment of the Naval Prisoners in our possession.2

An Old Sixty four Gun Ship is alloted for their reception in this Harbor, and every possible Check has been established to prevent any practices from Creeping in, in Violation of the Laws and precedents of War in Similar Situations. The Arrangement of Exchange and Parole is made by the Commissary General Mr David Sproat. Lieut. Sporne of the Royal Navy an Officer of Experience and Humanity, Commands the Prison Ship, which is Victualled by a Purser with the very same Provisions that the Officers and Seamen in the Royal Service are supplied with, and is issued to them in the same manner.

I have transmitted your Letter to His Excellency the Commander in Chief, who is at a distance from this Port—If His Excellency allows one of your Officers to come to New York—it is well. Whilst it depends upon me, it is inadmissible. I am, Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant

G: Dawson

LS, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169. GW enclosed a copy of this letter in his first letter to Samuel Huntington of 13 February.

2Dawson enclosed a document, signed by him and certified as “A True Copy,” that reads: “Report on an Enquiry made this Day on board his Majesty’s Prison Ship the Jersey under the Command of Lieutenant Sporne of the Royal Navy respecting the treatment and usage of the Naval Prisoners in all cases.

“Present. Captain George Dawson—Commander of His Majs. Ship the Iris. Captain Rupert George. Commander of His Majesty’s Ship the Avenger. Captain James Battersby of the twenty ninth Regiment of Foot, and Ensign De Chambault of the twenty fourth Regiment of Foot.

“The Object of the Enquirey being considered was naturally found to divide itself into two points.

“1st—Of the Treatment of the Prisoners with respect to good order and decorum.

“2d—Of the Administration of the Kings Allowance of Provisions.

“All the Prisoners were Ordered upon Deck, Mustered and Examined upon these subjects. Six of the Principal Officers of which vizt: Stephen Hopkins—late Commander of the Brigantine Maryland. Thomas Hardy—first Lieut. of the same. William Barrows—Second Lieut. of the same. Doctor Clement Smith—Surgeon, Robert Duncan Sailing Master, and John Cook late Master of the Schooner Flying Fish, being Witnesses thereto. Attest this Report.

“The undernamed, being the Oldest Prisoners in our possession—Vizt—William Johnson[,] Daniel McKib[,]John Royster[,] Luzly Turpin[,] Peter Deal[,] William Beed, and Patrick Daley.

“Severally Collectively and Voluntarily Declare that they have been Seven Months Prisoners in the Royal Service, and at different periods confined in the Prison Ships Scorpion, Strombolo, Hunter & Jersey. That with respect to the first point, they firmly believe their situation was made at all times as comfortable as possible, and that they were in no instance oppressed or ill treated.

“To the Second point they Declare they regularly received the undermentioned Weekly Allowance of Provisions (Vizt) Bread—Sixty six Ounces[,] Beef—Forty three Ounces[,] Pork—Twenty two Ounces[,] Butter—Eight Ounces[,] Pease—One pint and one sixth of a pint. Oatmeal—Two Pints.

“That it is, and ever has been issued to them without drawback or deduction, and of the very same Species and quality with which the Commisd Officers, Seamen and Marines belonging to the said Ships were Victualled, As also the Officers and privates of the respective Guards that have been from time to time placed over them, and that they have at all times had Fuel and every necessary convenience for Cooking.

“We the undersigned Officers in His Majesty’s Service Declare on our Honors that the above Testimony is confirmed and Corroborated by that of every individual in the Prison Ships.

“We also further Declare and implicitly believe that the Sickness at present among the Prisoners Arises from a want of Cloathing and a proper Attention in themselves to their own cleanliness.

“The Prisoners close their general Testimony, with an Affirmation that they have never been and are not now crouded in the Prison Ship; and that two or three of each Rank are now and have ever been permitted daily to go on Shore to New York to purchase for themselves, or on the part of the rest of the Prisoners, whatever they might be in want of. Given under our Hands on board His Majesty’s Ship the Jersey in the Harbor of New York the Second Day of February 1781.” A notation on the copy shows that Dawson, Capt. Rupert George, Capt. James Battersby, and Ensign De Chambault signed the original document, which was also attested and signed by Stephen Hopkins, Thomas Hardy, William Barrows, Clement Smith, Robert Duncan, and John Cook (DLC:GW).

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