George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Abraham Skinner, 17 February 1781

To Abraham Skinner

Hd Qrs New Windsor Feby 17. 81


You are informed of a number of officers of the Convention-troops, who have been ordered to Elizabeth Town for the purpose of going into New York to be exchanged.1 I am now to direct you will exchange them in the following manner: All those who have no similar ranks in possession of the enemy, you will place against such of our colonels as have been longest in captivity—the others, You will exchange against an equal number, rank for rank.

But as two thirds of the officers of the Convention troops are now nearly exchanged, the enemy are bound on their own principles to let him enter into immediate contemplation for exchange;2 and we ought in justice to ourselves to insist upon it.

Besides Lt General Burgoigne The enemy owe us for three or four hundred private men who may now be applied in conjunction with General Burgoigne to the exchange of all our officers remaining on Long Island.

You will therefore immediately make the following proposition to the enemy—to place Lt General Burgoig⟨ne⟩ the officers of Convention now on their way to Elizabeth Town—and the above-mentioned privates, in opposition to our officers prisoners in this quarter; the ballance which will be due us to be paid by the release of such officers of the Southern prisoners as we shall name to the amount of that ballance.3

This proposition is so reasonable that I dare say it will be readilly complied with by the enemy; especially as they must be sensible that the continuing to make any difficulties about Lt General Burgoigne will necessarily operate to the prejudice of future exchanges.4

It is not however to prevent the immediate exchange of the officers on their march as this is a point already agreed upon.5

Governor Livingston has representd to me that some dissatisfactions have arisen about the manner of disposing of the prisoners made by the militia of the state.6 You are to observe the following rule:

—To put all the persons taken in arms by the militia in a common stock to be exchanged indifferently for any prisoners of war in the hands of the enemy whether Continental troops, or Militia, according to priority of Capture.

To exchange all mere citizens persons not taken in arms for the citizens of the state whose militia has captured them.

The equity of the first rule must be obvious, as all the prisoners made by the Continental troops are applied indifferently to the exchange of themselves and the Militia taken in arms—by the same rule of priority of capture; and without reciprocity, there would be an evident disadvantage on the side of the Continental troops.

As the Governor also mentions some inconvenience for want of information on these points, I am to desire you will make him monthly reports of all exchanges of the militia and citizens of the state made by you and of the prisoners made by the Militia who have come into your hands.

I wish you too immediately to give him an account of what has been done in these respects since you have been in the department, that he may see the state is not injured by our arrangements. I am frequently at a loss for want of your presence at Head Quarters—I am therefore to desire you will reside constantly near it. When any particular business calls you else-where you will represent it at Head Quarters.7 I am Sir Yr Most Obed. & humble servant.

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1For the permission given these officers to travel to Elizabeth, N.J., see GW to the Officer Commanding at Charlottesville, Va., 31 January.

2GW refers to British lieutenant general John Burgoyne.

3GW means prisoners taken at the surrender of Charleston, S.C., in May 1780.

4For a failed effort to negotiate an exchange for Burgoyne, see GW to Skinner, 7 October.

7Skinner replied to GW on 10 March (DLC:GW).

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