Morris Town 26th of March 1780
In addition to the official report of our proceedings at Amboy, which your Excellency will percive have terminated in the manner you expected, we have the honor to give you an account of the steps we took, in consequence of the second part of your instructions, relative to a private conversation. But before we enter upon this, we think it our duty to inform you, that we have every reason to be persuaded, Sir Henry Clinton has no power to treat of the subject of prisoners on national ground; and that he will of course avoid an exchange altogether—whatever immediate interest he may have in it, rather than go into a measure of this nature. The more effectually to try the temper of the enemy on this head we endeavoured by methods which could not be drawn into consequence to impress The British Commissioners with a belief, that we should give them very great advantages in a present exchange, if a Cartel could be framed on our principles to provide durably for the relief of prisoners—We found by the determined manner in which they rejected the proposition under whatever shape it came that they not only had no authority to accept and could obtain none, but that their policy and feelings were strongly opposed to the idea.
After having made the fullest experiment of the intentions of the British Commissioners and being convinced that we must otherwise separate without doing anything, and after having put an end to the commission, we proposed agreeable to your instructions, a private conference on the terms of a particular exchange, to be submitted to the two Commanders in Chief. This was readily agreed to by The Gentlemen on the other side.
We thought it adviseable previous to any thing else to sound their intentions with respect to a settlement of accounts; and gave them to understand that in whole or in part, it would necessarily be connected with the exchange of any considerable portion of The Convention troops. They did not think it expedient to evade the subject entirely; but we easily discovered they were not a little averse to doing any thing material on this article.
The first point taken up was to class the different descriptions of prisoners, the unexceptionable—those totally objected to—and the doubtful, whose cases demanded further inquiry. Your Excellency will find the result in the inclosed returns No. 1 and 2.
We next agreed upon a distribution of The Convention troops. No. 3 will show in what manner the first and second divisions were disposed—no arrangement was made of the third, as the exchange could not reach it.
We then entered upon a discussion of the mode of exchange—In this we were so unfortunate as to differ. The British Gentlemen made the proposals contained in No. 4; and in return we offered them the plan No. 5. The difference between us was, that we insisted upon ultimately comprehending all the prisoners of war in the exchange; and they wished to postpone all whose specific ranks and situations were not at the time ascertained to a future and remote discussion. This would have thrown into their hands two or three hundred private men more than they were entitled to by the spirit of the original proposals, and we should have remaining on ours a number of characters in whose liberation, they were little if at all interested. Our proposition appeared to us equitable and we did not think ourselves at liberty to depart from it; they would not recede from theirs and in consequence of the disagreement declined proceeding in the conference. We urged in vain that as it was merely private and not final, the not being able to unite in one point was no reason for discontinuing a conversation, which would at any rate be so far useful that it would serve to enlighten both parties on the sentiments of each other and might eventually produce a compromise. They persisted in declining it, saying that it could answer no purpose unless there was a perfect agreement in every stage.
The conversation under the form first assumed ended here; but we afterwards fell into a sort of confidential explanation on the subject of accounts. The Gentlemen declared it to be their opinion that nothing formal or of any great extent would ever be done in this matter. The objection went not only to an actual settlement or payment, but to an acknowlegement of debt or stipulation for a future settlement—Among other motives against it, they seemed to apprehend, that any such step would be an implied justification of the suspension of the treaty of Saratoga. They observed however that a particular sum without declaring its object might be advanced in provision or specie. But we could not get them to go further in this idea than to make the following offers—of £25000 Currency if the exchange were made to extend to one half of the second division—of £20.000 Sterling if to the whole of the second division, but without in this last instance giving us credit in a future exchange for the balance of prisoners in our favour. In either case if the amount was paid in provisions, they were to be delivered under pretence of being designed for the convention troops, and the debts of our officers for board &c. were to be settled, and deducted from the stipulated sum. We assured them, we were persuaded these offers would not be accepted but that they would be mentioned to your Excellency. We ventured also to give it as our opinion, that if they would advance £20.000 Sterling on condition of exchanging one half of the second division, it might possibly be accepted—But this they thought would by no means answer.
By the best calculation we are able to make, which cannot be entirely accurate as there are ranks not defined—according to our proposals No. 5 the enemy would receive about 1000—rank and file, according to their No. 4 about 1200—on the principle of advancing £25000 Currency about the same number, on that of £20.000 Stg to comprehend the two divisions 1600—Your Excellency will judge how far either of the Enemy’s proposal is admissible or whether any medium can be devised.
We beg leave to observe that we think it improbable the enemy will at this time be brought to more favourable terms. They appeared to have come to their ultimatum. General Philips is no doubt anxious to be exchanged, and has probably no inconsiderable influence in the measures now taken; but he seems to make it a point of delicacy and honor, as he stands at the head of the second division, not to be exchanged without including at least one half of the division in the same advantage. The scruple is natural and may be sincere. But notwithstanding this and though it should be determined to accede to either of the present propositions, we should imagine it would not be inexpedient just to attempt a compromise at some intermediate point.
We were under an absolute necessity of comprehending the Southern prisoners as the enemy would listen to nothing without it; but we have done it in such a manner by limiting the operation to a known period, as will make no material difference in the number of privates to be given in exchange. We imagine this difference will not exceed an hundred; and as we know on every other account, your Excellency interests yourself as much in their release as in that of the prisoners in this quarter, we flatter ourselves you will not disapprove what has been done respecting them.
In the course of conversation it was mentioned by General Philips that as The Commission was at an end, it would be necessary to obtain General Clinton’s concurrence to whatever might be finally concerted; and for this purpose he thought a flag vessel with a passport from us would be the most expeditious & eligible mode. He also expressed a wish to be permitted to go himself to Sir Henry, which he said would be of importance in any case, essential if a question of money should be involved. We promised to impart his request.
We are bound to inform Your Excellency that there was a reciprocal pledge of honor that no part of these conversations should become matter of official record or publication; and we have entire confidence that this communication will never appear in any form inconsistent with our engagements. We have the honor to be With perfect respect Yr Excellency’s Most Obedt & humble servants
Ar. St Clair M. Gl
Ed. Carrington Lt Colo. Artillery
Alex. Hamilton Lt Col.
P.S. We omitted mentioning that the mode talked of for conducting any further transactions on these subjects, was by letter between the Commanding Officers—by an interview between the two Commissaries of prisoners or others without the formality of a regular commission.
DLC: Papers of George Washington.
Ballance of unexceptionable Characters Prisoners of War in favour of the enemy
|3 Brigadiers||at 200||600|
|56 first Lieutenants||6||336|
|72 second Lieutenants|
|9 Reg. Qr Mrs & Adjutants||at 6||54|
|Dy Adj. General & Brigade|
|Major estimated||at 22||2860|
|Amount of first division including|
|903 rank and file||2459|
|Lt Governor Hamilton say Lt Col||72|
|Capt. La Motte||16|
|Monsuier De Jean|
|Ballance due on first division||285|
|Southern prisoners to the 31st of decembr|
|supposed to Amot to||400|
|Deduct for Aligood Lucy & other|
|Major General Philips & suite||402|
|To extend to the middle of the|
|second division would be||1200 rank & file|
|To Comprehend the two divisions would be||1600|
16-18 March 1780
|Rank||Names & Corps.||Where Quartered|
|Campbell||Fannings Core||New York|
|No. 24 Lee||Skinners||New York|
|Rod: McKinnon||N. Carola||Reading|
|No. 52 McLeod||N. Carola||do|
|Fife||9th C.||New York|
|D. McKinnon||No. Carola||Reading|
|No. 41 McLean||71st||do|
|Sloper||17th Dragoons||In England|
|Andra||Brunswick L. Infantry|
|Fielding||9th Regt C.||New York|
(signed) Josa Loring Commissary Genl prisoners
Jno. Beatty C. G. Prisoners
A General State of British Officers prisoners with the Americans
(signed) Josa Loring Commissary Genl Prisrs
Jno. Beatty Commissary Genl prisoners
|Capt.||Ten Brook||To be Subject|
(signed) Josa Loring Commissary Genl prisrs
Jno. Beatty Com. Genl Prisrs
Amboy 18th March 1780
List of American Officers Prisoners of War allowed to be Unexceptionable
|Samuel B. Webb|
|Lt Coll||Nichs Lutz|
|Jacob S. Bruyn|
|John Sprig Belt|
|James Wm Gray|
|[ ] Landsdale|
|[ ] Martin|
|Thos H. Lucket|
|Robt Van Horn|
|[ ] Van Tassell|
|[ ] Hicks|
|Qr Mr||Ephraim Douglass|
|Dy Adj. Genl||Solomon Bush||Quere|
|Briga. Maj.||[ ] Harper||do|
(signed) Agreed to Josa Loring Commissary General Prisoners
Jno. Beatty Com. Genl Prisoners
Saturday March 18th 1780
That the Exchange of the first Division of the Troops of Convention according to the proposed Plan given in shall have immediate Operation with the Exchanges of Officers for Officers Prisoners of War, and that the Exchange of the second Division of the Troops of Convention according to the proposed Plan given in shall, also, have immediate Operation so far as the Estimate of American Officers, Prisoners of War, according to the Tarif settled shall apply; and those American Officers Prisoners of War in South Carolina and Georgia who may be now in possession of the British Army and were actually prisoners on the 31st Day of December 1779 are to be comprehended in the Estimate already mentioned.
That, however, the said American Officers prisoners of War in South Carolina and Georgia by applied in the first instance to the immediate Exchange of Lieutenant Governor Hamilton according to a Rank which may be settled for him, and, also, of the Major and other Officers of the Army or Militia who may be with him in Virginia, and who were made Prisoners of War by a Capitulation with the American Colonel Clarke.
That the discussion may be entered upon hereafter, and determined when possible, concerning a certain Person of the Name of Aligood said by the American Commissary General of Prisoners to be a Colonel or Lieutenat Colonel in the British Service, made a Prisoner of War, and supposed to be somewhere upon parole; as, also, of such other persons mentioned by the American Commissary to be Officers in the British Service, but whose real Situation and Rank with that of the Person named Aligood must be considered as doubtful and uncertain; but should it be proved such persons, so named and designated, shall have held Rank in the British Service at the time they were taken in Arms they will undoubtedly be considered in a future Exchange and received in the mean time into the Lists of Prisoners of War by the British and American Commissaries General of Prisoners.
There being a considerable number of American prisoners with exprest Ranks, given in a Return by Mr Loring the British Commissary General of Prisoners, but to whom Objections have been made to their being accounted as prisoners of War they may remain under the same description as that specified respecting Aligood and others.
That Officers made prisoners of War belonging to the Military Staff of the British and American Armies who have no Regimental Rank may be Exchanged by Composition to be now settled and to serve on future Occasions; but any American Military Staff Officers, who may be now prisoners of War, to be considered in the Rank they held previous to a Resolution of the American Congress annulling Rank to such Establishments.
That Canadians and others belonging to the Government of Canada, being entirely dependant upon General Haldimand the Commander in Chief in Canada, all Matters relating to them must be discussed between the American Commissaries and those of the British in Canada, and whenever any matters relating to prisoners of War with their Ranks appear properly certified from Canada they will in course from motives of Conveniency and humanity to both Parties be considered in Exchanges, as has been the Case in a variety of Instances by the British Commander in Chief of the Southern Army.
Sunday—March the 19th 1780
Major General St Clair Lt Col. Carrington Lt Col. Hamilton give it as their opinion as the result of the conversation held upon the subject that the most likely plan for effecting the exchange in contemplation is to confine it to the unexceptionable characters on both sides first exchanging all the prisoners of war and then the troops of convention for the balance, according to the distribution which has been made of them into divisions—In this is meant to be included Lt Governor Hamilton, a Major and some other officers made prisoners of war by a capitulation with Colonel Clarke.
They think it may be an impediment to the business to involve the prisoners in South Carolina and Georgia at any rate from the great uncertainty in which both parties are of their number and description; but if this be made a point they are willing to propose it under the following form only—that it shall extend solely to the officers in captivity in that quarter on the 31st of December last, who still remain unexchanged—that all officers prisoners of war to the United States, whose specific ranks and circumstances are not now ascertained and who are not therefore comprehended in the above description of unexceptionable characters—shall stand against whatever balance there may be of the aforesaid Southern prisoners in favour of the British according to such ranks and by such compositions as may hereafter be agreed upon after a more full inquiry into the nature of their respective appointments into the British service & the situations in which they were taken—It is of course understood that this settlement is to be made on liberal and equitable terms—and to respect only such as were in captivity at the forementioned period of the 31st of Decr last—That if there be still a balance of officers in favour of the British, it shall be applied as far as it will go towards an exchange of the remainder of the 2d division of the troops of Convention. It is intended to comprehend in this arrangement those Canadian officers who have been sent in on their parole and are not yet accounted for—The circumstance of their belonging the Northern department can be no objection to this; as frequent exchanges have been made here from time to time of prisoners sent from Canada and in a recent instance during the present interview, credit has been given by the American Commissary for a list of such prisoners said to be delivered by a flag vessel from Halifax.
They admit that Lts Baron D. Utrec[k]t Blake Kukox Wilcox Porter & Netherland—as they are stiled & Stated as prisoners of war to the British shall be subject to a like inquiry and settlement with the above described persons and shall come into this arrangement respecting Southern Prisoners. With regard to those persons borne on the British Commissary list of prisoners objected to as not being taken in arms, they not only decline all present discussion; but are persuaded there never will be a future one.
They think the fairest mode with respect to staff officers who have no Regimental rank is that they be exchanged for each other according to the rank they actually held in the army at the time of capture, and for such as held no rank according to a composition to be now settled.