George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Abraham Skinner, 17 September 1780

Head Quarters 17th Septr 1780


It having been agreed that an interview should take place at Elizabeth Town, between Major Generals Phillips and Lincoln on the subject of their exchange, I was induced from the earnest desire I had of relieving the Prisoners on both sides as far as circumstances would admit, and in compliance with the directions of Congress, to inform His Excellency Sir Henry Clinton, on the 26th Ulto, that "I should direct our Commissary of prisoners to attend at Elizabeth Town at the same time, who would be instructed to execute with the Commissary on his part, if he should think proper to send him, an exchange of Officers, prisoners of War, on the footing of equal Rank or Composition, as far as the number in our hands would admit, and to include also the whole of the Officers of Convention on parole at New York, or in Europe." The interview between the two Generals is to be on the 19th Instant, when Sir Henry Clinton has informed me in answer to my letter "His Commissary should attend."

You will therefore proceed to Elizabeth Town on the 19th Instant and meet the Commissary on the part of Sir Henry Clinton or other Officer deputed by him, with whom you will make or endeavour to make, under the restrictions and exceptions hereafter mentioned an exchange of all the enemy’s Officers, who are prisoners of War in our hands, and also of all the Officers of Convention on Parole in New York or in Europe, for an equal number of ours of like rank, according to the order of their capture and where the principle of equal Rank will not apply—you will exchange them on the footing of composition, confining the composition to Officers only; and according to the Value or Tariff treated of and judged reasonable by the Commissioners at the last meeting at Amboy.

In the exchange on the principle of composition, our Officers next in rank to those belonging to the enemy’s Army who cannot be exchanged on the principle of equality are, to be included and in the order of their captivity.

The above are the general Rules by which you are to conduct yourself in the execution of the proposed business, and which are to operate only in general with respect to our Officers Prisoners in this quarter and for their benefit whose long captivity gives them a claim to the public’s first attention. There is however, besides the exchange, which it is hoped Major General Lincoln will effect of himself, either for Major General Phillips, or Major General Riedesel, and which falls within the principle of equality. The case of Brigadier General du Portail whose release being particularly directed by Congress must be attempted and effected either upon one or other of the foregoing principles—Tho’ it would be best if it could be obtained on that of composition. The case of Lt Colo. Ramsay and Connolly is also to be particularly attended to for the reasons formerly given you, and likewise Colonel Webbs, if the several Officers taken in the Eagle Packet are comprehended in your transaction, and which upon every principle of justice ought to be the case. If there are any other instances of exchanges out of the general and customary line about which you have received any orders from Congress or the Board of War, you must of course regard these and comply with their directions, or at least endeavour to carry them into execution.

You are perfectly acquainted with all the circumstances respecting Violators of parole, and know who have been adjudged such and who not, and the order and manner in which they are to be accounted for—and also the Characters for whom we do not conceive ourselves accountable. It is therefore unnecessary for me to observe further with respect to these, than, that the instructions, you have had repeatedly concerning them, are to govern you on the present occasion.

We have in Canada a Lieut. Colo. Stacey, a prisoner, belonging to the Massachusetts line, who was taken at Cherry Valley the 11th of Novemr 1778. He is to be added to your list of Lt Colonels and exchanged when it comes to his turn having regard to the time of his captivity. You will also recollect the Captains who are Hostages and endeavour at their release.

An exchange of all the Officer’s prisoners of War, in our hands , and also of all the Convention Officers on parole in New York or Europe, is what is earnestly wished, but if you find you cannot make it so general as to comprehend the whole—make it as extensive as you can.

You will report your proceedings to me and the Exchanges you may make—specifying the names and Rank of the Officers on both sides.

I have mentioned your Instructions to Major General Lincoln, who will facilitate the execution of the objects to which they extend, as far as he can, by endeavouring to get General Phillips to countenance the Business either; wholly or partially should it be necessary. I am, Sir Yr most obt Servt

Go: Washington.

P.S. I find the following Officers belonging to the Massachusetts line are also prisoners in Canada.

Lieuts Jonathan Maynard taken at Cobus Kill 30th May 1778.
Aaron Holden do Cherry Valley 11th Novr 1778.
Ensign [          ]Garrett do do do.
[          ]Surgn Mate F. S. Z. Debeer do do

You are to add these to your list and exchangethen in turn.

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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