George Washington Papers

From George Washington to George Dawson, 25 January 1781

Head Quarters New Windsor Janry 25 81


Through a variety of channels representations of too serious a nature to be disregarded, have come to us that the American naval prisoners in the harbour of New York are suffering all the extremities of distress from a two crowded and in all respects disagreeable and unwholesome situation on board the prison-ships, and from the want of food and other necessaries. The picture given us of their sufferings is truly calamitous and deplorable; If just, it is the obvious interest of both parties (to omit the plea of humanity) that the causes should be without delay inquired into and removed; if false, it is equally desirable that effectual measures should be taken to obviate misapprehension. This can only be done by permitting an officer of Confidence on both sides to visit the prisoners in their respective confinements, and examine into their true condition. This will either at once satisfy you that by some abuse of trust in the persons immediately charged with the care of the prisoners their treatment is really such as has been described to us and requires a change; or it will convince us that the clamours are ill grounded. A disposition to aggravate the miseries of captivity is too illiberal, to be imputed to any but those subordinate characters, who, in every service, are too often remiss or unprincipled. This reflection assures me that you will acquiesce in the mode proposed for ascertaining the truth and detecting delinquency on one side or falsehood on the other.

The discussions and asperities which have had too much place on the subject of prisoners are so irksome in themselves and have had so many ill-consequences, that it is infinitely to be wished there may be no room given to revive them. The mode I have suggested appears to me calculated to bring the present case to a fair, direct and satisfactory issue—I am not sensible of any inconveniences it can be attended with, and I therefore hope for your concurrence. I shall be glad as soon as possible to hear from you on the subject. I have the honour to be Sir Your Most Obedt humble servant

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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