George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Burnet, Sr., 12 April 1782

Newark Aprl 12th 1782


Moses Hatfield of Elizabeth-Town was convicted last January Term, of going into the Enemy’s Lines. He pretended, that he was sent by your Excellency, but had lost his Pass & requested the Court would defer giving Judgment against him, untill April Term, that he might have an Opportunity of procuring another Pass, & convincing the Court of his Innocence.

He has now produced a Certificate from Coll Smith, one of your Excellencys aids, that he had Permission to go to & return from Elizabeth Town, in that Summer of 1780, while the British held it as a Post. The Court have not the least Doubt of the Justice & Propriety of this Certificate, but it does not answer his Purpose, [for] he was not indicted, for going to Elizabeth Town while the Enemy held it, but for going to Staten-Island some Time after.

He now says, that the Certificate was given, for his going to Elizabeth-Town[,] through the Mistake of the Person who applied for it, & that he could as easily obtained one of his having been sent to Staten-Island, & requests that Judgment may be delayed untill June Term, when he engages to produce a sufficient Passport from your Excellency, for that going.

The Court desires of doing equal Justice to all, & not willing to punish the innocent with the guilty, or any Person, however guilty he may have been at other Times if he is innocent of the particular Crime with which he is charged, have again indulged him; tho’ we are fully convinced, that he has often gone into the Enemy’s Lines, without Permission, & has made a great deal of Money by the clandestine illicit Trade.

The Court would not wish to interfere with, or direct your Excellency in this important necessary Business of sending Spies, & are well assured, that your Excellencys endeavours to keep that, & every Thing else, in your extensive Department under the best possible Regulations, notwithstanding some Irregularitiar [cases], & the clandestine Trade has been by this means greatly promoted.

By Hatfields own Account he was a Prisoner to [the] Enemy & upon Parole, at the Time when he went to Staten Island for which he was indicted, & therefore could not go as Spy, without breaking the most sacred Ties of Honor, & for ever forfeiting all Pretentions, to Character, Reputation & Credit among Men.

In the Name & Behalf of the Court, I give your Excellency this information, that your Excellency may be able to determine with propriety, what is requisite & prudent, when Application [be] made for another Certificate for Hatfield. He has been [   ] upon that Indictment, so that it is more Matter of [   ] that the Court waits Thus upon him. I have the Honor [   ] Respect your Excellencys most obedient humble [Servant]

Wm Burnet

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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