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resolved, that no prisoner should be exchanged, CHAP. VIL until all the expenditures made in paper for the 1778. supplies they received from the United States, Proceedings should be repaid in specie, at the rate of four on this shillings and six pence sterling for each dollar; and, afterwards, that from the first day of Fe. bruary, no British commissary should be permitted to purchase any provision for the use of prisoners, west of New Jersey, but that all supplies for persons of that description should be furnished by the enemy from their own stores. This instruction was communicated to sir William Howe on the 10th of January, who remonstrated against it with great strength and justice, as being a decree which doomed a considerable number of prisoners, far removed into the country, to a slow and painful death by famine; since it was absolutely impracticable to supply them immediately from Philadelphia. The severity of this order was in some degree mitigated by a resolution, that each British commissary of prisoners should receive from the American commissary of purchases, provisions to be paid for in specie, according to the resolution of the 19th of December 1777, that is, at the rate of four shillings and six pence sterling, for every continental dollar expended in the purchase.
The board of war, at the time this resolution was entered into, made a report to congress, stating at great length, the various causes of
CHAP. VII. complaint respecting the treatment received by 1778.
the American prisoners, and the impediments with which the British general obstructed their being supplied with necessary food and clothing, which produced other strong resolutions, and among them, one, for retaliating precisely the sufferings and hardships they might sustain.
About the same time, an order was hastily given by the board of war, which produced no inconsiderable degree of embarrassment, and exposed the commander in chief, in turn, to strictures not less severe than those he had applied to the British general with respect to American prisoners. . General Washington had consented, that a quarter master, with a small escort, should come out of Philadelphia, with clothes and other comforts for the officers and soldiers of the enemy, who were prisoners. He had expressly stipulated for their security, and had given them a passport.
While they were travelling through the country, information was given to the board of war that general Howe had refused to permit provisions to be sent in to the American pri. soners in Philadelphia by water. This in. formation was not correct. General Howe had only requested that flags should not be sent up, or down the river, without previous permission obtained from himself. On this information
however, the board issued orders to lieutenant CHAP. VII. colonel Smith, immediately to seize on the per. 1778. sons of the officers, protected by the passport of January 26. general Washington, on their horses, carriages, and the clothing destined for the relief of the British prisoners; and to secure them until further orders, either from the board, or from the commander in chief.
On hearing this circumstance, general Washington dispatched one of his aids with orders for the immediate release of the persons and property which had been confined; but the officers refused to proceed on their journey, and returned to Philadelphia. * '
This untoward event was very much regretted by the commander in chief, whose letters to the board of war, and to congress, pointed out the ill consequences to be apprehended from it. In a letter received some time afterwards from general Howe, expressing his willingness that the American prisoners should be visited • by deputy commissaries, who should inspect
their situation, and supply their wants, he required, as the condition on which this indul. gence should be granted, “ that a similar permit should be allowed to persons appointed by him, which should be accompanied with the assurance of general Washington that his
* They alleged that their horses had been disabled, and the clothing embezzled. .
CHAP. VII. authority will have sufficient weight to prevent 1778. any interruption to their progress, and any
insult to their persons.”
The demand of this assurance, he stated to be rendered necessary, by the conduct observed to those who had set out under his passport, with clothing and other necessaries for the British and Hessian prisoners.
The situation of the American prisoners excited a great degree of sensibility throughout the United States. Their sufferings, whether occasioned in the first instance by neglecting to execute the orders of general Howe, by the savage temper of the person to whom they were consigned, (as was extensively believed) or by the absolute inability of congress to furnish clothing and blankets, were certainly such, as should have excited the humanity of all.
They peculiarly affected general Washington, who, at all times, and in all situations, took a deep interest in the fortunes of his soldiers.
He lamented, as a calamity of the greatest magnitude, the impediment to the exchange of prisoners, which had hitherto appeared to be insuperable, and had made repeated, but inef. fectual efforts, to remove it. General Howe had uniformly refused to proceed with any cartel, unless his right to claim an exchange for all the diseased and infirm he had liberated, should be previously admitted.
At length, when all hope of prevailing on him to recede from that high ground was aban
doned, he suddenly relinquished it of himself. CHAP. VII. He consented to an exchange of the prisoners 1778. actually on hand, and acceded completely to February 5. the proposition of general Washington for the A partial meeting of commissaries, in order to ascertain prisoners equitably, the number to which he should be entitled for those he had discharged in the preceding winter. To this proposition, which had repeatedly been made by general Washington himself, he of course assented with alacrity, and commissaries were mutually appointed, who were to meet on the 10th of March in Germantown, to adjust the subject referred to them. In the mean time, measures were taken to march the British prisoners towards the places at which they should be delivered.
This agreement, general Washington conceived himself fully authorized to enter into, by the various resolutions congress had passed on the subject. He had, however, the extreme mortification to perceive in a newspaper, just March 4. before the time appointed for the meeting of the commissioners in Germantown, a resolu. tion of congress, calling on the several states for the accounts of supplies furnished the prisoners, that they might be adjusted according to the resolution of the 19th of December,.. before the exchange should take place.
This resolution rendered it indispensably necessary, to postpone to a later day, the meet. ing which had been agreed on; a letter was