Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO SIR WILLIAM HOWE. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VI (1777-1778)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO SIR WILLIAM HOWE. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. VI (1777-1778) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. VI (1777-1778).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO SIR WILLIAM HOWE.
Head-Quarters, 22 March, 1778.
Your several letters of the 15, 19, & 21st. instant have been duly received.
You are under a mistake as to the rank of Mr. Ethan Allen, which is only that of lieutenant-colonel; and as such he has been returned and considered by your commissary, Mr. Loring. The fact truly is, to the best of my information, that, at the time of his capture, he had an appointment as lieutenant-colonel from the State of New York, in a regiment commanded by Colonel Warner. Though he may have been called Colonel in some letters of mine, it was either through misconception at the time, or by a concise and familiar mode of expression, which frequently applies that term to a lieutenant-colonel. I shall, therefore, expect him in exchange for Mr. Campbell.1
I am, by no means, sensible of the propriety of so rigorous a proceeding as you have adopted in the case of Captains Robinson and Galt—especially as it respects the former. Your Letter gave me the first notice, I had, of any circumstance of the affair, and I can, without scruple, assure you, I am not conscious, that they had any sinister view in what they did. It is evident, no deception nor any thing unfair could have been intended by Captain Robinson, as he was previously announced to you and your passport obtained. He was a person too well known in Philadelphia to have hoped to escape detection, under the mask of a fictitious and disguised character. The destruction of the Armed brig he formerly commanded, threw him out of actual employment; and his taking charge of the Shallop, destined to convey relief to the unfortunate, can only be deemed an instance of his condescension. I know nothing of Captain Galt, but it is not improbable he was actuated by similar motives. If the conduct of both or either of them was influenced in part by other incentives, I am persuaded they only related to private and personal concerns and might authorize a charge of indiscretion rather than of ill design. You were expressly told that Captain Isaiah Robinson was to have charge of the Shallop—your own passport ought to have protected him; since it is not pretended, that he committed any act in the execution of his commission, which could have forfeited its protection. I am well aware of the delicacy which ought to be observed in the intercourse of Flags, and that no species of imposition should be practiced under their sanction—But there are some little deviations, which inadvertency or the imprudence of individuals may occasion, which are more properly cause for Remonstrance than punishment. The present event on an impartial consideration will not appear any thing worse, and I think myself fully justified in demanding the immediate restoration of Captain Robinson, and desiring the release of Capt. Galt.
The conduct of Lieutenant-Colonel Brooks, in detaining John Miller, requires neither palliation nor excuse. I justify and approve it. There is nothing so sacred in the character of the King’s trumpeter, even when sanctified by a flag, as to alter the nature of things, or to consecrate infidelity and guilt. He was a deserter from the army under my command; and, whatever you have been pleased to assert to the contrary, it is the practice of war and nations to seize and punish deserters wherever they may be found. His appearing in the character he did was an aggravation of his offence, inasmuch as it added insolence to perfidy. My scrupulous regard to the privileges of flags, and a desire to avoid every thing, that partiality itself might affect to consider as a violation of them, induced me to send orders for the release of the trumpeter, before the receipt of your letter; the improper and peremptory terms of which, had it not been too late, would have strongly operated to produce a less compromising conduct. I intended at the time to assure you, and I wish it to be remembered that my indulgence in this instance is not to be drawn into precedent; and that, should any deserters from the American army hereafter have the daring folly to approach our lines in a similar manner, they will fall victims to their rashness and presumption. I shall give orders, as you request for acknowledging the receipt of your letters at the posts where they shall be delivered.
Serjeants McMahon and Cameron were taken at a distance from their party, whither they had straggled, under very exceptionable circumstances, and were confined in Lancaster Jail, on suspicion of their being spies. I have sent directions to have them conveyed to your lines, which nothing but a regard to the promise of my Aid de Camp would induce me to do, the conduct of these men having been so irregular and criminal as to make them justly amenable to punishment. The particulars of this affair shall be the subject of future animadversion.
Before I conclude, I think it proper to inform you, that Colonel Grayson, Lieutenant-Colonels Harrison and Hamilton, and Elias Boudinot, commissary-general of prisoners, are the gentlemen appointed on my part to meet your commissioners.1 I am, Sir, &c.
[1 ]This conjecture, as to Ethan Allen’s rank, is not precisely accurate. He was not commissioned in the regiment of Green Mountain Boys, as it was called, which was raised by the authority of New York, in the summer of 1775, and commanded by Seth Warner, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. The only commission, which Ethan Allen had received, was that conferred upon him by the committees of Bennington and the adjoining settlements before the war, when the people of the Green Mountains resolved to take up arms in defence of their rights against what they deemed the unjust encroachments of the New York government, in claiming and seizing their lands. He was then made their military leader, with the rank of colonel-commandant.—See Sparks’ Life of Ethan Allen, in The Library of American Biography, vol. i., pp. 246, 291.—Sparks.
[1 ]“Whereas a proposition was made by me, on the 30th. day of July 1776, to His Excellency, General Sir William Howe, and acceded to by him, on the 1st. day of August following, stipulating an exchange of Prisoners ‘officer for officer of equal rank, soldier for soldier, and citizen for citizen’; And whereas differences have arisen on the construction and execution of this agreement; and it has been found by experience to be inadequate to all the desirable purposes for which it was intended, not being sufficiently extensive and definite to comprehend the diversity of circumstances incident to the State of Captivity, or to ascertain the various modes of relief applicable to all: