WASHINGTON, George. Letter signed ("G:o Washington"), as Commander-in-Chief, to Abraham Skinner, Head Quarters 24 July 1780. WITH FRANKING SIGNATURE ("G:o Washington") on address leaf. 3¼ pages, folio, Pro Patria watermark, browned, water stain covering two pages and obscuring most of Washington's signature (franking signature not affected), separations at creases repaired, seal hole. Text in hand of Robert Hanson Harrison.
AN ANGRY WASHINGTON OBJECTS TO BRITISH POW EXCHANGE TACTICS AND PROPOSES AN EXCHANGE FOR GEN. BURGOYNE
Washington tells Skinner--the Deputy Commissary of Prisoners--that he is adamantly opposed to the British attempt to "connect the exchange of our Officers and privates, prisoners at New York and Long Island, and to make the release of the former depend on that of the latter... It is inadmissible, and what I will not accede to. Exchanges, from the first that took place between us to the present time, have been conducted on a very different principle, and it was never attempted in any case before to combine the release of Officers and Men together, except in the instance of the Convention Troops..."
In a rare burst of sarcasm, Washington wonders at the British sudden concern for the plight of enlisted men POWs. "The enemy appear solicitous at present," he says, but they showed no such concern when Washington first broached their exchange in February. Now the British were trying to hold the enlisted men hostage to further officer exchanges. He tells Skinner to ask his British counterpart, Mr. Loring, to provide lists of men who "are really prisoners whom we shall deem as such and fit subjects of exchange... This will be a good and necessary preliminary step, and such as will facilitate their relief." He further instructs Skinner that a British POW of Brigadier General rank may be exchanged for "Brigadier Genl du Portail, who was taken at Charles Town," and grants paroles to two British officers captured at Stony Point.
Then he turns to the highest ranking British officer then under American parole, General John Burgoyne, and his "Convention Army" taken prisoner at Saratoga: "As Lt. Genl. Burgoyne is not with the Convention Troops, and the enemy have no officer of his rank to exchange for him; and as they have several of our Colonels prisoners to them, who can never be exchanged on the principle of equal rank; I wish you to propose for the mutual relief of the parties, his exchange for our Colonels..." Since the Saratoga surrender was effected by convention, the British soldiers taken prisoner there were referred to as the Convention Troops. Burgoyne was given a parole permitting his return to England in April 1778, but some 5,000 of his men languished in a series of American POW camps. Many of the Hessians deserted into German enclaves in Pennsylvania, and many others died of disease. Only half of the troops were still alive and in American hands at the end of the war.