WASHINGTON, George. Document signed ("Go: Washington") as Commander-in-Chief, Continental Army, Head Quarters, Middle Brook [New Jersey], 14 February 1779. 1 page, 4to, minor spotting, a small hole in central portion (repairable) affecting three letters text, otherwise in good condition, WITH WASHINGTON'S SIGNET IN RED WAX, a fine, complete impression showing his coat-of-arms.
A RARE SHIP'S PASSPORT FROM WASHINGTON, FOR A VESSEL SUPPLYING THE BRITISH PRISONERS FROM SARATOGA
An rare ship's passport--one of three issued by Washington on this date--with a superb signature. The passport was granted to a British vessel carrying supplies for the so-called Convention Army--nearly 5,000 thousand British and Hessian troops taken prisoner by the Americans at the battle of Saratoga in Fall 1777. Congress had decided they could not be sent back to Britain in a standard prisoner exchange as they would free an equal number of soldiers from other duties to be sent to fight in America. Accordingly, the prisoners had been marched in winter from Massachusetts to near Charlottesville, Virginia, beyond easy reach of rescue. The British were encouraged to provide sustenance, clothing and blankets to the prisoners, especially as these goods were in short supply in the war-torn colonies. Here, Washington directs that the British vessel, ironically named the "Lady Howe," be allowed to anchor at Hampton Roads and await instructions from Virginia Governor Patrick Henry:
"Permission is hereby granted to the Brig, Lady Howe, Steady, Master, laden with cloathing, stores &c for the use of the Convention Troops, to proceed from the Port of New York to Hampton-road, Virginia, there to receive further directions from His Excellency, the Governor of the State of Virginia."
Washington had written Henry on 13 February, explaining that he had granted passports to the Lady Howe and two other British vessels. The present document is without doubt the actual passport carried by Captain Steady en route to Virginia. While General Burgoyne and other high-ranking officers were soon paroled, by the war's end, disease and prisoner escapes had reduced the ill-starred Convention Army to about half its original numbers; many of these chose, in 1783, to settle in the country they had come to conquer.