• British Officer Proposes Secret Prisoner Exchange Plan to George Washington

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    GENERAL SIR HENRY CLINTON (April 16, 1730 – December 23, 1795) was a British Army officer and a politician who sat in the House of Commons.  He is best known for his service as a general during the American Revolutionary War. He was the British Commander-in Chief in North America.  WILLIAM COLLIER was an aide to Clinton.


    Offering a spectacular 4 pp letter, December 8, 1778, Cambridge, [MA], contemporaneous copy, from a British Officer to George Washington, proposing a secret plan to meet and negotiate a prisoners’ exchange between the British and patriot armies.  With wonderful details, our writer who hasn’t signed the letter is likely William Collier, aide to General Clinton.  In his narrative, he explains that he hesitates to write a letter as he doesn’t want it published or made public, which is likely why he didn’t sign this one.


    “The unsuccessful attempts which have been made to ratify the Treaty of Convention of Saratoga and the Asperity which seems to have crept into the Correspondence between Sir Henry Clinton and the American Congress leaves it to be conjectured that the humane purpose of a General Cartel of Exchange of Prisoners of War and Troops of the Convention will not have force so soon as good men like yourself could wish. –


    “You may naturally suppose, Sir, that I have been and am greatly interested in the fate of the Troops with whom I have served, and in the vanity of my ideas upon the subject of Exchanges I have been led to imagine that the Interposition of intermediate persons might operate in favour of a cartel and I have been of opinion that my Rank and Situation gives me opportunity of offering my Interpretation in Favour of the Troops of Convention and for their being acceded. 


    “Major General Gates having made the Treaty of Convention seemed to me to be a person proper to apply to on this subject-- I conveyed to him my sentiments upon the matter, but not having any authority for writing or acting publicly upon the occasion, I could only make a Private Opinion of my own with a desire, if possible, that some negotiation might be opened from which all Parties might be benefited, and the Prisoners of War on both sides, as well as the Troops of Convention, might be exchanged and Ransomed.


    “Major General Gates was willing to report to you and the American Congress whatever I pleased to propose upon this subject, this I have not ventured to allow through fear of having my letters made publick or published but I am still of the opinion that by my having a conversation with you, Sir, if you will permit it, or with an officer you should appoint for the purpose, a plan might be formed for mutual advantage of the British and American Armies, and it might be done so that neither you, Sir, or the American Congress on the one part, or Sir Henry Clinton on the other, need be committed in any manner on the subject unless upon a General approbation so far as it might be necessary to ratify such propositions as might be made by myself and the Officers with whom I should confer. 


    “I leave this, Sir, to your consideration, and if you will permit me I shall with great satisfaction pay a Visit at your Head Quarters in my way to Virginia, and I dare say it will give you equal pleasure with myself to be of use in the humane purposes.   I have in view, and it would afford me particular satisfaction to be able to transact such an affair with a Gentleman who, altho’ the misfortunes of the times have made an enemy to Great Britain, calls upon my Respect for his private virtue.


    “I should feel myself much obliged to you for an answer whether I may pass your Great Quarters – I set out next Thursday by the Route of Hartford and Fishkill.” 


    At the Saratoga Convention, General Gates had agreed that the surrendered troops might return to British on the condition that they stay there, not to return. George Washington believed that not only would  this enable them to replace other troops who could be sent across the ocean, but that once Burgoyne’s troops were put on a transport, they would sail straight for New York.  “Do they declare,” Washington asked, “that no faith is to be held with rebels?”


    Light toning, folds, two minor fold splits that have been expertly repaired. Some light wrinkling from storage.  A highly significant letter.


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