"I REFULSED HIS PROPOSAL OF PERMITTING AN INDETERMINATE NUMBER OF BRITISH OR GERMAN OFFICERS TO BE SENT TO NEW YORK… AS I CONCEIVED THE EXCHANGE OF LIEUTENANT GENERAL BURGOYNE WAS UNREASONABLY DELAYED": INTERESTING AND IMPORTANT 1781 LETTER SIGNED BY GEORGE WASHINGTON AS COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE CONTINENTAL ARMY TO A HIGH-RANKING OFFICER REGARDING PRISONER EXCHANGES, MENTIONING BOTH BURGOYNE AND ALEXANDER HAMILTON
WASHINGTON, George. Letter signed. Head Quarters, New Windsor: 11th May 1781. One leaf of laid paper, measuring 8 by 12 inches, penned on both sides for two pages. Matted and framed with an engraved portrait of Washington, letter displayed with fine facsimile of recto for display; entire piece measures 31 by 20 inches. $55,000.
Important 1781 letter signed by George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, accomplished in the hand of aide Tench Tilghman and written to the German Major General Baron de Riedesel regarding the sensitive matter of prisoner exchanges, mentioning his senior aide, Alexander Hamilton, as well as British General John Burgoyne. Boldly signed, beautifully framed with a portrait of Washington.
The letter reads in full: "Sir I have been honored with your favor of April without particular date. You must either have been misinformed as to the letters which passed from General Phillips to me of the 23rd of December and from me to Sir Henry Clinton on the 25th of January in answer, or you must have misunderstood them. I therefore enclose you copies of them. You will observe that I acceded only to the exchanges of the British Officers particularly named in General Phillips's letter. I refused his proposal of permitting an indeterminate number of British or German officers to be sent to New York, at the discretion of Brig. Genl. Hamilton. Some time after, proposals for a further exchange bearing date the 3rd of March, and in which are included the German Officers whose names you mention, were communicated to me by my Commissary General of prisoners, to which I did not think proper to accede, as I conceived the exchange of Lieutenant General Burgoyne was unreasonably delayed. My answer and instructions upon this head have been communicated at large to Mr. Loring by Mr. Skinner. Were I inclined to partiality in favor of the British Officers, I have it not in my power to exercise it, as the choice of the objects of exchange does not lie with me. At your particular request, I have given orders to have Major and Ensign de Meibom sent into New York upon parole. I have the honor to be with due Respect, Sir, your most obedt. Servant." The letter is signed "Go: Washington."
Recipient Friedrich Adolf Riedesel (1738-1800) was commander of the Braunschweiger Jäger, a regiment of soldiers from the Duchy of Brunswick among the German units hired by the British during the American War of Independence. Major General Baron de Riedesel commanded all German soldiers in the ill-fated 1777 Saratoga Campaign, led by British General John Burgoyne. The end result of this campaign, when the surrounded Burgoyne surrendered with his 6000 troops, is generally seen as the turning point in the war. Riedesel himself was captured (along with his wife) at this time, as was General Burgoyne; he was eventually exchanged for American General William Thompson. The Baron commanded troops on Long Island in the winter of 1780-81. In 1781, Quebec governor Frederick Haldimand named Riedesel officer in charge of the Sorel District, where he and his family stayed until his departure from North America at the end of the summer of 1784. Clearly Riedesel had communicated his belief that Washington was favoring British officers over German in recent prisoner exchanges, and a perhaps somewhat testy Washington clarifies his position, providing evidence in the form of copies of recent letters, and points out: "were I inclined to partiality in favor of the British Officers, I have it not in my power to exercise it, as the choice of objects of exchange does not lie with me."
However, Washington does grant Riedesel's specific request to allow Major Justus Christoph de Meibom, a German officer of the Brunswick Dragoons who had been captured at the Battle of Bennington in 1777, to go to New York City. This was likely to obtain funds so that he and fellow officers would be able to purchase food and clothing. The year prior, in March 1780, Washington had authorized an officer to enter New York City on Meibom's behalf; shortly after this exchange with Baron Riedesel, on May 11, 1781, Washington sent a letter to Elias Dayton authorizing Meibom to visit New York City himself.
Letter fine, Washington's signature clear and bold. A superb letter signed.