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Collection Reference Number GLC02437.01442
From Archive Folder The Henry Knox Papers [0043] June 1782 
Title Alexander Hamilton to Henry Knox about the execution of American Captain Joshua Huddy at the hand of New York Loyalists
Date 7 June 1782
Author Hamilton, Alexander (ca. 1757-1804)  
Recipient Knox, Henry  
Document Type Correspondence; Military document
Content Description Written by Hamilton after he left the Army to Major General Knox. Letter details Hamilton's opinions against retaliation for the execution of American Captain Joshua Huddy at the hand of New York Loyalists (this is reference to the well-known Huddy-Asgill Affair). Hamilton says any retaliatory killing would be "derogatory to the national character." He claims there is no precedent for such a killing and that it would be "wanton and unnecessary." Says America's affairs "are now in a prosperous stream and so vigorous," that it would be foolish to tarnish the nation's reputation. Says that this cannot be compared to the execution of John André, which was done in the name of justice. Says if the retaliation must occur, let someone other than George Washington approve it, as it will place a stigma on his reputation. Stresses that the time for this sort of killing is over now that the war is winding down. Notes that Sir Guy Carleton, the British Commander in Chief, would probably offer an apology if given a chance, and recommends that Washington accept it. Says he wrote to Knox on the issue because he knows of his influence with Washington. Hopes rational minds will come to a tolerable decision. Captain Charles Asgill was eventually selected to be executed, but was saved after his mother petitioned the French foreign minister, leading to a letter from the French king and queen, which spared Asgill. The seal was cut from the letter, leaving a small square hole, but no text loss. "Free" handwritten on address leaf with no signature. Signer of the U.S. Constitution.
Subjects France  Revolutionary War  Revolutionary War General  Military History  Continental Army  Loyalist  Death  Death Penalty  Military Law  Global History and Civics  Spying  President  Morality and Ethics  Diplomacy  Children and Family  Women's History  
People Hamilton, Alexander (ca. 1757-1804)  Knox, Henry (1750-1806)  Washington, George (1732-1799)  André, John (1750-1780)  Dorchester, Guy Carleton, Baron (1724-1808)  Huddy, Joshua, (d. 1782)  Asgill, Charles, Sir (1762-1823)  
Place written Albany, New York
Theme The American Revolution; Government & Politics; Law; Foreign Affairs; Women in American History
Sub-collection The Henry Knox Papers
Additional Information Signer of the U.S. Constitution. Captain Joshua Huddy, an artillery officer in the New Jersey militia, was captured on 24 March 1782, at Tom's River, New Jersey by Loyalists and held on a prison ship in waters off New York City. Sir Henry Clinton turned him over to Loyalists, ostensibly for a prisoner exchange. The Loyalists hung Huddy in retaliation for the death of a Loyalist called Philip White. Washington decrees that a British officer meet the same fate and 17-year-old Captain Charles Asgill, who surrendered at Yorktown, is selected. Asgill’s mother travels to Paris and speaks with Charles Vergennes, the French Foreign Minister, who informs his king and queen. They write Washington, who turns the letter over to Congress. Congress votes to release the unfortunate Asgill, and Washington happily complies with the directive. Published in Syrett, Harold C. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1962), Vol. III: 1782 - 1786, p.91.
Copyright The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
Module Settlement, Commerce, Revolution and Reform: 1493-1859
Related documents Letter from Alexander Hamilton to Henry Knox the execution of American Captain Joshua Huddy  
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