Lot 1: Revolutionary War–dated ALS signed "G:o Washington," one page both sides, 7.25 x 10.5, June 5, 1782. Letter to General Benjamin Lincoln. In full: "Colo. Hazen's sending an officer under the capitulation of York Town for the purpose of retaliation, has distressed me exceedingly. Will you be so good as to give me your opinion of the propriety of doing this upon Captain Asgill should we be driven to it for want of an unconditional prisoner. Presuming that this matter has been a subject of much conversation, pray, with your own, let me know the opinions of the most sensible of those with whom you have conversed. Congress by their resolve have unanimously approved of my determination to retaliate—the Army have advised it—and the Country look for it—But how far it is justifiable upon an officer under the faith of a capitulation, if none other can be had, is the question? Hazen's sending Captn Asgill on for this purpose makes the matter more distressing, as the whole business will have the appearance of a farce, if some person is not sacraficed [sic] to the Manes of poor Huddy; which will be the case, if an unconditional Prisoner cannot be found, and Asgill escapes. I write to you in exceeding great haste, but beg your sentiments may be transmitted as soon as possible (by Express) as I may be forced to a decision in the course of a few days." In very good to fine condition, with archival repairs to separated horizontal folds and neatly trimmed edges. Accompanied by three modern books about Washington. Listed in John C. Fitzpatrick's 'The Writings of George Washington.'
This incredible letter reveals several of the character traits that made Washington a great leader, including his humane concern for taking the life of an enemy, his steely resolve to defend his fellow Americans, his honor as a soldier, and his humility as a commander. Washington writes concerning the troublesome 'Asgill Affair,' which came about in the tense months following the Battle of Yorktown as raids and counterattacks ran rampant along the New York border. In April 1782, Continental Army Captain Jack Huddy was executed by a company of New Jersey Loyalists in response to the death of a Tory officer. The enraged public called for revenge, and Washington convened a meeting with other officers who unanimously agreed that a British officer of equal rank should be hanged in retribution. At the beginning of May, he ordered General Moses Hazen, commander of the prisoner camp at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to select a British captain to be executed. However, the thirteen officers imprisoned there were covered under a provision of the capitulation at Yorktown that protected them from reprisal.
An uneasy Washington decided to have one of these 'conditional' prisoners chosen at random, and Captain Charles Asgill drew the unlucky lot. Worried about the consequences of going through with the execution, Washington tasked Congress with the responsibility of determining Asgill's fate. Meanwhile, Asgill's mother appealed to the French foreign minister to exert his influence, and he wrote to Congress suggesting that Asgill's release would please the French King Louis XVI. Not wanting to jeopardize the new nation's relationship with a critical European ally, Congress obeyed and finally directed Washington to release Asgill in November 1782. The issue was the subject of much controversy and criticism throughout the whole period and had been addressed by Thomas Paine in one of his Crisis essays six days before Washington wrote this letter. With supremely important content and the extremely rare mention of the Yorktown surrender, this is a letter of the utmost historical significance. We have found no other letter mentioning the ramifications of the capitulation as applied specifically to Captain Asgill.
RR Auction's Fine Autographs And Artifacts Auction 471
Wednesday, 9th March 2016
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