PENN, JOHN, Signer (North Carolina). Autograph letter, signature cut away, but the verso WITH HIS FRANK ("FREE J PENN"), to Colonel Theodorick Bland "near Petersburg Virginia"; York, Pennsylvania, 18 February 1778. 1 page, folio, 290 x 190 mm. 11 1/2...
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PENN, JOHN, Signer (North Carolina). Autograph letter, signature cut away, but the verso WITH HIS FRANK ("FREE J PENN"), to Colonel Theodorick Bland "near Petersburg Virginia"; York, Pennsylvania, 18 February 1778. 1 page, folio, 290 x 190 mm. 11 1/2 x 7 1/2 in., a small strip which bore Penn's signature clipped away and renewed in matching paper, autograph address panel on verso with Penn's very rare franking signature, docketed, three fold holes and a few slight tears repaired, affecting several letters in about seven words. A RARE SIGNER APPLAUDS WASHINGTON'S FAMOUS REBUKE TO LORD HOWE: "GENL. HOWE COMPLIMENTED GENL. WASHINGTON...BUT CAST REFLECTIONS ON CONGRESS" A fine content Revolutionary War letter of Penn, whose autograph is one of the rarest of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. At the time the Continental Congress was meeting in York, Pennsylvania while Howe occupied Philadelphia; Washington's army was at its winter encampment at Valley Forge. Penn writes: "Since my last nothing of Consequence has happened, except [William] Genl. Howe's agreeing to an exchange of Prisoners; officers for officers, Soldiers for Soldiers & Citizens for Citizens. Congress Resolved some days ago that as...Howe [commander of British forces in America] had refused to suffer any clothing to be purchased for our men in Philada. [Philadelphia], he should not be allowed a Commissary to purchase any necessaries for his prisoners with us, but obliged to send them himself, & that British prisoners in our hands should undergo the same treatment our's suffered with the enemy. Genl. Howe complimented Genl. Washington in high terms but cast reflections on Congress, he was answered by our General that he should always resent any affront offered the Representatives of a Free people under whose authority he acted, & that he had avoided ever saying anything against the Conduct of those whom General Howe served. I never have rec'd one letter from you since you left this place our Committee is still at the Camp..." The question of prisoners of war had become an important one. Since Burgoyne's surrender to the Continental Army at Saratoga in October 1777, more than 7,000 British and Hessian soldiers, plus support staff, were prisoners of war. The status of this sizeable force became a controversy involving Washington, Congress and Lord Howe. Congress found housing and feeding Burgoyne's army onerous, and wanted them exchanged in the usual fashion, but was reluctant to deliver them to British strongholds like Newport or New York, where they might free other British regiments to take the field against the Continental Army. At the very date of this letter, Burgoyne's captured army was being marched from Cambridge to new quarters in Virginia. Howe, in a letter to Washington on 19 January, had, expressed displeasure at being told by Elias Boudinot, American Commissioner of prisoners, that the British would be expected to furnish provisions for the captured army, calling the plan, "repugnant to the Rules of War in all civilized nations," and angrily asserting that "the present Rulers of this Country, are so entirely lost to all sense of Honor, and to all feelings of Humanity, as to pass an Edict for the deliberate Destruction of those who the Chance of War has thrown in their Hands." Washington, replying on 30 January, took strong issue with Howe's opinion and delivered a famous rebuke: "No expressions of personal politeness to me can be acceptable, accompanied by reflections on the Representatives of a free People, under whose Authority I have the Honor to act....I have not indulged myself in invective against the present Rulers of Great Britain, in the course of our correspondence, nor will I even now avail myself of so fruitful a Theme" ( Writings , ed. J.C. Fitzpatrick, 7:409).
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