Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, July 17, 2006

1780 Letter To George Clinton from American Patriot Philip Pell of Pelham Manor, Commissary of Prisoners of the State of New York

Philip Pell was a notable patriot during the American Revolutionary War. He certainly is one of the most notable residents ever to live in Pelham. According to his U.S. Congressional Biography, he was born in the Manor of Pelham on July 7, 1753 and later graduated from King's College (today's Columbia University) in 1770. He studied law and was admitted to the New York bar. He practiced in New York City and Westchester County. He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1789. He served as a lieutenant, New York Volunteers, in 1776. He was appointed Deputy Judge Advocate, Continental Army, in 1777. He served as a member of the State assembly 1779 - 1781. Between 1781 and 1783 he served as Judge Advocate General, United States Army. Most notably, he served as a member of General George Washington's staff on evacuation day in New York City in November, 1783. He served again as a member of the New York State assembly, 1784 - 1787. He served as Surrogate of Westchester County from March 13, 1787 to October 31, 1800. He died in Pelham on May 1, 1811 and is buried in the churchyard at St. Paul's National Historic Site in Eastchester (now part of the City of Mount Vernon, New York).

For a period of time during the Revolutionary War, Pell also served as Commissary of Prisoners for the State of New York. Among his other responsibilities was responsibility for exchanging British and German prisoners for captured American troops. On July 10, 1780, he wrote a letter to New York's George Clinton lamenting the fact that although more than thirty Westchester County Patriots had been captured by the British, he did not have enough prisoners to exchange for them. Two had died in captivity and, according to Pell, the British were content to allow the remaining Patriots in their captivity to die "by inches". The text of the letter appears below, as printed in the "Public Papers of George Clinton".

"[No. 3064.]

The Enemy Unwilling to Exchange Prisoners.

Westchester County 10th July 1780.

Sir, The Letters your Excellency dispatched to the several Officers of the Levies in Westchester, I last evening received of Mr. Barclay, and the circuit I shall this day take, will afford me an opportunity of delivering some and safely conveying others of them. Capt. Sackett and his Company have lately distinguished themselves upon the Lines, the the retaking of about two hundred head of Cattle and Horses, which near two hundred of the Enemy consisting of Horse and foot, had taken and were driving down; a Capt. Ebenezer Shield and one other of the Enemy formerly of Westchester, were killed, Sackett lost none.

It is with pain I acquaint your Excellency that above thirty of the most valuable militia of this County are now prisoners with the Enemy, and two of them have lately died in confinement, yet it is not in my power to relieve them as I have not a sufficient number of the Enemy; and the few under my direction have been a long while proposed in exchange, but the Enemy discover a backwardness, seemingly for the sake of murdering ours by inches; I shall give all possible attention to this business and endeavor to relieve our people from their captivity as speedily as shall be in my power. I am, respectfully, your Excellency's most obedient & very H'ble Serv't

Philip Pell, Jun.

[To G. C.]"

Source: Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York 1777-1795 -- 1801-1804, Vol. V, pp. 953-54 (Albany, NY: James B. Lyon, State Printer 1901).

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