Letter from N. Balfour to the Militia prisoners of War

From Gibbes Documentary History of the American Revolution Vol. 3, p. 72-73

CHARLESTON, May 17, 1781.


Many have been the representations which the outrages committed by the American troops, and their violations of all the humaner principles of war, have compelled me to make to such of their officers as commanded parties in this province; but more particularly have I been obliged to remonstrate against the rigorous treatment, in many cases extending to death, which the loyal militia, when made prisoners, most invariably experience.

These representations, gentlemen, having been grounded on the truest principles of benevolence, and which it behoves each side equally to have advanced, I was as much surprised as I was mortified, to find them in all cases practically disregarded, and in many, wholly neglected. It is therefore become my duty, however irksome to myself, to try how far a more decided line of conduct will prevail, and whether the safety of avowed adherents to their cause, may not induce the American troops to extend a proper clemency to those whose principles arm them in defence of British government.

Induced by these motives, I have conceived it an act of expediency to seize on your persons, and retain them as hostages for the good usage of all the loyal militia who are, or may be made prisoners of war, resolving to regulate, in the full extent, your treatment by the measure of theirs, and which my feelings make me hope hereafter be most lenient.

And as I have thought it necessary that those persons, who some time since were sent from thence to St. Augustine, should, in this respect, be considered in the same point of view as yourselves, I shall send notice there, that they be likewise held as sureties for a future propriety of conduct towards our militia prisoners.

Reasons, so cogent, and which have only the most humane purposes for their objects, will, I doubt not, be considered by every reasonable person as a sufficient justification of this most necessary measure, even in those points where it may militate with the capitulation of Charleston; though indeed the daily infractions of it, by the breach of paroles, would alone well warrant this procedure.

Having been this candid in stating to you the causes for this conduct, I can have no objections to your making any proper use of this letter you may judge to your advantage, and will therefore, should you deem it expedient, grant what flags of truce may be necessary to carry out copies of it to any officer commanding American troops in these parts, and in the mean time the fullest directions will be given, that your present situation be rendered as eligible as the nature of circumstances will admit.

I am, gentlemen, your most obedient humble servant,