"Their Distress is Almost Intolerable": The Elias Boudinot Letterbook, 1777-1778


Elias Boudinot, a prominent attorney in New Jersey, was appointed the first Commissary General of Prisoners by George Washington on April 1, 1777. Though reluctant to take the assignment, he did accept, and wrote his wife he was drawn into "the boisterous noisy, fatiguing unnatural and disrelishing state of War and slaughter" in order to "be of some service to the Prisoners" and "to watch the Military and to preserve the Civil Rights of my Fellow Citizens."

Boudinot faced the task of bringing structure to the confusion that existed with respect to prisoners of war. As his letters show, his problems with prisoner management included trying to feed and clothe our men held by the British, initially in New York, and after September 1777, in Philadelphia. Unlike current protocols, which require the side holding prisoners to provide a certain standard of care, during the Revolutionary War each side was to provide food, clothing, and other aid to its own men while they were held by their adversary. Thus, Boudinot actually had to compete for supplies with men who were purchasing goods for the active duty soldiers at Valley Forge.

Knowledgeable readers will recognize the names of many of the letter recipients: Joshua Loring, William Howe, Henry Clinton, Horatio Gates and others. A descriptive note at the foot of each entry identifies the recipient the first time each individual appears. This book includes a brief history of the Commissary of Prisoners, a document chronology, and a list of further readings on Boudinot and Prisoners of War during the American Revolution.

A valuable addition to your Revolutionary War library! Joseph Lee Boyle is the author of several Heritage Books about the Revolutionary War.

Joseph Lee Boyle

(2002), 2008, 5½x8½, paper, index, 158 pp.

ISBN: 9780788422102