Letter from Lieut. Col. Stephen Moore, Prison Ship Forbay,
to Lieut. Col. Nesbit Balfour, 19 May 1781

From Gibbes Documentary History of the American Revolution, Vol. 3, p. 76-77

May 19, 1781.


Yesterday we transmitted to you a letter, enclosing a copy of yours, with a list of one hundred and twenty-nine prisoners of war, confined on board this ship, which we hope is forwarded to Major Genl Greene, agreeably to your promise, and make no doubt but that your feelings as a gentleman will, upon this occasion, induce you to do every thing in your power to liberate, from a most injurious and disagreeable confinement, those against whom there can exist no charge of dishonor, and whose only crime, if such it can possibly be termed by men of liberal ideas, is an inflexible attachment to what they conceive to be the rights of their country, and who have scorned to deceive you by unmeaning professions. In justice to ourselves we must say, that if the Americas have at any time so far divested themselves of that character of humanity and generosity, which ever distinguished them, we feel ourselves most sensibly mortified, but are induced, from the generous treatment of Cols. Lechmere, Rugely, Fenwicke and Kelsell, and their parties, and from a number of other instances which might be easily adduced, to believe, that the outrages which you complain of, must be the effect of private resentment (subsisting between British subjects and those who, after having availed themselves of the royal proclamation, have resumed their arms, in opposition to that government) and totally unsanctioned by any American officer, and which we are well convinced they would reprobate and would punish in the most exemplary manner, could the perpetrators of such horrid acts be detected.

In a war, circumstanced as the present, there will be some instances of enormities on both sides. We would not wish to particularise, but doubt not there are acts of cruelty frequently committed by the irregulars of your army, and are convinced, that on your part, as well as our own, they are generally to be attributed to an ignorance of the rules of warfare, and a want of discipline; but the idea of detaining in close custody as hostages a number of men fairly taken in arms, and entitled to the benefits of a solemn capitulation, is so repugnant to the laws of war, and the usage of civilized nations, that we apprehend it will rather be the means of increasing its horrors, than answering those purposes of humanity you expect.

As a most strict adherence to the terms of our paroles, and a firm reliance on your honor, have been the only reasons of our being in your power at present, we trust, that upon equitable proposals being made for our exchange by Gen. Greene, no objections will be raised, but every thing done to bring the matter to the most speedy issue.

As you have thought proper to publish your reasons for seizing upon our persons, we request our answer may also be inserted in the next Gazette. We are, sir,

Your most obedient servants,

STEPHEN MOORE, and others.