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Letter from Robert Howe to John Murray, Earl of Dunmore
Howe, Robert, 1732-1786
December 27, 1775
Volume 10, Pages 367-369

Letter from Colonel Howe to Lord Dunmore.

Norfolk, December 27th, 1775.

My Lord:

I was not understood by your Lordship last night, and it gives me concern. You do me justice, however, when you suppose I could not mean, even by implication, to degrade any commissions issued by Conventions whose authority I acknowledge, whose appointment I honour, and to whose service I have devoted myself. I am, I find, to inform your Lordship of what I really thought you before acquainted, that Conventions, from the fatal necessities of the times, have been compelled to establish three different military bodies: Militia, Minute Battalions, and Regular Regiments; and that they have made a distinction in the rank of each. What I said, therefore, in respect to militia officers, was not without its propriety, had my meaning extended no further than as to their rank. You, my Lord, sometimes affect so much to despise any rank derived from Conventions, that courtesy itself cannot induce you, even in the common forms of address, to admit those appellations which they have fixed to particular characters. Circumstances, however, at other times have so far an influence upon your Lordship as to prevail

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upon you not only to admit that rank, but to endeavour to carry it higher than even the Conventions intended.

A Colonel in the Minute Service ranks only with a Lieutenant Colonel of the Regulars; a Colonel of Militia, only with a Lieutenant Colonel of Minute Men. This must make it plain, that a Militia Lieutenant, though your Lordship had taken him in battle, cannot be deemed an equitable exchange, for a Lieutenant of Regulars, much less, my Lord, if a man should have been torn from his farm, and arbitrarily deprived of his liberty, because a Convention had nominated him an officer, without his having done any one act that could warrant his seizure, or continue his confinement longer than despotism prevails over rights and privileges. In this case I might, indeed compassionate his fate, but should betray the confidence reposed in me by my country, should I attempt to release him by a prisoner of equal rank taken in battle, who it would be my duty to consider as a pledge in my hands, for the redemption of some brave man, that by the chance of war may happen to be captivated.

The Conventions in order to establish a Militia, have appointed Captains in particular districts to train and exercise, in arms, all persons from sixteen to sixty years of age, without instructing or directing them to act against Government; these may meet and go through the manual exercise, and then return home, surely without the least guilt. Six months after, should some or all of these people be taken from their ploughs, made prisoners, and offered in exchange for those that are prisoners of war, could an officer be justified, who admitted of such an exchange? or would you, my Lord, should we seize upon the persons of the peasants, who come into this town every day, and who attend to your Proclamation, and subscribed your Test, admit of them in exchange for our officers and men, who you assert were taken in arms? Information had given me to think, and till your last letter, I had no reason to doubt, that some of these officers and men you offered us, were such as I have described; and it was to that I alluded when I said, that I could not put those prisoners, taken in battle, upon a footing with the Militia officers and peasants, whom you my Lord, had thought proper to deprive of their liberty. I was explicit, I thought, when I told your Lordship, that I looked upon those officers, who under your appointment, fought at the Great Bridge, though taken since the action, as prisoners, who would be equitably offered in

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exchange for those of ours of the same rank taken by you; and when I desired an exact list of the men in your custody, the rank they bore, and the manner in which they were taken, I imagined it would be granted me; I wish now to obtain such a list, my Lord; and if I do, you will find that I shall not degrade those Commissions issued by Conventions, the rank of which you seem so desirous I should maintain, but join you heartily, if you choose it, in one measure at least, that of returning to their friends such prisoners as we have of yours, and restoring to the bosom of their country those that you have torn from it.

I have not had it in my power, till within this hour, to answer your favour of last night; the delay you will please to excuse.

I am, my Lord, your Lordship's
most obedient humble servant
ROBERT HOWE.
To His Excellency Lord Dunmore.