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Letter from Thomas Burke to Nathanael Greene
Burke, Thomas, ca. 1747-1783
March 05, 1782
Volume 16, Pages 214-216

[From Executive Letter Book.]

Halifax, March 5th, 1782.

Dear Sir:

I have received yours of the 6th of last month, for which I thank you sincerely.

General Leslie’s letter seems to be a commonplace, nor can I presuade myself that he expected it would be complied with. He does not, I perceive, rely on my proposition, but suppose you have a power over me which he can claim the exercise of in order to compel my return. It cannot be material to enter into a discussion of such points with him.

My proposition, on which alone the matter must rest, plainly requires his answer to be to me, and stipulated the return only in the event that a joint and reasonable equivalent cannot be rendered.

It cannot be expected that he will admit that my apprehensions were well founded, because that would be condemning his conduct in neglecting me.

But nevertheless I am pretty well informed that his own officers do not all agree with him in that opinion and some have declared that he did not pay the attention due even to my manners. In truth, I have little doubt that had I remained I should have been sacrificed, and in such a manner as that satisfication could never even be demanded.

I do not suppose that Genl. Leslie had such intentions, but from the peculiar situation of Major Craig, relatively to the people whose adherents he had left behind, and from the sentiments avowed by him, I have every reason to believe he wished the refugees always to have had me in their power as an object on which to gratify their vengeance for their companions which he had abandoned.

I have, indeed, myself no doubt as to the rectitude of the measures I took, but I was also very desirous that the true motive of my conduct should be known and approved by wise and good men.

It is, however, extremely difficult to judge in cases where no man can imagine himself in similar circumstances, with force any way

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equal to the reality, and I do not expect such unexampled good fortune as that every one will approve or even candidly judge of my conduct. I satisfied myself that no injury could result from it to others, because the Continental officers were protected by peculiar regard of both friends and enemies, and by fortunate circumstances the Militia were despised and distressed as much as possible, except where their particular friends could make interest for some favor to individuals, and my remaining or moving could make no difference.

I should not have troubled you thus far at present, was it not that I am informed that Colonel Williams, in passing through this State, has given a representation of the affair far less candid than I should have expected from his good sense, discretion and politness. Even my leaving Headquarters before the matter was adjusted with General Leslie, if I am rightly informed, has been represented by him as reprobated by you. But in this, he is certainly mistaken, and it proves to me that he has given his conjectures for your sentiments, for he surely could not know that it was by your advice.

Gentlemen who take such freedoms may, indeed hurt a man of sensibility who is entitled to some respect from America, if a zealous attachment and unremitting assiduity in her service, to the neglect of every private concern, can give such title, and if candor or the manners of a gentleman cannot restrain them, they must go on. It is impossible to be always ready to refute them.

I thank you, Sir, for you intention of proposing my exchange. I hope, and indeed doubt not your being able to effect it. But should we both be mistaken, I beg that you will enter into no engagement for my return, because, as the matter stands, I cannot be engaged thereto.

If General Leslie gives me no answer I have done with him. If he insists upon anything unjust or unreasonable in exchange, I am not bound to render it. If he claims only what is just and reasonable, there can be no difficulty in rendering it, and I am persuaded you will, if not over-ruled by some orders from Congress, very readily comply. I am not without apprehensions of your being em barrassed by some such orders. I am but too well acquainted with their modes of proceedings and indeed of thinking.

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If it should be put out of your power to effect my exchange by any means except the want of an equivalent, which surely is not not probable, I shall not seem myself bound to return. If the enemy are willing to receive it and the United States refuse to give it, I shall consider myself as treated with civil injustice, and nothing shall induce me to comply with any order which may flow from their authority. If denied protection either as a Soldier or Citizen of the Confederacy, my obedience in either character can not be lawfully required. While in captivity I found no protection in either character, though avowedly confined closely as a State prisoner and threatened with all the consequences of such a distinction; in that situation, notwithstanding it being a period when our arms were most eminently successful in that situation, I was totally neglected.

I will not pursue this matter further, but I must assure you that returning to captivity, would leave my family exposed to the most distressing indigence, owing to the entire neglect of my private affairs, during the whole contest, the public having engaged my time and talents, and chiefly at the expence of my private fortune, originally, but very moderate, and though I could bear anything in my own person, I cannot bear the distress of a helpless family.

In obscure retirement the Enemy will have all the advantages of my inactivity, which is all they could derive from the possession of a neglected individual, and a community who would not give a reasonable equivalent in exchange for me, have no claim to my services.

I have troubled you too far on a subject interesting to none but myself.

I hope you will excuse me, and believe me to be,
With great esteem and regard
Your Obedient
Humble Servant,