“A Melancholy Case”

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Washington felt a similar relief. On November 13 he sent Asgill a passport to New York, saying in the covering letter that he wanted the young man to know, “I was never influenced thro’ the whole of it by sanguinary motives; but by what I conceived a sense of my duty.”

Asgill, rather ungraciously, made no reply, then or later. He left the prison camp in a rush, without servant or baggage, to catch the next boat to England. He reached New York an hour after the Swallow had sailed. Undaunted—and clearly unwilling to delay his departure any longer—he hired a small sailing vessel and overtook the ship some twelve miles out at sea. He was restored to his family in time for the new year and subsequently went on to an honorable military career, serving as a full general before his death in 1823.

Congress continued to press for action against the Refugees, but that problem disappeared in early December when Carleton at last disbanded the Board of Associated Loyalists. Writing to Washington, the British general said it was his fervent hope that the “acts which have perplexed the course and principles of Justice … may be mutually forgotten.”

It was a common hope, made real by Asgill’s release. And it was, after all, what Washington had wanted from the beginning. “I essayed everything,” he wrote in 1786, “to save the innocent, bring the guilty to punishment, and stop the further perpetuation of similar crimes. …” Still, he had not done it alone, and like Lady Asgill he was forever grateful to the Comte de Vergennes, whose fateful intervention (as she wrote) “changed misery into happiness … and restored the worthiest of sons to the most tender and fortunate of mothers.”