James Farnandis meets George Washington

James Farnandis was the ensign of the First Company when the British captured him at the Battle of Brooklyn on August 27, 1776. Farnandis remained a prisoner of the British in New York until his exchange on March 24, 1777. Upon his release Farnandis traveled to New Jersey and met face-to-face with General George Washington.

Farnandis’ reasons for meeting with Washington were twofold; he was delivering a letter about prisoners and providing vital military intelligence. Farnandis carried a letter from Colonel Robert Magaw, an American officer held prisoner who wrote that American prisoners lacked “common necessaries,” and that “their circumstances must soon be extremely disagreeable and even wretched unless relieved by remittances of their pay or otherwise.”[1] In the margins of the letter were instructions for Washington to refer to the specific case of Farnandis. Therefore, Farnandis was not merely acting as a courier, he was providing important information on the status and conditions facing American prisoners and telling the story of his own experience. Farnandis’ presentation evidently moved Washington; in his response to Colonel Magaw, Washington pledged to do “every thing in my power” to improve the situation of American prisoners.[2]

Farnandis also provided vital military intelligence. In a letter to Jonathan Trumbull Sr., the governor of Connecticut, Washington wrote that Farnandis had informed him that large, weekly supplies of fresh provisions were being delivered to the British in New York via Connecticut, which he deemed “a practice so wicked, and so injurious in its consequences.”[3] Farnandis also revealed that British officers were recruiting soldiers in Connecticut, and that one British sympathizer, John Hart, was traveling to Rhode Island john_hart_providencewith the intention of passing counterfeit money. Washington reminded Trumbull, “It highly imports us to detect and apprehend these villains whose crimes are of great enormity.” Farnandis’ intelligence was accurate and quickly acted upon; in May 1777 a court-martial convicted and executed John Hart in Providence after being found “a traitor and spy.”[4]

Farnandis’ meeting with Washington is unique in the history of the First Maryland Regiment; a very low-ranking Maryland officer briefing the commander of the Continental Army. Farnandis’ own experience enhanced the information in the letter demonstrating to Washington the conditions that confronted American prisoners. Even in captivity, Farnandis displayed his dedication to the cause, gathering important intelligence and relaying it to the army’s leadership immediately upon his release.


[1] “To George Washington from Colonel Robert Magaw, 6 April 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives. http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-09-02-0075.

[2] “From George Washington to Colonel Robert Magaw, 20 April 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives. http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-09-02-0204.

[3] “From George Washington to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 12 April 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-09-02-0137.

[4] “Providence, May 24,” Providence Gazette (Providence, RI), May 24, 1777, vol. 14, issue 699, p. 3.

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