Vol. 10 No. 1.0 Spring 2014
William R. Reynolds, Jr.
The fall of Charles Town in May of 1780 was interesting in itself, but it led to a most intriguing action—mass parole of American Whig militiamen. One of the more fascinating stories is that of then Colonel Andrew Pickens’ parole period. The events surrounding his exit from parole status is captivating.
In the following essay of his seventh-great-granduncle, William R. Reynolds, Jr. uses excerpts from, and paraphrases of, his book Andrew Pickens: South Carolina Patriot in the Revolutionary War to describe the event. He uses single quotation marks to set apart excerpts while internal citations are exhibited with the traditional double quotes.
Throughout the American Revolution, both sides utilized the European custom of offering paroles for captives. Usually, it was applied to officers but at times to the rank and file when there were not suitable facilities for maintaining large numbers of prisoners. Parole between the British and Americans had been a signed honorable transaction that allowed the captive to be released as long as he promised to not re-enter the war. Final disposition of his case was to transpire upon the end of hostilities when the winning military commanders would consider the wartime actions of all enemy parolees on a case by case basis. One of the first mass parole incidents occurred following the First Battle of Saratoga (or Battle of Freeman’s Farm).
‘…after the Americans had assailed the British for several days, General Burgoyne sent a flag bearer with a note requesting that negotiations be opened with General Gates. Gates responded that the British would immediately lay down their arms and surrender—‘immediately’ being rejected by Burgoyne.
Burgoyne’s army was the first British unit to be soundly defeated by the Americans. It was a surety that he and his officers would face disgrace, and he had no idea what was in store for his rank and file. There was no precedence. The British themselves had captured many enlisted men already during the war and had confined them to horrible conditions aboard prison ships. However, it was a common occurrence for officers on either side to be paroled. Burgoyne decided to hold out for the best situation he could arrange for his men.