Peace Conference on Staten Island

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Peace Conference on Staten Island

PEACE CONFERENCE ON STATEN ISLAND. 11 September 1776. General John Sullivan, who was captured in the Battle of Long Island on 27 August 1776, got the impression from discussions with Admiral Lord Richard Howe that the Howe brothers had greater powers under their peace commissions than the Americans realized. After a congenial dinner together, Lord Howe persuaded Sullivan to visit Congress with a proposal that they begin talks toward a possible negotiated settlement. Howe deliberately left all the particulars vague. Sullivan arrived in Philadelphia to make his report to Congress, which was less than enthusiastic. After some heated debate, Congress resolved on 5 September to send a committee to find out whether Lord Howe could treat with representatives of Congress and, if so, what proposals he had for negotiations. Congress hoped thereby to both delay the attack on New York City and give a public indication of its desire for peace. Although Lord Howe was disappointed to learn upon Sullivan's return, on 9 September, that the committee was coming not to treat but merely to secure information, he and his brother decided to go ahead with the conference in hopes that negotiations might follow.

On 7 September, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Edward Rutledge were elected for this mission, and on the 11th they met with Lord Howe on Staten Island, opposite Amboy. General William Howe excused himself because of military duties. Richard Howe was extremely gracious, but Adams was convinced that he knew nothing of the real causes of the Revolution and Franklin mildly mocked the admiral. The Americans confirmed their previous understanding that the Howes had no real power and that anything to which they agreed would have to be referred back to London. Although Lord Howe painted the rosiest possible picture of what he hoped to do for the Americans, he was honest, telling the representatives of Congress that he could not actually enter into a treaty with Congress and that all he could offer were assurances that George III and Parliament "were very favorably inclined toward redressing the grievances and reforming the administration of the American colonies" (Smith, p. 758). Adams politely informed Howe that they would only negotiate further in the name of the Congress and that a "complete revolution" had occurred in America from which there was no turning back. This left no basis for further discussion, and after expressions of personal good will, the three went back to Philadelphia and reported to Congress on the 17th. Howe reported himself disillusioned, finding the Americans dogmatic and their leaders "men of low or of suspicious Character" (ibid., 1, p. 758). Adams, Franklin, and Rutledge, for their part, thought Howe out of touch with reality and lacking sufficient authority to warrant further discussions.


Smith, Page. A New Age Now Begins: A People's History of the American Revolution. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.

                            revised by Michael Bellesiles

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Peace Conference on Staten Island

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