The Staten Island Peace Conference of 1776

September 11, 1776

The Staten Island Peace Conference was a meeting between American delegates and British officials that explored the possibility of a diplomatic resolution to the American Revolutionary War. The meeting is known for the British refusing to recognize American independence, leading to a continuation of the war.

Richard Howe, Admiral, British Royal Navy

Admiral Richard Howe hosted the Staten Island Peace Conference. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Staten Island Peace Conference Important Facts

  • Date — September 11, 1776.
  • Location — Billop House, Staten Island, New York
  • ParticipantsAdmiral Richard Howe, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Edward Rutledge
  • Purpose — To explore a diplomatic solution for ending the American Revolutionary War.
  • Length — The negotiations lasted around 3 hours.
  • Outcome — The meeting failed to bring about a resolution to the war, and fighting continued.
  • Fun Fact John Adams offended Admiral Howe and was subsequently banned from receiving a pardon from the British for participating in the rebellion against the Crown.
  • Interesting Fact — The Billop House is now a museum within Conference House Park. It is a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.
Benjamin Franklin, Portrait, Duplessis
Benjamin Franklin. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

Staten Island Peace Conference History

During the Battle of Long Island (August 27, 1776), British forces captured General John Sullivan. While in captivity, he was invited to dinner with Admiral Richard Howe and his brother, General William Howe. During the dinner, Admiral Howe proposed discussing a diplomatic resolution to the war with members of the Second Continental Congress.

Sullivan was allowed to go to Philadelphia, where he met with Congress and informed the members of Howe’s proposal, which included ending the blockade of American ports. However, Congress was divided over the issue and a heated debate ensued. 

General John Sullivan, Portrait, Illustration
John Sullivan. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

September 5

On September 5, Congress decided to send a delegation to meet with Howe and hear what he had to say, even though the delegates were skeptical Howe had the authority to lift the blockade or make a treaty.

Ultimately, Congress agreed that sending a delegation would delay a British attack on New York City, but would also show America was interested in a peaceful resolution. Congress selected three prominent members — one for each region of the new nation — to meet with Howe:

  1. John Adams — Massachusetts, New England
  2. Benjamin Franklin — Pennsylvania, Mid-Atlantic
  3. Edward Rutledge — South Carolina, South

September 11 — The Staten Island Peace Conference Begins

On the 11, they met with Admiral Howe at the of Christopher Billop, a Loyalist, on Staten Island. General Howe was unable to attend due to military obligations. 

Although Admiral Howe was polite toward the Americans, he did not have the authority to make a treaty with Congress. He admitted that anything he agreed to would have to be sent to London for approval, however, he did express that King George III and Parliament were open to addressing colonial grievances and improving the administration of the colonies.

The meeting lasted for about three hours, and the Americans insisted Britain would have to recognize the independent United States. Howe admitted he was unable to lift the blockade or make any other concessions unless the Americans laid down their arms and ceased hostilities.

As the meeting came to its end, Howe said he felt the loss of America was similar to the “loss of a brother.” It was something he was familiar with, having lost his brother George in 1758, during the French and Indian War. Franklin responded, “…we will do our utmost…to save your lordship that mortification.”

September 15–16

Four days later, British forces landed at Kip’s Bay on Manhattan Island and engaged American forces at Harlem Heights on September 16.

September 17

The Americans departed and returned to Philadelphia, where they provided details of the meeting to Congress on September 17.

In his report to London, Admiral Howe expressed disappointment, noting a “complete revolution” had occurred in America, and further negotiations toward peace would be pointless.

John Adams, Portrait, Stuart
John Adams. Image Source: National Gallery of Art.

Staten Island Peace Conference Facts

Before the conference, British officials were carrying out an expedition to occupy New York City in late 1775 and early 1776. Admiral Richard Howe commanded British naval forces while his brother, General William Howe, commanded land forces.

Diplomatic Aspirations of the Howe Brothers

  • Admiral Howe had informal discussions with Benjamin Franklin in 1774 and 1775 regarding colonial grievances, however, no resolution was achieved.
  • General Howe believed that colonial taxation issues could be resolved by maintaining the supremacy of Parliament.
  • Together, they believed it was possible to end the war without additional violence.
  • They requested diplomatic authority, in addition to their military roles.

King George III’s Initial Agreement and Lord George Germain’s Influence

  • Initially, King George III reluctantly agreed to grant the Howe brothers limited diplomatic authority.
  • Lord George Germain opposed making any concessions to colonial demands.
  • The Howes were granted the ability to issue pardons and amnesties, but nothing more.
General William Howe, Illustration
This mezzotint by Richard Purcell depicts William Howe during the Revolutionary War. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Admiral Howe’s Communication Attempts

  • Admiral Howe attempted to communicate with General George Washington after the British fleet arrived in July 1776.
  • Two earlier attempts to deliver letters to Washington were rejected because Howe did not acknowledge Washington’s role as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.
  • Washington agreed to meet with Howe’s representative, Colonel James Patterson, on July 20.
  • In the meeting, Washington learned that the Howes’ diplomatic authority was limited to granting pardons.
  • Washington responded that the Americans were not at fault and did not require pardons.

Letters Exchanged Between Admiral Howe and Franklin

  • Admiral Howe sent a letter to Benjamin Franklin outlining a proposal for a truce and offering pardons.
  • Franklin read the letter in Congress on July 30.
  • Franklin responded to Lord Howe and objected to offering pardons by pointing out the British burned defenseless towns and incited violence.
  • Howe was surprised by Franklin’s accusations.

Battle of Long Island and British Occupation

  • During the Battle of Long Island (August 27, 1776), British forces successfully occupied western Long Island, present-day Brooklyn, forcing Washington to withdraw his army to Manhattan.
  • General Howe paused to consolidate his forces after the battle and missed an opportunity to crush the Continental Army.
Battle of Long Island, Lord Stirling Leads Maryland Regiment
This painting by Alonzo Chappel depicts Lord Stirling leading the Maryland Regiment against British forces at the Battle of Long Island. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Diplomatic Overture and Capture of Officers

  • The Howes decided to make a diplomatic overture after capturing high-ranking Continental Army officers during the battle, including Major General John Sullivan.
  • They convinced Sullivan to deliver a message to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia proposing an informal meeting to discuss ending the armed conflict.

Debate in the Continental Congress

  • Adams cynically referred to Sullivan as a decoy and accused the British of trying to trick Congress into renouncing independence.
  • Some saw it as an attempt to blame Congress for prolonging the war.
Staten Island Peace Conference, 1776, Billop House
This photograph shows the exterior of the Billop House, circa 1860 to 1920. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The American Delegation

  • Congress agreed to send three members — John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Edward Rutledge — to meet with Lord Howe.
  • They were instructed to ask questions and take Howe’s answers but had no authority to negotiate an end to the war.
  • None of the commissioners had high expectations for the conference.

Howe Reconsiders

  • Admiral Howe considered calling off the meeting when he was informed of the limited authority of the American delegates but decided to proceed after discussing it with General Howe.
  • At first, Admiral Howe wanted to meet with the men as private citizens, refusing to recognize Congress as a legitimate authority.
  • However, Congress threatened to pull out of the conference, so Howe agreed to recognize them as official representatives of the Congress.

Meeting Place and Conditions

  • The Staten Island home of Christopher Billop, a Loyalist, was selected as the location.
  • The house had been used by British troops as a barracks and was in poor condition.
  • One room was cleaned and prepared for the meeting.
  • A British officer was to serve as a hostage during the meeting.

Arrival and Hospitality

  • The congressional delegation invited the British officer to accompany them rather than leaving him behind American lines.
  • Upon arrival, they were escorted past Hessian soldiers and into the house.
  • A meal consisting of claret, ham, mutton, and tongue was served.

American Demands

  • Americans insisted on British recognition of their independence, but Admiral Howe admitted he lacked the authority to meet that demand.

British Demands and Concessions

  • Dissolution of the Continental Congress.
  • Re-establishment of prewar colonial assemblies.
  • Acceptance of the terms of Lord North’s Conciliatory Resolution regarding self-taxation.
  • A promise of further discussion of colonial grievances.
  • Concessions could only be made if hostilities ceased, and colonial assemblies acknowledged the supremacy of Parliament.
Staten Island Peace Conference, 1776, Meeting Room
This photograph shows the room at the Billop House where the meeting took place. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Discussion of the Prohibitory Act

  • Edward Rutledge asked if Howe had the authority to repeal the Prohibitory Act, which authorized a naval blockade, as Sullivan had told Congress
  • Howe said that Sullivan was mistaken and that he only had the authority to suspend the blockade if the colonies agreed to fixed contributions instead of taxes, and hostilities ceased.

Cordiality and Tensions

  • Most of the meeting was cordial.
  • Franklin responded to Howe’s expression of loss by promising to spare him that mortification.
  • Howe expressed his view of the American delegates as British subjects.
  • Adams asserted his identity as something other than a British subject.
  • Howe commented on Adams being decided on the chances of resolving the conflict, inferring he was against a peaceful resolution.
  • Adams later learned that his name was specifically excluded from any pardons that were offered by the British.

Report to Congress

  • The Congressmen reported to Philadelphia that Admiral Howe had no propositions to offer.
  • They suggested that Britain would only accept unconditional submission by America.

Public Perception

  • Congress published the committee’s report without comment.
  • Admiral Howe failed to publish a report, which was viewed by some as a sign of weakness.
  • There was speculation among Loyalists and British observers that the Congressional report misrepresented the meeting.

Staten Island Peace Conference APUSH Review

Use the following links and videos to study the Staten Island Peace Conference, the New York-New Jersey Campaign, and the American Revolutionary War for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Staten Island Peace Conference Definition and Significance

The definition of Staten Island Peace Conference for APUSH is a conference held in September 1776 during the American Revolutionary War. It was an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate an end to hostilities between Great Britain and the newly independent United States. Admiral Richard Howe met with a delegation of Americans that included John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Edward Rutledge, on Staten Island in New York. Despite efforts to find common ground, the conference failed to produce any significant agreements. 

The significance of the Staten Island Peace Conference for APUSH is the British insisted on reconciliation and refused to recognize American independence, thereby prolonging the American Revolutionary War.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title The Staten Island Peace Conference of 1776
  • Date September 11, 1776
  • Author
  • Keywords Staten Island Peace Conference, American Revolutionary War, Richard Howe, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Edward Rutledge
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date February 27, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update December 8, 2023

The Staten Island Peace Conference of 1776 is Part of the Following on AHC