American Prisoners of the Revolution
Part 3 out of 11
sixty-nine taken with me only fifteen were alive, and eight out of
that number unable to work.
"Death stared the living in the face: we were now attacked by a fever
which threatened to clear our walls of its miserable inhabitants.
"About the 20th of July I made my escape from the prison-yard. Just
before the lamps were lighted. I got safely out of the city, passed
all the guards, was often fired at, but still safe as to any injury
done me; arrived at Harlem River eastward of King's Bridge.
"Hope and fear were now in full exercise. The alarm was struck by the
sentinels keeping firing at me. I arrived at the banks of
Harlem,--five men met me with their bayonets at my heart; to resist
was instant death, and to give up, little better.
"I was conducted to the main guard, kept there until morning then
started for New York with waiters with bayonets at my back, arrived at
my old habitation about 1 o'clock, P. M.; was introduced to the Prison
keeper who threatened me with instant death, gave me two heavy blows
with his cane; I caught his arm and the guard interfered. Was driven
to the provost, thrust into a dungeon, a stone floor, not a blanket,
not a board, not a straw to rest on. Next day was visited by a Refugee
Lieutenant, offered to enlist me, offered a bounty, I declined. Next
day renewed the visit, made further offers, told me the General was
determined I should starve to death where I was unless I would enter
their service. I told him his General dare not do it. (I shall here
omit the imprecations I gave him in charge.)
"The third day I was visited by two British officers, offered me a
sergeant's post, threatened me with death as before, in case I
refused. I replied, 'Death if they dare!'
"In about ten minutes the door was opened, a guard took me to my old
habitation the Sugar House, it being about the same time of day I left
my cell that I entered it, being three days and nights without a
morsel of food or a drop of water,--all this for the crime of getting
out of prison. When in the dungeon reflecting upon my situation I
thought if ever mortal could be justified in praying for the
destruction of his enemies, I am the man.
"After my escape the guard was augmented, and about this time a new
prison keeper was appointed, our situation became more tolerable.
"The 16th of July was exchanged. Language would fail me to describe
the joy of that hour; but it was transitory. On the morning of the
16th, some friends, or what is still more odious, some Refugees, cast
into the Prison yard a quantity of warm bread, and it was devoured
with greediness. The prison gate was opened, we marched out about the
number of 250. Those belonging to the North and Eastern States were
conducted to the North River and driven on board the flag ship, and
landed at Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Those who ate of the bread soon
sickened; there was death in the bread they had eaten. Some began to
complain in about half an hour after eating the bread, one was taken
sick after another in quick succession and the cry was, 'Poison,
poison!' I was taken sick about an hour after eating. When we landed,
some could walk, and some could not. I walked to town about two
miles, being led most of the way by two men. About one half of our
number did not eat of the bread, as a report had been brought into the
prison _that the prisoners taken at Fort Washington had been
poisoned in the same way_.
"The sick were conveyed in wagons to White Plains, where I expected to
meet my regiment, but they had been on the march to Rhode Island I
believe, about a week. I was now in a real dilemma; I had not the
vestige of a shirt to my body, was moneyless and friendless. What to
do I knew not. Unable to walk, a gentleman, I think his name was
Allen, offered to carry me to New Haven, which he did. The next day I
was conveyed to Guilford, the place of my birth, but no near relative
to help me. Here I learned that my father had died in the service the
Spring before. I was taken in by a hospitable uncle, but in moderate
circumstances. Dr. Readfield attended me for about four months I was
salivated twice, but it had no good effect. They sent me 30 miles to
Dr Little of East Haddam, who under kind Providence restored me to
such state of health that I joined my Regiment in the Spring
"In the year 1780, I think in the month of June, General Green met the
enemy at Springfield, New Jersey, and in the engagement I had my left
elbow dislocated in the afternoon. The British fired the village and
retreated. We pursued until dark. The next morning my arm was so
swollen that it _could_ not, or at least was not put right, and
it has been ever since a weak, feeble joint, which has disabled me
from most kinds of manual labor."
To this account the grandson of Thomas Stone, the Rev. Hiram Stone,
adds some notes, in one of which he says, speaking of the Sugar House:
"I have repeatedly heard my grandfather relate that there were no
windows left in the building, and that during the winter season the
snow would be driven entirely across the great rooms in the different
stories, and in the morning lie in drifts upon our poor, hungry,
unprotected prisoners. Of a morning several frozen corpses would be
dragged out, thrown into wagons like logs, then driven away and
pitched into a large hole or trench, and covered up like dead brutes."
Speaking of the custom of sending the exchanged prisoners as far as
possible from their own homes, he says: "I well remember hearing my
grandfather explain this strange conduct of the enemy in the following
way. Alter the poison was thus perfidiously administered, the
prisoners belonging at the North were sent across to the Jersey side,
while those of the South were sent in an opposite direction, the
intention of the enemy evidently being to send the exchanged prisoners
as far from home as possible, that most of them might die of the
effect of the poison before reaching their friends. Grandfather used
to speak of the treatment of our prisoners as most cruel and
murderous, though charging it more to the Tories or Refugees than to
"The effects of the poison taken into his system were never eradicated
in the life-time of my grandfather, a 'breaking out,' or rash,
appearing every spring, greatly to his annoyance and discomfort."
THE CASE OF JOHN BLATCHFORD
In our attempt to describe the sufferings of American prisoners taken
during the Revolution, we have, for the most part, confined ourselves
to New York, only because we have been unable to make extensive
research into the records of the British prisons in other places. But
what little we have been able to gather on the subject of the
prisoners sent out of America we will also lay before our readers.
We have already stated the fact that some of our prisoners were sent
to India and some to Africa. They seem to have been sold into slavery,
and purchased by the East India Company, and the African Company as
It is doubtful if any of the poor prisoners sent to the unwholesome
climate of Africa ever returned to tell the story of British cruelties
inflicted upon them there,--where hard work in the burning
sun,--scanty fare,--and jungle fever soon ended their miseries. But
one American prisoner escaped from the Island of Sumatra, where he had
been employed in the pepperfields belonging to the East India
Company. His story is eventful, and we will give the reader an
abridgement of it, as it was told by himself, in his narrative, first
published in a New England newspaper.
John Blatchford was born at Cape Ann, Mass., in the year 1762. In
June, 1777, he went as a cabin boy on board the Hancock, a continental
ship commanded by Capt. John Manly. On the 8th of July the Hancock was
captured by the Rainbow, under Sir George Collier, and her crew was
taken to Halifax.
John Blatchford was, at this time, in his sixteenth year. He was of
medium height, with broad shoulders, full chest, and well proportioned
figure. His complexion was sallow, his eyes dark, and his hair black
and curly. He united great strength with remarkable endurance, else he
could not have survived the rough treatment he experienced at the
hands of fate. It is said that as a man he was temperate, grave, and
dignified, and although his strength was so great, and his courage
most undaunted, yet he was peaceable and slow to anger. His narrative
appears to have been dictated by himself to some better educated
person. It was first published in New London, Conn., in the year
1788. In the year 1797 an abstract of it appeared in Philip Freneau's
_Time Piece_, a paper published in New York. In July, 1860, the
entire production was published in the _Cape Ann Gazette_. We
will now continue the narrative in Blatchford's own words:
"On our arrival at Halifax we were taken on shore and confined in a
prison which had formerly been a sugar-house.
"The large number of prisoners confined in this house, near 300,
together with a scanty allowance of provisions, occasioned it to be
very sickly. * * * George Barnard, who had been a midshipman on the
Hancock, and who was confined in the same room as myself, concerted a
plan to release us, which was to be effected by digging a small
passage under ground, to extend to a garden that was behind the
prison, and without the prison wall, where we might make a breach in
the night with safety, and probably all obtain our liberty. This plan
greatly elated our spirits, and we were anxious to proceed immediately
in executing it.
"Our cabins were built one above another, from the floor to the height
of a man's head; and mine was pitched upon to be taken up; and six of
us agreed to do the work, whose names were George Barnard, William
Atkins, late midshipmen in the Hancock; Lemuel Towle of Cape Ann,
Isaiah Churchill of Plymouth; Asa Cole of Weathersfield, and myself.
"We took up the cabin and cut a hole in the plank underneath. The
sugar house stood on a foundation of stone which raised the floor four
feet above the ground, and gave us sufficient room to work, and to
convey away the dirt that we dug up.
"The instruments that we had to work with were one scraper, one long
spike, and some sharp sticks; with these we proceeded in our difficult
undertaking. As the hole was too small to admit of more than one
person to work at a time we dug by turns during ten or twelve days,
and carried the dirt in our bosoms to another part of the cellar. By
this time we supposed we had dug far enough, and word was given out
among the prisoners to prepare themselves for flight.
"But while we were in the midst of our gayety, congratulating
ourselves upon our prospects, we were basely betrayed by one of our
own countrymen, whose name was Knowles. He had been a midshipman on
board the Boston frigate, and was put on board the Fox when she was
taken by the Hancock and Boston. What could have induced him to
commit so vile an action cannot be conceived, as no advantage could
accrue to him from our detection, and death was the certain
consequence to many of his miserable countrymen. That it was so is
all that I can say. A few hours before we were to have attempted our
escape Knowles informed the Sergeant of the guard of our design, and
by his treachery cost his country the lives of more than one hundred
valuable citizens,--fathers, and husbands, whose return would have
rejoiced the hearts of now weeping, fatherless children, and called
forth tears of joy from wives, now helpless and disconsolate widows.
"When we were discovered the whole guard were ordered into the room
and being informed by Knowles who it was that performed the work we
were all six confined in irons; the hole was filled up and a sentinel
constantly placed in the room, to prevent any further attempt.
"We were all placed in close confinement, until two of my
fellow-sufferers, Barnard and Cole, died; one of which was put into
the ground with his irons on his hands.
"I was afterwards permitted to walk the yard. But as my irons were too
small, and caused my hands to swell, and made them very sore, I asked
the Sergeant to take them off and give me larger ones. He being a
person of humanity, and compassionating my sufferings, changed my
irons for others that were larger, and more easy to my hands.
"Knowles, who was also permitted to walk the yard, for his perfidy,
would take every opportunity to insult and mortify me, by asking me
whether I wanted to run away again, and when I was going home, etc?
"His daily affronts, together with his conduct in betraying, his
countrymen, so exasperated me that I wished for nothing more than an
opportunity to convince him that I did not love him.
"One day as he was tantalizing over me as usual, I suddenly drew my
one hand out of my irons, flew at him and struck him in the face,
knocked out two or three of his teeth, and bruised his mouth very
much. He cried out that the prisoner had got loose, but before any
assistance came, I had put my hand again into the hand-cuff, and was
walking about the yard as usual. When the guard came they demanded of
me in what manner I struck him. I replied with both my hands.
"They then tried to pull my hands out, but could not, and concluded it
must be as I said. Some laughed and some were angry, but in the end I
was ordered again into prison.
"The next day I was sent on board the Greyhound, frigate,
Capt. Dickson, bound on a cruise in Boston Bay.
"After being out a few days we met with a severe gale of wind, in
which we sprung our main-mast, and received considerable other
damage. We were then obliged to bear away for the West Indies, and on
our passage fell in with and took a brig from Norwich, laden with
"The Captain and hands were put on board a Danish vessel the same
day. We carried the brig into Antigua, where we immediately repaired,
and were ordered in company of the Vulture, sloop of war, to convoy a
sloop of merchantmen into New York.
"We left the fleet off Sandy Hook, and sailed for Philadelphia, where
we lay until we were made a packet, and ordered for Halifax with
dispatches. We had a quick passage, and arrived safe.
"While we lay in the road Admiral Byron arrived, in the Princess Royal
from England, who, being short of men, and we having a surplusage for
a packet, many of our men were ordered on board the Princess Royal,
and among them most of our boat's crew.
"Soon after, some of the officers going on shore, I was ordered into
the boat. We landed at the Governor's slip--it being then near
night. This was the first time since I had been on board the Greyhound
that I had had an opportunity to escape from her, as they were before
this particularly careful of me; therefore I was determined to get
away if possible, and to effect it I waded round a wharf and went up a
byway, fearing I should meet the officers. I soon got into the street,
and made the best of my way towards Irishtown (the southern suburbs of
Halifax) where I expected to be safe, but unfortunately while running
I was met and stopped by an emissary, who demanded of me my business,
and where I was going? I tried to deceive him, that he might let me
pass, but it was in vain, he ordered me to follow him.
"I offered him what money I had, about seven shillings, sixpence, to
let me go, this too was in vain. I then told him I was an American,
making my escape, from a long confinement, and was determined to pass,
and took up a stone. He immediately drew his bayonet, and ordered me
to go back with him. I refused and told him to keep his distance. He
then run upon me and pushed his bayonet into my side. It come out
near my navel; but the wound was not very deep; he then made a second
pass at me, and stabbed me through my arm; he was about to stab me a
third time, when I struck him with the stone and knocked him down. I
then run, but the guard who had been alarmed, immediately took me and
carried me before the Governor, where I understood the man was dead.
"I was threatened with every kind of death, and ordered out of the
Governor's presence. * * * Next day I was sent on board the Greyhound,
the ship I had run from, and we sailed for England. Our captain being
a humane man ordered my irons off, a few days after we sailed, and
permitted me to do duty as formerly. Being out thirteen days we spoke
the Hazard sloop of war, who informed that the French fleet was then
cruising in the English Channel. For this reason we put into Cork, and
the dispatches were forwarded to England.
"While we lay in the Cove of Cork I jumped overboard with the
intention of getting away; unfortunately I was discovered and fired at
by the marines; the boat was immediately sent after me, took me up,
and carried me on board again. At this time almost all the officers
were on shore, and the ship was left in charge of the sailing-master,
one Drummond, who beat me most cruelly. To get out of his way I run
forward, he followed me, and as I was running back he came up with me
and threw me down the main-hold. The fall, together with the beating
was so severe that I was deprived of my senses for a considerable
time. When I recovered them I found myself in the carpenter's berth,
placed upon some old canvas between two chests, having my right thigh,
leg and arm broken, and several parts of my body severely bruised. In
this situation I lay eighteen days till our officers, who had been on
business to Dublin, came on board. The captain inquired for the
prisoners, and on being informed of my situation came down with the
doctor to set my bones, but finding them callussed they concluded not
to meddle with me.
"The ship lay at Cork until the French fleet left the Channel, and
then sailed for Spithead. On our arrival there I was sent in irons on
board the Princess Amelia, and the next day was carried on board the
Brittania, in Portsmouth Harbor, to be tried before Sir Thomas Pye,
lord high admiral of England, and President of the court martial.
"Before the officers had collected I was put under the care of a
sentinel, and the seamen and women who came on board compassionated my
sufferings, which rather heightened than diminished my distress.
"I was sitting under the awning, almost overpowered by the reflection
of my unhappy situation, every morning expecting to be summoned for my
trial, when I heard somebody enquire for the prisoner, and supposing
it to be an officer I rose up and answered that I was there.
"The gentleman came to me, told me to be of good chear, and taking out
a bottle of cordial, bade me drink, which I did. He then enquired
where I belonged. I informed him. He asked me if I had parents
living, and if I had any friends in England? I answered I had
neither. He then assured me he was my friend, and would render me all
the assistance in his power. He then enquired of me every circumstance
relative to my fray with the man at Halifax, for whose death I was now
to be tried and instructed me what to say on my trial, etc."
Whether this man was a philanthropist, or an agent for the East India
Company, we do not know. He instructed Blatchford to plead guilty,
and then defended him from the charge of murder, no doubt on the plea
of self-defence. Blatchford was therefore acquitted of murder, but
apparently sold to the East India Company as a slave. How this was
condoned we do not know, but will let the poor sailor continue his
narrative in his own words.
"I was carried on board an Indiaman, and immediately put down into the
run, where I was confined ten days. * * * On the seventh day I heard
the boatswain pipe all hands, and about noon I was called up on board,
where I found myself on board the Princess Royal, Captain Robert Kerr,
bound to the East Indies, with six others, all large ships belonging
to the East India Company." He had been told that he was to be sent
back to America to be exchanged, and his disappointment amounted
almost to despair.
"Our captain told me if I behaved well and did my duty I should
receive as good usage as any man on board; this gave me great
encouragement. I now found my destiny fixed, that whatever I could do
would not in the least alter my situation, and therefor was determined
to do the best I could, and make myself as contented as my unfortunate
situation would admit.
"After being on board seven days I found there were in the Princess
Royal 82 Americans, all destined to the East Indies, for being what
they called 'Rebels.'
"We had a passage of seventeen weeks to St Helena, where we put in and
landed part of our cargo, which consisted wholly of provisions. * * *
The ship lay here about three weeks. We then sailed for Batavia, and
on the passage touched at the Cape of Good Hope, where we found the
whole of the fleet that sailed with us from England. We took in some
provisions and necessaries, and set sail for Batavia, where we arrived
in ten weeks. Here we purchased a large quantity of arrack, and
remained a considerable time.
"We then sailed for Bencoulen in the Island of Sumatria, and after a
passage of about six weeks arrived there. This was in June, 1780.
"At this place the Americans were all carried on shore, and I found
that I was no longer to remain on board the ship, but condemned to
serve as a soldier for five years. I offered to bind myself to the
captain for five years, or any longer term if I might serve on board
the ship. He told me it was impossible for me to be released from
acting as a soldier, unless I could pay L50, sterling. As I was unable
to do this I was obliged to go through the manual exercise with the
other prisoners; among whom was Wm. Randall of Boston, and Josiah
Folgier of Nantucket, both young men, and one of them an old ship-mate
"These two and myself agreed to behave as ignorant and awkward as
possible, and what motions we learned one day we were to forget the
next. We pursued this conduct nearly a fortnight, and were beaten
every day by the drill-sergeant who exercised us, and when he found we
were determined, in our obstinacy, and that it was not possible for
him to learn us anything, we were all three sent into the pepper
gardens belonging to the East India Company; and continued picking
peppers from morning till night, and allowed but two scanty meals a
day. This, together with the amazing heat of the sun, the island lying
under the equator, was too much for an American constitution, unused
to a hot climate, and we expected that we should soon end our misery
and our lives; but Providence still preserved us for greater
"The Americans died daily with heat and hard fare, which determined my
two comrades and myself in an endeavor to make our escape. We had been
in the pepper-gardens four months when an opportunity offered, and we
resolved upon trying our fortune. Folgier, Randall and myself sat out
with an intention of reaching Croy (a small harbor where the Dutch
often touched at to water, on the opposite side of the island).
Folgier had by some means got a bayonet, which he fixed in the end of
a stick. Randall and myself had nothing but staves, which were all the
weapons we carried with us. We provided ourselves with fireworks [he
means flints to strike fire] for our journey, which we pursued
unmolested till the fourth day just at night, when we heard a rustle
in the bushes and discovered nine sepoys, who rushed out upon us.
"Folgier being the most resolute of us run at one of them, and pushed
his bayonet through his body into a tree. Randall knocked down
another; but they overpowered us, bound us, and carried us back to the
fort, which we reached in a day and a half, though we had been four
days travelling from it, owing to the circle we made by going round
the shore, and they came across the woods being acquainted with the
"Immediately on our arrival at the fort the Governor called a court
martial, to have us tried. We were soon all condemned to be shot next
morning at seven o'clock, and ordered to be sent into the dungeon and
confined in irons, where we were attended by an adjutant who brought a
priest with him to pray and converse with us, but Folgier, who hated
the sight of an Englishman, desired that we might be left alone. * * *
the clergyman reprimanded him, and told him he made very light of his
situation on the supposition that he would be reprieved; but if he
expected it he deceived himself. Folgier still persisted in the
clergyman's leaving us, if he would have us make our peace with God,
'for,' said he, 'the sight of Englishmen, from whom we have received
such treatment, is more disagreeable than the evil spirits of which
you have spoken;' that, if he could have his choice, he would choose
death in preference to life, if he must have it on the condition of
such barbarous usage as he had received from their hands; and the
thoughts of death did not seem so hideous to him as his past
"He visited us again about midnight, but finding his company was not
acceptable, he soon left us to our melancholy reflections.
"Before sunrise we heard the drums beat, and soon after heard the
direful noise of the door grating on its iron hinges. We were all
taken out, our irons taken off, and we conducted by a strong guard of
soldiers to the parade, surrounded by a circle of armed men, and led
into the midst of them, where three white officers were placed by our
side;--silence was then commanded, and the adjutant taking a paper out
of his pocket read our sentence;--and now I cannot describe my
feelings upon this occasion, nor can it be felt by any one but those
who have experienced some remarkable deliverance from the grim hand of
death, when surrounded on all sides, and nothing but death expected
from every quarter, and by Divine Providence there is some way found
out for escape--so it seemed to me when the adjutant pulled out
another paper from his pocket and read: 'That the Governor and
Council, in consideration of the youth of Randall and myself,
supposing us to be led on by Folgier, who was the oldest, thought
proper to pardon us from death, and that instead we were to receive
800 lashes each.'
"Although this last sentence seemed terrible to me, yet in comparison
with death, it seemed to be light. Poor Folgier was shot in our
presence,--previous to which we were told we might go and converse
with him. Randall went and talked with him first, and after him I went
up to take my leave, but my feelings were such at the time I had not
power to utter a single word to my departing friend, who seemed as
undaunted and seemingly as willing to die as I was to be released, and
told me not to forget the promises we had formerly made to each other,
which was to embrace the first opportunity to escape.
"We parted, and he was immediately after shot dead. We were next taken
and tied, and the adjutant brought a small whip made of cotton, which
consisted of a number of strands and knotted at the ends; but these
knots were all cut off by the adjutant before the drummer took it,
which made it not worse than to have been whipped with cotton yarn.
"After being whipped 800 lashes we were sent to the Company's
hospital, where we had been about three weeks when Randall told me he
intended very soon to make his escape:--This somewhat surprised me, as
I had lost all hopes of regaining my liberty, and supposed he had. I
told him I had hoped he would never mention it again; but however, if
that was his design, I would accompany him. He advised me, if I was
fearful, to tarry behind; but finding he was determined on going, I
resolved to run the risque once more; and as we were then in a
hospital we were not suspected of such a design.
"Having provided ourselves with fire-works, and knives, about the
first of December, 1780, we sat out, with the intent to reach the
Dutch settlement of Croy, which is about two or three hundred miles
distance upon a direct line, but as we were obliged to travel along
the coast (fearing to risque the nearest way), it was a journey of 800
"We took each a stick and hung it around our neck, and every day cut a
notch, which was the method we took to keep time.
"In this manner we travelled, living upon fruit, turtle eggs, and
sometimes turtle, which we cooked every night with the fire we built
to secure us from wild beasts, they being in great plenty,--such as
buffaloes, tigers, jackanapes, leopards, lions, and baboons and
"On the 30th day of our traveling we met with nothing we could eat and
found no water. At night we found some fruit which appeared to the
eyes to be very delicious, different from any we had seen in our
travels. It resembled a fruit which grows in the West Indies, called a
Jack, about the size of an orange. We being very dry and hungry
immediately gathered some of this fruit, but finding it of a sweet,
sickish taste, I eat but two. Randall eat freely. In the evening we
found we were poisoned: I was sick and puked considerably, Randall was
sick and began to swell all round his body. He grew worse all night,
but continued to have his senses till the next day, when he died, and
left me to mourn my greater wretchedness,--more than 400 miles from
any settlement, no companion, the wide ocean on one side, and a
prowling wilderness on the other, liable to many kinds of death, more
terrible than being shot.
"I laid down by Randall's body, wishing, if possible, that he might
return and tell me what course to take. My thoughts almost distracted
me, so that I was unable to do anything untill the next day, during
all which time I continued by the side of Randall. I then got up and
made a hole in the sand and buried him.
"I now continued my journey as well as the weak state of my body would
permit,--the weather being at the time extremely hot and rainy. I
frequently lay down and would wish that I might never rise
again;--despair had almost wholly possessed me; and sometimes in a
kind of delirium I would fancy I heard my mother's voice, and my
father calling me, and I would answer them. At other times my wild
imagination would paint to my view scenes which I was acquainted
with. Then supposing myself near home I would run as fast as my legs
could carry me. Frequently I fancied that I heard dogs bark, men
cutting wood, and every noise which I have heard in my native country.
"One day as I was travelling a small dog, as I thought it to be, came
fawning round me and followed me, but I soon discovered it to be a
young lion. I supposed that its dam must be nigh, and therefore
run. It followed me some time and then left me. I proceeded on, but
had not got far from it before it began to cry. I looked round and saw
a lioness making towards it. She yelled most frightfully, which
greatly terrified me; but she laid down something from her mouth for
her young one, and then with another yell turned and went off from me.
"Some days after I was travelling by the edge of a woods, which from
its appearance had felt severely the effects of a tornado or
hurricane, the trees being all torn up by the roots, and I heard a
crackling noise in the bushes. Looking about I saw a monstrous large
tiger making slowly towards me, which frightened me exceedingly. When
he had approached within a few rods of me, in my surprise I lifted up
my hands and hollowed very loud. The sudden noise frightened him,
seemingly as much as I had been, and he immediately turned and run
into the woods, and I saw him no more.
"After this I continued to travel on without molestation, only from
the monkies who were here so plentiful that oftentimes I saw them in
large droves; sometimes I run from them, as if afraid of them, they
would then follow, grin, and chatter at me, and when they got near I
would turn, and they would run from me back into the woods, and climb
the trees to get out of my way.
"It was now 15 weeks since I had left the hospital. I had travelled
most all of the day without any water and began to be very thirsty,
when I heard the sound of running water, as it were down a fall of
rocks. I had heard it a considerable time and at last began to suspect
it was nothing, but imaginary, as many other noises I had before
thought to have heard. I however went on as fast as I could, and at
length discovered a brook. On approaching it I was not a little
surprised and rejoiced by the sight of a Female Indian, who was
fishing at the brook. She had no other dress on than that which mother
nature affords impartially to all her children, except a small cloth
which she wore round her waist.
"I knew not how to address myself to her. I was afraid if I spoke she
would run, and therefore I made a small noise; upon which she looked
round, and seeing me, run across the brook, seemingly much frightened,
leaving her fishing line. I went up to her basket which contained five
or six fish which looked much like our trout. I took up the basket and
attempted to wade across where she had passed, but was too weak to
wade across in that place, and went further up the stream, where I
passed over, and then looking for the Indian woman I saw her at some
distance behind a large cocoa-nut tree. I walked towards her but dared
not keep my eyes steadily upon her lest she would run as she did
before. I called to her in English, and she answered in her own
tongue, which I could not understand. I then called to her in the
Malaysian, which I understood a little of; she answered me in a kind
of surprise and asked me in the name of Okrum Footee (the name of
their God) from whence I came, and where I was going. I answered her
as well as I could in the Melais, that I was from Fort Marlborough,
and going to Croy--that I was making my escape from the English, by
whom I had been taken in war. She told me that she had been taken by
the Malays some years before, for that the two nations were always at
war, and that she had been kept as a slave among them three years and
was then retaken by her countrymen. While we were talking together she
appeared to be very shy, and I durst not come nearer than a rod to
her, lest she should run from me. She said that Croy, the place I was
bound to, was about three miles distant: That if I would follow her
she would conduct me to her countrymen, who were but a small distance
off. I begged her to plead with her countrymen to spare my life. She
said she would, and assured me that if I behaved well I should not be
hurt. She then conducted me to a small village, consisting of huts or
wigwams. When we arrived at the village the children that saw me were
frightened and run away from me, and the women exhibited a great deal
of fear and kept at a distance. But my guide called to them and told
them not to be afraid, for that I was not come to hurt them, and then
informed them from whence I came, and that I was going to Croy.
"I told my guide I was very hungry, and she sent the children for
something for me to eat. They came and brought me little round balls
of rice, and they, not daring to come nigh, threw them at me. These I
picked up and eat. Afterwards a woman brought some rice and goat's
milk in a copper bason, and setting it on the ground made signs for me
to take it up and eat it, which I did, and then put the bason down
again. They then poked away the bason with a stick, battered it with
stones, and making a hole in the ground, buried it.
"After that they conducted me to a small hut, and told me to tarry
there until the morning, when they would conduct me to the harbor. I
had but little sleep that night, and was up several time to look out,
and saw two or three Indians at a little distance from the hut, who I
supposed were placed there to watch me.
"Early in the morning numbers came around the hut, and the female who
was my guide asked me where my country was? I could not make her
understand, only that it was at a great distance. She then asked me if
my countrymen eat men? I told her, no, and seeing some goats pointed
at them, and told her we eat such as them. She then asked me what made
me white, and if it was not the white rain that come upon us when we
were small * * * as I wished to please them I told her that I supposed
it was, for it was only in certain seasons of the year that it fell,
and in hot weather when it did not fall the people grew darker until
it returned, and then the people all grew white again. This seemed to
please them very much.
"My protectress then brought a young man to me who she said was her
brother, and who would show me the way to the harbour. She then cut a
stick about eight feet long, and he took hold of one end and gave me
the other. She told me that she had instructed her brother what to say
at the harbour. He then led off, and I followed. During our walk I
put out my hand to him several times, and made signs of friendship,
but he seemed to be afraid of me, and would look upwards and then fall
flat on the ground and kiss it: this he repeated as often as I made
any sign or token of friendship to him.
"When we had got near the harbor he made a sign for me to sit down
upon a rock, which I did. He then left me and went, as I supposed, to
talk to the people at the water concerning me; but I had not sat long
before I saw a vessel coming round the point into the harbor.
"They soon came on shore in the boat. I went down to them and made my
case known and when the boat returned on board they took me with them.
It was a Dutch snow bound from China to Batavia. After they had
wooded and watered they set sail for Batavia:--being out about three
weeks we arrived there: I tarried on board her about three weeks
longer, and then got on board a Spanish ship which was from Rio de la
Plate bound to Spain, but by stress of weather was obliged to put into
this port. After the vessel had repaired we sailed for Spain. When we
made the Cape of Good Hope we fell in with two British cruisers of
twenty guns each, who engaged us and did the vessel considerable
damage, but at length we beat them off, and then run for the coast of
Brazil, where we arrived safe, and began to work at repairing our
ship, but upon examination she was found to be not fit to proceed on
her voyage. She was therefore condemned. I then left her and got on
board a Portuguese snow bound up to St. Helena, and we arrived safe at
"I then went on shore and quitted her and engaged in the garrison
there to do duty as a soldier for my provisions till some ship should
arrive there bound for England. After serving there a month I entered
on board a ship called the Stormont, but orders were soon after
received that no Indiaman should sail without convoy; and we lay here
six months, during which time the Captain died.
"While I was in St. Helena the vessel in which I came out from England
arrived here, homeward bound; she being on the return from her second
voyage since I came from England. And now I made known my case to
Captain Kerr, who readily took me on board the Princess Royal, and
used me kindly and those of my old ship-mates on board were glad to
see me again. Captain Kerr on first seeing me asked me if I was not
afraid to let him know who I was, and endeavored to frighten me; yet
his conduct towards me was humane and kind.
"It had been very sickly on board the Princess Royal, and the greater
part of the hands who came out of England in her had died, and she was
now manned chiefly with lascars. Among those who had died was the
boatswain, and boatswain's mate, and Captain Kerr made me boatswain of
the ship, in which office I continued until we arrived in London, and
it protected me from being impressed upon our arrival in England.
"We sailed from St. Helena about the first of November, 1781, under
convoy of the Experiment of fifty guns, commanded by Captain Henry,
and the Shark sloop of war of 18 guns, and we arrived in London about
the first of March, 1782, it having been about two years and a half
from the time I had left it.
"In about a fortnight after our arrival in London I entered on board
the King George, a store-ship bound to Antigua, and after four weeks
passage arrived there.
"The second night after we came to anchor in Antigua I took the ship's
boat and escaped in her to Montserrat (in the West Indies) which place
had but just before been taken by the French.
"Here I did not meet with the treatment which I expected; for on my
arrival at Montserrat I was immediately taken up and put in prison,
where I continued twenty-four hours, and my boat taken from me. I was
then sent to Guadaloupe, and examined by the Governor. I made known my
case to him, by acquainting him with the misfortunes I had gone
through in my captivity, and in making my escape. He seemed to
commiserate me, gave me ten dollars for the boat that I escaped in,
and provided a passage for me on board a French brigantine that was
bound from Gaudaloupe to Philadelphia.
"The vessel sailed in a few days, and now my prospects were favorable,
but my misfortunes were not to end here, for after being out
twenty-one days we fell in with the Anphitrite and Amphene, two
British cruizers, off the Capes of Delaware, by which we were taken,
carried in to New York and put on board the Jersey prison ship. After
being on board about a week a cartel was fitted out for France, and I
was sent on board as a French prisoner. The cartel was ordered for
St. Maloes, and after a passage of thirty-two days we arrived safe at
"Finding no American vessel at St. Male's, I went to the Commandant,
and procured a pass to go by land to Port l'Orient. On my arrival
there I found three American privateers belonging to Beverley in the
Massachusetts. I was much elated at seeing so many of my countrymen,
some of whom I was well acquainted with. I immediately entered on
board the Buccaneer, Captain Pheirson. We sailed on a cruise, and
after being out eighteen days we returned to L'Orient with six
prizes. Three days after our arrival in port we heard the joyful news
of peace; on which the privateer was dismantled, the people
discharged, and Captain P sailed on a merchant voyage to Norway.
"I then entered on board a brig bound to Lisbon (Captain Ellenwood of
Beverley) and arrived at Lisbon in eight days. We took in a cargo of
salt, and sailed for Beverley, where we arrived the ninth of May,
1783. Being now only fifteen miles from home, I immediately set out
for Cape Ann, went to my father's house, and had an agreeable meeting
with my friends, after an absence of almost six years.
"New London, May 10th, 1788.
"N. B. Those who are acquainted with the narrator will not scruple to
give full credence to the foregoing account, and others may satisfy
themselves by conversing with him. The scars he carries are a proof of
his narrative, and a gentleman of New London who was several months
with him, was acquainted with part of his sufferings, though it was
out of his power to relieve him. He is a poor man with a wife and two
children. His employment is fishing and coasting. _Editor_."
Our readers may be interested to know what became of John Blatchford,
who wrote, or dictated, the narrative we have given, in the year
1788. He was, at that time, a married man. He had married a young
woman named Ann Grover. He entered the merchant marine, and died at
Port au Prince about the year 1794, when nearly thirty-three years of
age. Thus early closed the career of a brave man, who had experienced
much hardship, and had suffered greatly from man's inhumanity to man,
and who is, as far as we know, the only American prisoner sent to the
East Indies who ever returned to tell the story of the barbarities
inflicted upon him.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN AND OTHERS ON THE SUBJECT OF AMERICAN PRISONERS
When Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane were in Paris they wrote the
following letter to Lord Stormont, the English Ambassador to France.
Paris, April 2nd, 1777.
We did ourselves the honor of writing some time since to your Lordship
on the subject of exchanging prisoners: you did not condescend to give
us any answer, and therefore we expect none to this. We, however, take
the liberty of sending you copies of certain depositions which we
shall transmit to Congress, whereby it will be known to your Court,
that the United States are not unacquainted with the barbarous
treatment their people receive when they have the misfortune to be
your prisoners here in Europe, and that if your conduct towards us is
not altered, it is not unlikely that severe reprisals may be thought
justifiable from a necessity of putting some check to such abominable
practices. For the sake of humanity it is to be wished that men would
endeavor to alleviate the unavoidable miseries attending a state of
war. It has been said that among the civilized nations of Europe the
ancient horrors of that state are much diminished; but the compelling
men by chains, stripes, and famine to fight against their friends and
relatives, is a new mode of barbarity, which your nation alone has the
honor of inventing, and the sending American prisoners of war to
Africa and Asia, remote from all probability of exchange, and where
they can scarce hope ever to hear from their families, even if the
unwholesomeness of the climate does not put a speedy end to their
lives, is a manner of treating captives that you can justify by no
other precedent or custom except that of the black savages of
Guinea. We are your Lordship's most obedient, humble servants,
Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane.
The reply to this letter was laconic.
"The King's Ambassador recognizes no letters from Rebels, except when
they come to ask mercy."
Inclosed in the letter from our representatives were the following
THE DEPOSITION OF ELIPHALET DOWNER
Eliphalet Downer, Surgeon, taken in the Yankee privateer, testifies
that after he was made prisoner by Captains Ross and Hodge, who took
advantage of the generous conduct of Captain Johnson of the Yankee to
them his prisoners, and of the confidence he placed in them in
consequence of that conduct and their assurances; he and his
countrymen were closely confined, yet assured that on their arrival in
port they should be set at liberty, and these assurances were repeated
in the most solemn manner, instead of which they were, on their
approach to land, in the hot weather of August, shut up in a small
cabin; the windows of which were spiked down and no air admitted,
insomuch that they were all in danger of suffocation from the
Three or four days after their arrival in the river Thames they were
relieved from this situation in the middle of the night, hurried on
board a tender and sent down to Sheerness, where the deponent was put
into the Ardent, and there falling sick of a violent fever in
consequence of such treatment, and languishing in that situation for
some time, he was removed, still sick, to the Mars, and
notwithstanding repeated petitions to be suffered to be sent to prison
on shore, he was detained until having the appearance of a
mortification in his legs, he was sent to Haslar hospital, from whence
after recovering his health, he had the good fortune to make his
While on board those ships and in the hospital he was informed and
believes that many of his countrymen, after experiencing even worse
treatment than he, were sent to the East Indies, and many of those
taken at Quebec were sent to the coast of Africa, as soldiers.
THE DEPOSITION OF CAPTAIN SETH CLARK OF NEWBURY PORT IN THE STATE OF
MASSACHUSETTS BAY IN AMERICA
"This deponent saith that on his return from Cape Nichola Mole to
Newbury Port, he was taken on the 17th of September last by an armed
schooner in his British Majesty's service, ---- Coats, Esquire,
Commander, and carried down to Jamaica, on his arrival at which place
he was sent on board the Squirrel, another armed vessel, ---- Douglas,
Esquire, Commander, where, although master and half owner of the
vessel in which he was taken, he was returned as a common sailor
before the mast, and in that situation sailed for England in the month
of November, on the twenty-fifth of which month they took a schooner
from Port a Pie to Charlestown, S. C., to which place she belonged,
when the owner, Mr. Burt, and the master, Mr. Bean, were brought on
board. On the latter's denying he had any ship papers Captain Douglas
ordered him to be stripped and tied up and then whipped with a wire
cat of nine tails that drew blood every stroke and then on his saying
that he had thrown his papers overboard he was untied and ordered to
his duty as a common sailor, with no place for himself or his people
to lay on but the decks. On their arrival at Spithead, the deponent
was removed to the Monarch, and there ordered to do duty as a
fore-mast-man, and on his refusing on account of inability to do it,
he was threatened by the Lieutenant, a Mr. Stoney, that if he spoke
one word to the contrary he should be brought to the gangway, and
there severely flogged.
"After this he was again removed and put on board the Bar-fleur, where
he remained until the tenth of February. On board this ship the
deponent saw several American prisoners, who were closely confined and
ironed, with only four men's allowance to six. These prisoners and
others informed this deponent that a number of American prisoners had
been taken out of the ship and sent to the East Indies and the coast
of Africa, which he has told would have been his fate, had he arrived
"This deponent further saith, That in Haslar hospital, to which place
on account of sickness he was removed from the Bar-fleur, he saw a
Captain Chase of Providence, New England, who told him he had been
taken in a sloop of which he was half owner and master, on his passage
from Providence to South Carolina, by an English transport, and turned
over to a ship of war, where he was confined in irons thirteen weeks,
insulted, beat, and abused by the petty officers and common sailors,
and on being released from irons was ordered to do duty as a foremost
man until his arrival in England, when being dangerously ill he was
sent to said hospital."
Paris March 30th. 1777.
Benjamin Franklin, in a letter written in 1780, to a Mr. Hartley, an
English gentleman who was opposed to the war, said that Congress had
investigated the cruelties perpetrated by the English upon their
defenceless prisoners, and had instructed him to prepare a _school
book_ for the use of American children, to be illustrated by
thirty-five good engravings, each to picture some scene of horror,
some enormity of suffering, such as should indelibly impress upon the
minds of the school children a dread of British rule, and a hatred of
British malice and wickedness!
The old philosopher did not accomplish this task: had he done so it is
improbable that we would have so long remained in ignorance of some of
the facts which we are now endeavoring to collect. It will be pleasant
to glance, for a moment, on the other side the subject. It is well
known that there was a large party in England, who, like Benjamin
Franklin's correspondent, were opposed to the war; men of humanity,
fair-minded enough to sympathize with the struggles of an oppressed
people, of the same blood as themselves.
"The Prisoners of 1776, A Relic of the Revolution," is a little book
edited by the Rev. R. Livesey, and published in Boston, in 1854. The
facts in this volume were complied from the journal of Charles Herbert
of Newburyport, Mass. This young man was taken prisoner in December,
1776. He was a sailor on board the brigantine Dolton. He and his
companions were confined in the Old Mill Prison in Plymouth, England.
Herbert, who was in his nineteenth year, was a prisoner more than two
years. He managed to keep a journal during his captivity, and has left
us an account of his treatment by the English which is a pleasant
relief in its contrast to the dark pictures that we have drawn of the
wretchedness of American prisoners elsewhere. A collection of upwards
of $30,000 was taken up in England for the relief of our prisoners
confined in English jails.
Herbert secreted his journal in a chest which had a false bottom. It
is too long to give in its entirety, but we have made a few extracts
which will describe the treatment the men received in England, where
all that was done was open to public inspection, and where no such
inhuman monsters as Cunningham were suffered to work their evil will
upon their victims.
"Dec. 24th, 1776. We were taken by the Reasonable, man-of-war of 64
guns. I put on two shirts, pair of drawers and breeches, and trousers
over them, two or three jackets, and a pair of new shoes, and then
filled my bosom and pockets as full as I could carry. Nothing but a
few old rags and twelve old blankets were sent to us. Ordered down to
the cable tier. Almost suffocated. Nothing but the bare cable to lie
on, and that very uneven.
"Jan. 15, 1777. We hear that the British forces have taken Fort
Washington with a loss of 800."
After several changes Herbert was put on board the Tarbay, a ship of
74 guns, and confined between decks, with not room for all to lie down
"Very cold. Have to lie on a wet deck without blankets. Some obliged
to sit up all night."
On the 18th of February they received flock beds and pillows, rugs,
and blankets. "Ours are a great comfort to us after laying fifty-five
nights without any, all the time since we were taken. * * *
"We are told that the Captain of this ship, whose name is Royer, gave
us these clothes and beds out of his own pocket."
On the twelfth of April he was carried on shore to the hospital, where
his daily allowance was a pound of beef, a pound of potatoes, and
three pints of beer.
On the 7th of May he writes: "I now have a pound of bread, half a
pound of mutton and a quart of beer daily. The doctor is very
kind. Three of our company have died."
On the fifth of June he was committed to the Old Mill Prison at
Plymouth. Many entries in his journal record the escapes of his
companions. "Captain Brown made his escape." "William Woodward of the
charming Sallie escaped, etc., etc."
June 6th he records: "Our allowance here in prison is a pound of beef,
a pound of greens, and a quart of beer, and a little pot liquor that
the greens and beef were boiled in, without any thickening." Still he
declares that he has "a continued gnawing in his stomach." The people
of the neighborhood came to see them daily when they were exercising
in the prison yard, and sometimes gave them money and provisions
through the pickets of the high fence that surrounded the prison
grounds. Herbert had a mechanical turn, and made boxes which he sold
to these visitors, procuring himself many comforts in this manner.
About ten prisoners were brought in daily. They were constantly
digging their way out and were sometimes recaptured, but a great
number made their escape. On the twentieth of July he records that
they begin to make a breach in the prison wall. "Their intention is to
dig eighteen feet underground to get into a field on the other side of
"We put all the dirt in our chests."
August third he says: "There are 173 prisoners in the wards. On the
fifth thirty-two escaped, but three were brought back. These were
confined in the Black Hole forty days on half allowance, and obliged
to lie on the bare floor.
"September 12th. We had a paper wherein was a melancholy account of
the barbarous treatment of American prisoners, taken at Ticonderoga.
"Sept. 16th. Today about twenty old countrymen petitioned the Board
for permission to go on board His Majesty's ships.
"Jan. 7th. 1778. 289 prisoners here in Plymouth. In Portsmouth there
are 140 prisoners. Today the prison was smoked with charcoal and
He records the gift of clothes, blankets, and all sorts of
provisions. They were allowed to wash at the pump in relays of
six. Tobacco and everything necessary was freely given them.
"Jan. 27th. The officers in a separate prison are allowed to burn
candles in the evening until gun-fire, which is eight o'clock.
"28th. Today some new washing troughs were brought up for us to wash
our clothes in; and now we have plenty of clothes, soap, water, and
tubs to wash in. In general we are tolerably clean.
"Feb. 1st. Sunday. Last evening between 7 and 9 o'clock five of the
officers in a separate prison, who had agreed with the sentry to let
them go, made their escape and took two sentries with them. The five
officers were Captain Henry Johnston, Captain Eleazar Johnston, Offin
Boardman, Samuel Treadwell, and one Mr. Deal.
"Feb. 8th. Sunday. We have the paper wherein is an account of a letter
from Dr. Franklin, Dean, and Lee, to Lord North, and to the ministry,
putting them in mind of the abuse which the prisoners have had from
time to time, and giving them to know that it is in the power of the
Americans to make ample retaliation. * * * We learn that their answer
was that in America there was an exchange."
On the 9th of March he writes: "We are all strong, fat and hearty.
"March 12th. Today our two fathers came to see us as they generally do
once or twice a week. They are Mr. Heath, and Mr. Sorry, the former a
Presbyterian minister, in Dock, the latter a merchant in Plymouth.
They are the two agents appointed by the Committee in London to supply
us with necessaries. A smile from them seems like a smile from a
father. They tell us that everything goes well on our side.
"April 7th. Today the latter (Mr. Sorry) came to see us, and we
desired him, for the future, to send us a four penny white loaf
instead of a six-penny one to each mess, per day, for we have more
provision than many of us want to eat, and any person can easily
conjecture that prisoners, in our situation, who have suffered so much
for the want of provisions would abhor such an act as to waste what we
have suffered so much for the want of."
Herbert was liberated at the end of two years. Enough has been quoted
to prove the humanity with which the prisoners at Plymouth were
treated. He gives a valuable list of crews in Old Mill Prison,
Plymouth, during the time of his incarceration, with the names of
captains, number that escaped, those who died, and those who joined
NAMES OF SHIPS AND CAPTAINS No. of British
Men Escaped Died Ships
Brig Dolton, Capt. Johnston 120 21 8 7
Sloop Charming Sally, Capt. Brown. 52 6 7 16
Brig Fancy, Capt. Lee 56 11 2 0
Brig Lexington, Capt. Johnston 51 6 1 26
Schooner Warren, Capt. Ravel 40 2 0 6
PARTS OF CREWS TAKEN INTO PLYMOUTH
Brig Freedom, Capt. Euston 11 3 1 0
Ship Reprisal, Capt. Weeks 10 2 0 3
Sloop Hawk 6 0 0 0
Schooner Hawk, Capt. Hibbert 6 0 0 0
Schooner Black Snake, Capt. Lucran 3 1 0 0
Ship Oliver Cromwell 7 1 0 4
Letter of Marque Janey, Capt. Rollo 2 1 0 0
Brig Cabot 3 0 0 0
True Blue, Capt. Furlong 1 0 0 0
Ranger 1 0 0 0
Sloop Lucretia 2 0 0 0
Musquito Tender 1 0 0 1
Schooner, Capt. Burnell 2 1 0 1
Sturdy Beggar 3 0 0 0
Revenge, Capt Cunningham 3 0 0 0
Total 380 55 19 62
Remained in Prison until exchanged, 244
Before we leave the subject of Plymouth we must record the fact that
some time in the year 1779 a prize was brought into the harbor
captured from the French with 80 French prisoners. The English crew
put in charge of the prize procured liquor, and, in company of some of
the loose women of the town, went below to make a night of it. In the
dead of night the Frenchmen seized the ship, secured the hatches, cut
the cable, took her out of port, homeward bound, and escaped.
A writer in the London _Gazette_ in a letter to the Lord Mayor,
dated August 6th, 1776, says: "I was last week on board the American
privateer called the Yankee, commanded by Captain Johnson, and lately
brought into this port by Captain Ross, who commanded one of the West
India sugar ships, taken by the privateer in July last: and as an
Englishman I earnestly wish your Lordship, who is so happily placed at
the head of this great city (justly famed for its great humanity even
to its enemies), would be pleased to go likewise, or send proper
persons, to see the truly shocking and I may say barbarous and
miserable condition of the unfortunate American prisoners, who,
however criminal they may be thought to have been, are deserving of
pity, and entitled to common humanity.
"They are twenty-five in number, and all inhumanly shut close down,
like wild beasts, in a small stinking apartment, in the hold of a
sloop, about seventy tons burden, without a breath of air, in this
sultry season, but what they receive from a small grating overhead,
the openings in which are not more than two inches square in any part,
and through which the sun beats intensely hot all day, only two or
three being permitted to come on deck at a time; and then they are
exposed in the open sun, which is reflected from the decks like a
"I do not at all exaggerate, my lord, I speak the truth, and the
resemblance that this barbarity bears to the memorable Black Hole at
Calcutta, as a gentleman present on Saturday observed, strikes every
eye at the sight. All England ought to know that the same game is now
acting upon the Thames on board this privateer, that all the world
cried out against, and shuddered at the mention of in India, some
years ago, as practised on Captain Hollowell and other of the King's
good subjects. The putrid steams issuing from the hold are so hot and
offensive that one cannot, without the utmost danger, breathe over it,
and I should not be at all surprised if it should cause a plague to
"The miserable wretches below look like persons in a hot bath,
panting, sweating, and fainting, for want of air; and the surgeon
declares that they must all soon perish in this situation, especially
as they are almost all in a sickly state from bilious disorders.
"The captain and surgeon, it is true, have the liberty of the cabin
(if it deserves the name of a cabin), and make no complaints on their
own account. They are both sensible and well behaved young men, and
can give a very good account of themselves, having no signs of fear,
and being supported by a consciousness of the justice of their cause.
"They are men of character, of good families in New England, and
highly respected in their different occupations; but being stripped of
their all by the burning of towns, and other destructive measures of
the present unnatural war, were forced to take the disagreeable method
of making reprisals to maintain themselves and their children rather
than starve. * * * English prisoners taken by the Americans have been
treated with the most remarkable tenderness and generosity, as numbers
who are safely returned to England most freely confess, to the honor
of our brethern in the colonies, and it is a fact, which can be well
attested in London, that this very surgeon on board the privateer,
after the battle of Lexington, April 19th, 1775, for many days
voluntarily and generously without fee or reward employed himself in
dressing the King's wounded soldiers, who but an hour before would
have shot him if they could have come at him, and in making a
collection for their refreshment, of wine, linen, money, etc., in the
town where he lived. * * * The capture of the privateer was, solely
owing to the ill-judged lenity and brotherly kindness of Captain
Johnson, who not considering his English prisoners in the same light
that he would French or Spanish, put them under no sort of
confinement, but permitted them to walk the decks as freely as his own
people at all times. Taking advantage of this indulgence the prisoners
one day watched their opportunity when most of the privateer's people
were below, and asleep, shut down the hatches, and making all fast,
had immediate possession of the vessel without using any force."
What the effect of this generous letter was we have no means of
discovering. It displays the sentiments of a large party in England,
who bitterly condemned the "unnatural war against the Colonies."
THE ADVENTURES OF ANDREW SHERBURNE
While we are on the subject of the treatment of American prisoners in
England, which forms a most grateful contrast to that which they
received in New York, Philadelphia, and other parts of America, we
will give an abstract of the adventures of another young man who was
confined in the Old Mill Prison at Plymouth, England. This young man
was named Andrew Sherburne. He was born at Rye, New Hampshire, on the
3oth of September, 1765.
He first served on the continental ship of war, Ranger, which shipped
a crew at Portsmouth, N. H. His father consented that he should go
with her, and his two half uncles, Timothy and James Weymouth, were on
board. There were about forty boys in the crew. Andrew was then in
his fourteenth year, and was employed as waiter to the boatswain. The
vessel sailed in the month of June, 1779. She took ten prizes and
sailed for home, where she arrived in August, 1779. Next year she
sailed again on another cruise, but was taken prisoner by the British
at Charleston, S. C., on the 12th of May, 1780.
"Our officers," says Sherburne, "were paroled and allowed to retain
their waiters. We were for several days entirely destitute of
provisions except muscles, which we gathered from the muscle beds. I
was at this time waiter to Captain Pierce Powers, master's mate of the
Ranger. He treated me with the kindness of a father."
"At this time," he continues, "Captain Simpson and the other officers
procured a small vessel which was employed as a cartel, to transport
the officers, their boys and baggage, agreeably to the terms of
capitulation, to Newport, R. I. It being difficult to obtain suitable
casks for water they procured such as they could. These proved to be
foul, and after we got to sea our water became filthy and extremely
noxious. Very few if any on board escaped an attack of the diarrhoea."
After his return he next shipped under Captain Wilds on the Greyhound,
from Portsmouth, N. H., and at last, after many adventures, was taken
prisoner by Newfoundlanders, off Newfoundland. He was then put on
board the Fairy, a British sloop of war, commanded by Captain Yeo, "a
complete tyrant" "Wilds and myself," he continues, "were called to the
quarter deck, and after having been asked a few questions by Captain
Yeo, he turned to his officers and said: 'They are a couple of fine
lads for his Majesty's service. Mr. Gray, see that they do their
When the sloop arrived in England the boys complained that they were
prisoners of war, in consequence of which they were sent to the Old
Mill Prison at Plymouth, accused of "rebellion, piracy, and high
Here they found acquaintances from Portsmouth, N. H. The other
prisoners were very kind to young Sherburne, gave him clothing and
sent him to a school which was kept in the prison. Ship building and
other arts were carried on in this place, and he learned navigation,
which was of great service to him in after life.
The fare, he declared, was tolerably good, but there was not enough of
it. He amused himself by making little toy ships. He became ill and
delirious, but recovered in time to be sent to America when a general
exchange of prisoners was effected in 1781. The rest of his
adventures has nothing to do with prisons, in England, and shall not
now be detailed.
Although the accounts of the English prisons left by Herbert,
Sherburne and others are so favorable, yet it seems that, after the
year 1780, there was some cause of complaint even there. We will quote
a passage from the British Annual Register to prove this
statement. This passage we take from the Register for 1781, page 152.
"A petition was presented to the House the same day (June 20th) by
Mr. Fox, from the American prisoners in Mill Prison, Plymouth, setting
forth that they were treated with less humanity than the French and
Spanish, though by reason that they had no Agent established in this
country for their protection, they were entitled to expect a larger
share of indulgence than others. They had not a sufficient allowance
of _bread_, and were very scantily furnished with clothing.
"A similar petition was presented to the House of Peers by the Duke of
Richmond, and these petitions occasioned considerable debate in both
Houses. Several motions were grounded on these petitions, but to
those proposed by the Lords and gentlemen in the opposition, were
determined in the negative, and others to _exculpate_ the
Government in this business were resolved in the affirmative. It
appeared upon inquiry, that the American prisoners were allowed a half
pound of bread less per day than the French and Spanish prisoners. But
the petitions of the Americans produced no alterations in their favor,
and the conduct of the Administration was equally unpolitic and
illiberal. The additional allowance, which was solicited on behalf of
the prisoners, could be no object, either to Government or to the
Nation, and it was certainly unwise, by treating American prisoners
worse than those of France or Spain, to increase the fatal animosity
which had unhappily taken place between the mother country and the
Colonies, and this, too, at a period when the subjugation of the
latter had become hopeless."
MORE ABOUT THE ENGLISH PRISONS--MEMOIR OF ELI BICKFORD--CAPTAIN
Eli Bickford, who was born on the 29th of September, 1754, in the town
of Durham, N. H., and enlisted on a privateer, was taken prisoner by
the British, confined at first on the Old Jersey, and afterwards sent
to England with many others, in a vessel commanded by Captain
Smallcorn, whom he called "a sample of the smallest corn he had ever
met." While on board this vessel he was taken down with the
smallpox. No beds or bedding were provided for the prisoners and a
plank on deck was his only pillow. He and his fellow sufferers were
treated with great severity, and insulted at every turn. When they
reached England they were sent to prison, where he remained in close
confinement for four years and six months.
Finding a piece of a door hinge, he and some of the others endeavored
to make their escape by digging a passage under the walls. A report of
their proceedings reached the jailer, but, secure in the strength of
the walls he did not believe it. This jailor would frequently jest
with Bickford on the subject, asking him when he intended to make his
escape. His answers were so truthful and accurate that they served to
blind the jailor still further. One morning as this official entered
the prison he said: "Well, Bickford, how soon will you be ready to go
"Tomorrow night!" answered Bickford.
"O, that's only some of your nonsense," he replied.
However, it was true.
After digging a passage for some days underground, the prisoners found
themselves under an adjoining house. They proceeded to take up the
brick floor, unlocked the door and passed out, without disturbing the
inmates, who were all asleep. Unable to escape they concealed
themselves for awhile, and then tamely gave themselves up. Such a
vigilant watch was kept upon the house after they were missed from the
prison, that they had no other choice. So they made a contract with a
man who was to return them to the prison, and then give them half of
the reward of forty shillings which was offered for their re-capture.
So successful was this expedient that it was often put into operation
when they needed money.
As a punishment for endeavoring to escape they were confined in the
Black Hole for a week on bread and water.
Bickford describes the prison regulations for preserving order which
were made and carried out by the prisoners themselves. If a difficulty
arose between two of them it was settled in the following manner. The
prisoners formed a circle in the centre of which the disputants took
their stand, and exchanged a few rounds of well-directed blows, after
which they shook hands, and were better friends than before.
Bickford was not released until peace was declared. He then returned
to his family, who had long thought him dead. It was on Sunday morning
that he reached his native town. As he passed the meeting house he was
recognized, and the whole congregation ran out to see and greet him.
He had but seven dollars as his whole capital when he married. He
moved to Vermont, where he farmed a small place, and succeeded in
making a comfortable livelihood. He attained the great age of 101, and
was one of the last surviving prisoners of the Revolution.
THE ADVENTURES OF A NAVAL OFFICER
In the year 1806 a little book with this title was published in New
York, by Captain Nathaniel Fanning. It was dedicated to John Jackson,
Esquire, the man who did so much to interest the public in the
preservation and interment of the remains of the martyrs of the
prisonships in the Wallabout.
Fanning was born in Connecticut, in the year 1755. On the 26th of
May, 1778, he went on board the brig Angelica, commanded by Captain
William Dennis, which was about to sail on a six months cruise. There
were 98 men and boys in the crew, and Fanning was prize-master on
board the privateer. She was captured by the Andromeda, a frigate of
28 guns, five days from Philadelphia, with General Howe on board on
his way back to England.
All the prisoners were paraded on deck and asked if they were willing
to engage in his British Majesty's service. Nearly all answered in the
negative. They were then told that they were "a set of rebels," and
that it was more than probable that they would all be hung at
Their baggage was then taken away, and they were confined in the hold
of the ship. Their clothes were stolen by the sailors, and a frock and
cheap trousers dealt out to each man in their place.
The heat was intolerable in the hold, although they went naked. In
this condition they plotted to seize the vessel, and procured some
weapons through the agency of their surgeon. Spencer, the captain's
clerk, betrayed them to the captain of the Andromeda, and, after that,
the hatches were barred down, and they began to think that they would
all die of suffocation. The sentence pronounced upon them was that
they should be allowed only half a pint of water a day for each man,
and barely food enough to sustain life.
Their condition would have been terrible, but, fortunately for them,
they were lodged upon the water casks, over which was constructed a
temporary deck. By boring holes in the planks they managed, by means
of a proof glass, to obtain all the water they needed.
Between them and the general's store room was nothing but a partition
of plank. They went to work to make an aperture through which a man
could pass into this store room. A young man named Howard from Rhode
Island was their instigator in all these operations. They discovered
that one of the shifting boards abaft the pump room was loose, and
that they could ship and unship it as they pleased. When it was
unshipped there was just room for a man to crawl into the store
room. "Howard first went in," writes Captain Fanning, "and presently
desired me to hand him a mug or can with a proof glass. A few minutes
after he handed me back the same full, saying 'My friends, as good
Madeira wine as ever was drank at the table of an Emperor!'
"I took it from his hands and drank about half a pint.
"Thus we lived like hearty fellows, taking care every night to secure
provisions, dried fruit, and wines for the day following * * * and all
without our enemies' knowledge."
Scurvy broke out among the crew, and some of the British sailors died,
but the Americans were all "brave and hearty."
"The Captain would say, 'What! are none of them damned Yankees sick?
Damn them, there's nothing but thunder and lightning will kill 'em.'"
On the thirtieth of June the vessel arrived at Portsmouth. The
prisoners were sent to Hazel hospital, to be examined by the
Commissioners of the Admiralty, and then marched to Forton prison,
where they were committed under the charges of piracy and high
treason. This prison was about two miles from Portsmouth harbor, and
consisted of two commodious buildings, with a yard between them large
enough to parade a guard of 100 men, which was the number required to
maintain law and order at the station.
They also had a spacious lot of about three quarters of an acre in
extent, adjoining the houses, in which they took their daily
exercise. In the middle of this lot was a shed with seats. It was open
on all sides. The lot was surrounded by a wall of iron pickets, eight
feet in height. The agent for American prisoners was nicknamed by them
"the old crab." He was very old and ugly.
Only three-fourths of the usual allowance to prisoners of war was
dealt out to them, and they seem to have fared much worse than the
inmates of the Old Mill Prison at Plymouth.
Captain Fanning declares that they were half starved, and would
sometimes beg bones from the people who came to look at them. When
they obtained bones they would dig out the marrow, and devour it. The
guard was cruel and spiteful. One day they heated some pokers red hot
and began to burn the prisoners' shirts that were hung up to
dry. These men begged the guard, in a very civil manner, not to burn
all their shirts, as they had only one apiece. This remonstrance
producing no effect they then ran to the pickets and snatched away
their shirts. At this the officer on command ordered a sentinel to
fire on them. This he did, killing one prisoner, and wounding
several. There were three hundred American prisoners in the yard at
These prisons appear to have been very imperfectly guarded, and the
regular occupation of the captives, whenever their guards were asleep
or absent, was to make excavations for the purpose of escaping. A
great many regained their freedom in this manner, though some were
occasionally brought back and punished by being shut up for forty days
in the Black Hole on bread and water. Some, less fortunate, remained
three or four years in the prison.
There was always digging going on in some part of the prison and as
soon as one hole was discovered and plastered up, another would be
begun. For a long time they concealed the dirt that they took out of
these excavations in an old stack of disused chimneys. The hours for
performing the work were between eleven and three o'clock at
night. Early in the morning they ceased from their labors, concealing
the hole they had made by pasting white paper over it.
There was a school kept constantly in the prison, where many of them
had the first opportunity that had ever been granted them of receiving
an education. Many learned to read and write, and became proficient
At one time there were 367 officers confined in this place. In the
course of twelve months 138 of them escaped and got safely to
France. While some of the men were digging at night, others would be
dancing to drown the noise. They had several violins, and seem to have
been a reckless and jovial set.
The officers bunked on the second floor over the guard room of the
English officers. At times they would make so much noise that the
guard would rush up the stairs, only to find all lights out and every
man _asleep and snoring_ in his hammock. They would relieve their
feelings by a volley of abusive language and go down stairs again,
when instantly the whole company would be on their feet, the violins
would strike up, and the fun be more fast and furious than ever. These
rushes of the guard would sometimes be repeated several times a night,
when they would always find the prisoners in their hammocks. Each
hammock had what was called a "king's rug," a straw bed, and pillow.
At one time several men were suddenly taken sick, with strong symptoms
of poison. They were removed to the hospital, and for a time, there
was great alarm. The prisoners feared that "the same game was playing
here as had been done on the Old Jersey, where we had heard that
thousands of our countrymen had died." The poison employed in this
instance was glass pounded fine and cooked with their bread.
An English clergyman named Wren sympathized strongly with the
prisoners and assisted them to escape. He lived at Gosport, and if
any of the captives were so fortunate as to dig themselves out and
succeed in reaching his house, they were safe. This good man begged
money and food for "his children," as he called them.
On the second of June, 1779, 120 of them were exchanged. There were
then 600 confined in that prison. On the 6th of June they sailed for
Nantes in France. The French treated them with great kindness, made up
a purse for them, and gave them decent clothing.
Fanning next went to L'Orient, and there met John Paul Jones, who
invited him to go on board the Bon Homme Richard as a midshipman. They
sailed on the 14th of August on the memorable expedition to the
After being with Jones for some time Fanning, on the 23rd of March,
1781, sailed for home in a privateer from Morlaix, France. This
privateer was captured by the English frigate, Aurora.
"Captain Anthon and myself and crew," writes Mr. Fanning, "were all
ordered to a prison at about two miles from Falmouth. The very
dirtiest and most loathsome building I ever saw. Swarms of lice,
remarkably fat and full grown; bed bugs, and fleas. I believe the
former were of Dutch extraction, as there were confined here a number
of Dutch prisoners of war, and such a company of dirty fellows I never
saw before or since."
Yet these same poor fellows ceded to Captain Anthon and Mr. Fanning a
corner of the prison for their private use. This they managed to get
thoroughly cleansed, screened themselves off with some sheets,
provided themselves with large swinging cots, and were tolerably
comfortable. They were paroled and allowed full liberty within bounds,
which were a mile and a half from the prison. In about six weeks
Fanning was again exchanged, and went to Cherbourg in France, where he
met Captain Manly, who had just escaped from the Mill prison after
three years confinment.
SOME SOUTHERN NAVAL PRISONERS
Very little is known of the State navies of the south during the
Revolution. Each State had her own small navy, and many were the
interesting adventures, some successful, and others unfortunate, that
the hardy sailors encountered. The story of each one of these little
vessels would be as interesting as a romance, but we are here only
concerned with the meagre accounts that have reached us of the
sufferings of some of the crews of the privateers who were so unlucky
as to fall into the hands of the enemy.
In the infant navy of Virginia were many small, extremely fleet
vessels. The names of some of the Virginia ships, built at Gosport,
Fredericksburg, and other Virginia towns, were the Tartar, Oxford,
Thetis, Virginia, Industry, Cormorant, Loyalist (which appears to have
been captured from the British), Pocohontas, Dragon, Washington,
Tempest, Defiance, Oliver Cromwell, Renown, Apollo, and the Marquis
Lafayette. Virginia also owned a prisonship called the Gloucester.
Brigs and brigantines owned by the State were called the Raleigh,
Jefferson, Sallie Norton, Northampton, Hampton, Greyhound, Dolphin,
Liberty, Mosquito, Rochester, Willing Lass, Wilkes, American Fabius,
Morning Star, and Mars. Schooners were the Adventure, Hornet,
Speedwell, Lewis, Nicholson, Experiment, Harrison, Mayflower, Revenge,
Peace and Plenty, Patriot, Liberty, and the Betsy. Sloops were the
Virginia, Rattlesnake, Scorpion, Congress, Liberty, Eminence,
Game-Cock, and the American Congress. Some of the galleys were the
Accomac, Diligence, Hero, Gloucester, Safeguard, Manly, Henry,
Norfolk, Revenge, Caswell, Protector, Washington, Page, Lewis, Dragon,
and Dasher. There were two armed pilot boats named Molly and
Fly. Barges were the York and Richmond. The Oxford, Cormorant, and
Loyalist were prizes. The two latter were taken from the English by
the French and sold to Virginia.
What an interesting book might be written about this little navy!
Nearly all were destined to fall at last into the hands of the enemy;
their crews to languish out the remainder of their days in foul
dungeons, where famine and disease made short work of them. Little
remains to us now except the names of these vessels.
The Virginia was built at Gosport. The Dragon and some others were
built at Fredericksburg. Many were built at Norfolk.
The Hermit was early captured by the British. The gallant little
Mosquito was taken by the Ariadne. Her crew was confined in a
loathsome jail at Barbadoes. But her officers were sent to England,
and confined in Fortune jail at Gosport. They succeeded in escaping
and made their way to France. The names of these officers were Captain
John Harris; Lieutenant Chamberlayne; Midshipman Alexander Moore;
Alexander Dock, Captain of Marines; and George Catlett, Lieutenant of
The Raleigh was captured by the British frigate Thames. Her crew was
so shamefully maltreated that upon representations made to the Council
of State upon their condition, it was recommended that by way of
retaliation the crew of the Solebay, a sloop of war which had fallen
into the hands of the Americans, should be visited with the like
severe treatment. To what extent this was carried out we cannot
The Scorpion was taken by the British in the year 1781, a fatal year
for the navy of Virginia.
In the year 1857 an unsigned article on the subject of the Virginia
Navy was published in the _Southern Literary Messenger_, which
goes on to say: "But of all the sufferings in these troublous times
none endured such horrors as did those Americans who were so
unfortunate as to become prisoners of war to the British. They were
treated more as felons than as honorable enemies. It can scarcely be
credited that an enlightened people would thus have been so lost to
the common instincts of humanity, as were they in their conduct
towards men of the same blood, and speaking the same language with
themselves. True it is they sometimes excused the cruelty of their
procedures by avowing in many instances their prisoners were deserters
from the English flag, and were to be dealt with accordingly. Be this
as it may, no instance is on record where a Tory whom the Americans
had good cause to regard as a traitor, was visited with the severities
which characterized the treatment of the ordinary military captives,
on the part of the English authorities. * * * The patriotic seamen of
the Virginia navy were no exceptions to the rule when they fell into
the hands of the more powerful lords of the ocean. They were carried
in numbers to Bermuda, and to the West Indies, and cast into loathsome
and pestilential prisons, from which a few sometimes managed to
escape, at the peril of their lives. Respect of position and rank
found no favor in the eyes of their ungenerous captors, and no appeal
could reach their hearts except through the promises of bribes. Many
languished and died in those places, away from country and friends,
whose fate was not known until long after they had passed away. But it
was not altogether abroad that they were so cruelly maltreated. The
record of their sufferings in the prisons of the enemy, in our own
country, is left to testify against these relentless persecutors.
"In New York and Halifax many of the Virginian officers and seamen
were relieved of their pains, alone by the hand of death; and in their
own State, at Portsmouth, the like fate overtook many more, who had
endured horrors rivalled only by the terrors of the Black Hole of
Calcutta. * * * The reader will agree that we do not exaggerate when
he shall have seen the case as given under oath by one who was in
every respect a competent witness.
"It will be remembered that, in another part of this narrative,
mention was made of the loss in Lynhaven Bay of the galley Dasher, and
the capture of the officers and the crew. Captain Willis Wilson was
her unfortunate commander on that occasion. He and his men were
confined in the Provost Jail at Portsmouth, Virginia, and after his
release he made public the 'secrets' of that 'Prison House,' by the
following deposition, which is copied from the original document.
"'The deposition of Willis Wilson, being first sworn deposes and
sayeth: That about the 23rd July last the deponent was taken a
prisoner of war; was conducted to Portsmouth (Virginia) after having
been plundered of all his clothing, etc., and there lodged with about
190 other prisoners, in the Provost. This deponent during twenty odd
days was a spectator to the most savage cruelty with which the unhappy
prisoners were treated by the English. The deponent has every reason
to believe there was a premeditated scheme to infect all the prisoners
who had not been infected with the smallpox. There were upwards of 100
prisoners who never had the disorder, notwithstanding which negroes,
with the infection upon them, were lodged under the same roof of the
Provost. Others were sent in to attend upon the prisoners, with the
scabs of that disorder upon them.
"'Some of the prisoners soon caught the disorder, others were down
with the flux, and some from fevers. From such a complication of
disorders 'twas thought expedient to petition General O'Hara who was
then commanding officer, for a removal of the sick, or those who were
not, as yet, infected with the smallpox. Accordingly a petition was
sent by Dr. Smith who shortly returned with a verbal answer, as he
said, from the General. He said the General desired him to inform the
prisoners that the _law of nations was annihilated_, that he had
nothing then to bind them but bolts and bars, and they were to
continue where they were, but that they were free agents to inoculate
if they chose.
"'About thirty agreed with the same Smith to inoculate them at a
guinea a man; he performed the operation, received his guinea from
many, and then left them to shift for themselves, though he had agreed
to attend them through the disorder. Many of them, as well as those
who took it in the natural way, died. Colonel Gee, with many
respectable characters, fell victims to the unrelenting cruelty of
O'Hara, who would admit of no discrimination between the officers,
privates, negroes, and felons; but promiscuously confined the whole in
one house. * * * They also suffered often from want of water, and
such as they got was very muddy and unfit to drink.
"'This day came before me Captain Willis Wilson and made oath that the
above is true.
There is much of great interest in this article on the Virginia Navy
which is not to our present purpose. The writer goes on to tell how,
on one occasion, the ship Favorite, bearing a flag of truce, was
returning to Virginia, with a number of Americans who had just been
liberated or exchanged in Bermuda, when she was overhauled by a
British man-of-war, and both her crew and passengers robbed of all
they had. The British ships which committed this dastardly deed were
the Tiger, of 14 guns, and the schooner Surprise, of 10 guns.
Captain James Barron, afterwards Commodore Barren, was the master
spirit of the service in Virginia. One of the Virginian vessels, very
appropriately named the Victory, was commanded by him, and was never
In 1781 Joseph Galloway wrote a letter to Lord Howe in which he says:
"The rebel navy has been in a great measure destroyed by the small
British force remaining in America, and the privateers sent out from
New York. Their navy, which consisted, at the time of your departure,
of about thirty vessels, is now reduced to eight, and the number of
privateers fitted out in New England amounting to an hundred and
upwards is now less than forty."
EXTRACTS FROM NEWSPAPERS--SOME OF THE PRISON SHIPS--CASE OF CAPTAIN
At the risk of repetition of some facts that have already been given,
we must again refer the reader to some extracts from the newspapers of
the day. In this instance the truth can best be established by the
mouths of many witnesses, and we do not hesitate to give the English
side whenever we have been able to discover anything bearing on the
subject in the so-called loyal periodicals of the time.
From Freeman's _Journal,_ date of Jan. 19th, 1777, we take the
"General Howe has discharged all the privates who were prisoners in
New York. Half he sent to the world of spirits for want of food: the
others he hath sent to warn their countrymen of the danger of falling
into his hands, and to convince them by ocular demonstration, that it
is infinitely better to be slain in battle, than to be taken prisoner
by British brutes, whose tender mercies are cruelties."
In the _Connecticut Journal_ of Jan. 30th, 1777, is the
"This account of the sufferings of these unfortunate men was obtained
from the prisoners themselves. As soon as they were taken they were
robbed of all their baggage; of whatever money they had, though it
were of paper; of their silver shoe buckles and knee buckles, etc.;
and many were stripped almost of their clothes. Especially those who
had good clothes were stripped at once, being told that such were 'too
good for rebels.'
"Thus deprived of their clothes and baggage, they were unable to shift
even their linen, and were obliged to wear the same shirts for even
three or four months together, whereby they became extremely nasty;
and this of itself was sufficient to bring on them many mortal
"After they were taken they were in the first place put on board the
ships, and thrust down into the hold, where not a breath of fresh air
could be obtained, and they were nearly suffocated for want of air.
"Some who were taken at Fort Washington were first in this manner
thrust down into the holds of vessels in such numbers that even in the
cold season of November they could scarcely bear any clothes on them,
being kept in a constant sweat. Yet these same persons, after lying in
this situation awhile, till the pores of their bodies were as
perfectly open as possible, were of a sudden taken out and put into
some of the churches of New York, without covering, or a spark of
fire, where they suffered as much by the cold as they did by the
sweating stagnation of the air in the other situation; and the
consequence was that they took such colds as brought on the most fatal
diseases, and swept them off almost beyond conception.
"Besides these things they suffered severely for want of
provisions. The commissioners pretended to allow a half a pound of
bread, and four ounces of pork per day; but of this pittance they were
much cut short. What was given them for three days was not enough for
one day and, in some instances, they went for three days without a
single mouthful of food of any kind. They were pinched to such an
extent that some on board the ships would pick up and eat the salt
that happened to be scattered there; others gathered up the bran which
the light horse wasted, and eat it, mixed with dirt and filth as it
"Nor was this all, both the bread and pork which they did allow them
was extremely bad. For the bread, some of it was made out of the bran
which they brought over to feed their light horse, and the rest of it
was so muddy, and the pork so damnified, being so soaked in bilge
water during the transportation from Europe, that they were not fit to
be eaten by human creatures, and when they were eaten were very
unwholesome. Such bread and pork as they would not pretend to give to
their own countrymen they gave to our poor sick dying prisoners.
"Nor were they in this doleful condition allowed a sufficiency of
water. One would have thought that water was so cheap and plentiful an
element, that they would not have grudged them that. But there are, it
seems, no bounds to their cruelty. The water allowed them was so
brackish, and withal nasty, that they could not drink it until reduced
to extremity. Nor did they let them have a sufficiency of even such
water as this.
"When winter came on, our people suffered extremely for want of fire
and clothes to keep them warm. They were confined in churches where
there were no fireplaces that they could make fires, even if they had
wood. But wood was only allowed them for cooking their pittance of
victuals; and for that purpose very sparingly. They had none to keep
them warm even in the extremest of weather, although they were almost
naked, and the few clothes they had were their summer clothes. Nor had
they a single blanket, nor any bedding, not even straw allowed them
until a little before Christmas.
"At the time those were taken on Long Island a considerable part of
them were sick of the dysentery; and with this distemper on them were
first crowded on board the ships, afterwards in the churches in New
York, three, four or five hundred together, without any blankets, or
anything for even the sick to lie upon, but the bare floors or
"In this situation that contagious distemper soon communicated from
the sick to the well, who would probably have remained so, had they
not in this manner been thrust in together without regard to sick or
well, or to the sultry, unwholesome season, it being then the heat of
summer. Of this distemper numbers died daily, and many others by their
confinement and the sultry season contracted fevers and died of
them. During their sickness, with these and other diseases, they had
no medicines, nothing soothing or comfortable for sick people, and
were not so much as visited by the physician for months together.
"Nor ought we to omit the insults which the humane Britons offered to
our people, nor the artifices which they used to enlist them in their
service to fight against their country. It seems that one end of their
starving our people was to bring them, by dint of necessity, to turn
rebels to their own country, their own consciences, and their God. For
while thus famishing they would come and say to them: 'This is the
just punishment of your rebellion. Nay, you are treated too well for
rebels; you have not received half you deserve or half you shall
receive. But if you will enlist into his Majesty's service, you shall
have victuals and clothes enough.'
"As to insults, the British officers, besides continually cursing and
swearing at them as rebels, often threatened to hang them all; and, on
a particular time, ordered a number, each man to choose his halter out
of a parcel offered, wherewith to be hanged; and even went so far as
to cause a gallows to be erected before the prison, as if they were to
be immediately executed.
"They further threatened to send them all into the East Indies, and
sell them there for slaves.
"In these and numberless other ways did the British officers seem to
rack their inventions to insult, terrify, and vex the poor
prisoners. The meanest, upstart officers among them would insult and
abuse our colonels and chief officers.
"In this situation, without clothes, without victuals or drink, or
even water, or with those which were base and unwholesome; without
fire, a number of them sick, first with a contagious and nauseous
distemper; these, with others, crowded by hundreds into close
confinement, at the most unwholesome season of the year, and continued
there for four months without blankets, bedding, or straw; without
linen to shift or clothes to cover their bodies;--No wonder they all
became sickly, and having at the same time no medicine, no help of
physicians, nothing to refresh or support nature, died by scores in a
night, and those who were so far gone as to be unable to help
themselves lay uncared for, till death, more kind than Britons, put an
end to their misery.
"By these means, and in this way, 1,500 brave Americans, who had nobly
gone forth in defence of their injured, oppressed country, but whom
the chance at war had cast into the hands of our enemies, died in New
York, many of whom were very amiable, promising youths, of good
families, the very flower of our land; and of those who lived to come
out of prison, the greater part, as far as I can learn, are dead or
dying. Their constitutions are broken; the stamina of nature worn out;
they cannot recover--they die. Even the few that might have survived
are dying of the smallpox. For it seems that our enemies determining
that even these, whom a good constitution and a kind Providence had
carried through unexampled sufferings, should not at last escape
death, just before their release from imprisonment infected them with
that fatal distemper.
"To these circumstances we subjoin the manner in which they buried
those of our people who died. They dragged them out of the prison by
one leg or one arm, piled them up without doors, there let them lie
until a sufficient number were dead to make a cart load, then loaded
them up in a cart, drove the cart thus loaded out to the ditches made
by our people when fortifying New York; there they would tip the cart,
tumble the corpses together into the ditch, and afterwards slightly
cover them with earth. * * * While our poor prisoners have been thus
treated by our foes, the prisoners we have taken have enjoyed the
liberty of walking and riding about within large limits at their
pleasure; have been freely supplied with every necessary, and have
even lived on the fat of the land. None have been so well fed, so
plump, and so merry as they; and this generous treatment, it is said,
they could not but remember. For when they were returned in the
exchange of prisoners, and saw the miserable, famished, dying state of
our prisoners, conscious of the treatment they had received, they
could not refrain from tears." _Connecticut Journal,_ Jan. 30th,
In April of the year 1777 a committee that was appointed by Congress
to inquire into the doings of the British on their different marches
through New York and New Jersey reported that "The prisoners, instead
of that humane treatment which those taken by the United States
experienced, were in general treated with the greatest barbarity. Many
of them were kept near four days without food altogether. * * *
Freemen and men of substance suffered all that generous minds could
suffer from the contempt and mockery of British and foreign
mercenaries. Multitudes died in prison. When they were sent out
several died in being carried from the boats on shore, or upon the
road attempting to go home. The committee, in the course of their
inquiry, learned that sometimes the common soldiers expressed sympathy
with the prisoners, and the foreigners (did this) more than the
English. But this was seldom or never the case with the officers, nor
have they been able to hear of any charitable assistance given them by
the inhabitants who remained in, or resorted to the city of New York,
which neglect, if universal, they believe was never known to happen in
any similar case in a Christian country."
We have already shown that some of the citizens of New York, even a
number of the profligate women of the town, did their best to relieve
the wants of the perishing prisoners. But the guards were very strict,
and what they could do was inadequate to remove the distresses under
which these victims of cruelty and oppression died. As we are
attempting to make this work a compendium of all the facts that can be
gathered upon the subject, we must beg the reader's indulgence if we
continue to give corroborating testimony of the same character, from
the periodicals of the day. We will next quote from the _New
Hampshire Gazette,_ date of February 4th, 1779.
"It is painful to repeat the indubitable accounts we are constantly
receiving, of the cruel and inhuman treatment of the subjects of these
States from the British in New York and other places. They who hear
our countrymen who have been so unfortunate as to fall into the hands
of those unrelenting tyrants, relate the sad story of their captivity,
the insults they have received, and the slow, cool, systematic manner
in which great numbers of those who could not be prevailed on to enter
their service have been murdered, must have hearts of stone not to
melt with pity for the sufferers, and burn with indignation at their
tormentors. As we have daily fresh instances to prove the truth of
such a representation, public justice requires that repeated public
mention should be made of them. A cartel vessel lately arrived at New
London in Connecticut, carrying about 130 American prisoners from the
prison ships in New York. Such was the condition in which these poor
creatures were put on board the cartel, that in the short run, 16 died
on board; upwards of sixty when they were landed, were scarcely able
to move, and the remainder greatly emaciated and enfeebled; and many
who continue alive are never likely to recover their former
health. The greatest inhumanity was experienced by the prisoners in a
ship of which one Nelson, a Scotchman, had the superintendence.
Upwards of 300 American prisoners were confined at a time, on board
this ship. There was but one small fire-place allowed to cook the food
of such a number. The allowance of the prisoners was, moreover,
frequently delayed, insomuch that, in the short days of November and
December, it was not begun to be delivered out until 11 o'clock in the
forenoon so that the whole could not be served until three. At sunset
the fire was ordered to be quenched; no plea from the many sick, from
their absolute necessity, the shortness of the time or the smallness
of the hearth, was allowed to avail. The known consequence was that
some had not their food dressed at all; many were obliged to eat it
half raw. On board the ship no flour, oatmeal, and things of like
nature, suited to the condition of infirm people, were allowed to the
many sick, nothing but ship-bread, beef, and pork. This is the account
given by a number of prisoners, who are credible persons, and this is
but a part of their sufferings; so that the excuse made by the enemy
that the prisoners were emaciated and died by contagious sickness,
which no one could prevent, is futile. It requires no great sagacity
to know that crowding people together without fresh air, and feeding,
or rather starving them in such a manner as the prisoners have been,
must unavoidably produce a contagion. Nor is it a want of candor to
suppose that many of our enemies saw with pleasure this contagion,
which might have been so easily prevented, among the prisoners who
could not be persuaded to enter the service."
THE CASE OF CAPTAIN BIRDSALL
Soon after the battle of Long Island Captain Birdsall, a Whig officer,
made a successful attempt to release an American vessel laden with
flour for the army, which had been captured in the Sound by the
British. Captain Birdsall offered, if the undertaking was approved of
by his superior officer, to superintend the enterprise himself. The
proposal was accepted, when Birdsall, with a few picked men, made the
experiment, and succeeded in sending the vessel to her original
destination. But he and one of his men fell into the hands of the
enemy. He was sent to the Provost Jail under surveillance of "that
monster in human shape, the infamous Cunningham." He requested the use
of pen, ink, and paper, for the purpose of acquainting his family of
his situation. On being refused he made a reply which drew from the
keeper some opprobious epithets, accompanied by a thrust from his
sword, which penetrated the shoulder of his victim, and caused the
blood to flow freely. Being locked up alone in a filthy apartment,
and denied any assistance whatever, he was obliged to dress the wound
with his own linen, and then to endure, in solitude and misery, every
indignity which the malice of the Provost Master urged him to inflict
upon a _damned rebel_, who, he declared, ought to be hung.
"After several months of confinement and starvation he was exchanged."
Two Whig gentlemen of Long Island were imprisoned in the Provost
Prison some time in the year 1777. Two English Quakers named Jacob
Watson and Robert Murray at last procured their release. Their names
were George Townsend and John Kirk. Kirk caught the smallpox while in
prison. He was sent home in a covered wagon. His wife met him at the
door, and tenderly nursed him through the disorder. He recovered in
due time, but she and her infant daughter died of the malady. There
were hundreds of such cases: indeed throughout the war contagion was
carried into every part of the country by soldiers and former
prisoners. In some instances the British were accused of selling
inoculated clothing to the prisoners. Let us hope that some, at least,
of these reports are unfounded.
The North Dutch Church was the last of the churches used as prisons to
be torn down. As late as 1850 it was still standing, and marks of
bayonet thrusts were plainly to be discerned upon its pillars. How
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