Part 2 out of 11
"I made several rough drafts on the subject, one of which I exhibited
to the Colonels Magaw, Miles, and Atlee; and they said that they would
consider the matter. Soon after I called on them, and some of the
gentlemen informed me that they had written to the General on the
subject, and I concluded that the gentlemen thought it best that they
should write without me, as there was such spirited aversion
subsisting between the British and me."
Ethan Allen goes on to say: "Our little army was retreating in New
Jersey and our young men murdered by hundreds in New York." He then
speaks of Washington's success at Trenton in the following terms:
"This success had a mighty effect on General Howe and his council, and
roused them to a sense of their own weakness. * * * Their obduracy and
death-designing malevolence in some measure abated or was
suspended. The prisoners, who were condemned to the most wretched and
cruellest of deaths, and who survived to this period, _though most
of them died before,_ were immediately ordered to be sent within
General Washington's lines, for an exchange, and in consequence of it
were taken out of their filthy and poisonous places of confinement,
and sent out of New York to their friends in haste. Several of them
fell dead in the streets of New York, as they attempted to walk to the
vessels in the harbor, for their intended embarkation. What number
lived to reach the lines I cannot ascertain, but, from concurrent
representations which I have since received from numbers of people who
lived in and adjacent to such parts of the country, where they were
received from the enemy, _I apprehend that most of them died in
consequence of the vile usage of the enemy._ Some who were eye
witnesses of the scene of mortality, more especially in that part
which continued after the exchange took place, are of opinion that it
was partly in consequence of a slow poison; but this I refer to the
doctors who attended them, who are certainly the best judges.
"Upon the best calculation I have been able to make from personal
knowledge, and the many evidences I have collected in support of the
facts, I learn that, of the prisoners taken on Long Island and Fort
Washington and some few others, at different times and places, about
two thousand perished with hunger, cold, and sickness, occasioned by
the filth of their prisons, at New York; and a number more on their
passage to the continental lines; most of the residue who reached
their friends having received their death wound, could not be restored
by the assistance of their physicians and friends: but like their
brother prisoners, fell a sacrifice to the relentless and scientific
barbarity of the British. I took as much pains as the circumstances
would admit of to inform myself not only of matters of fact, but
likewise of the very design and aims of General Howe and his council,
the latter of which I predicated on the former, and submit it to the
THE ACCOUNT OF ALEXANDER GRAYDON
One of the most interesting and best memoirs of revolutionary times is
that written by Alexander Graydon, and as he was taken prisoner at
Fort Washington, and closely connected with the events in New York
during the winter of 1776-7, we will quote here his account of his
He describes the building of Fort Washington in July of 1776 by the
men of Magaw's and Hand's regiments. General Putnam was the
engineer. It was poorly built for defence, and not adapted for a
Graydon was a captain in Colonel Shee's Regiment, but, for some reason
or other, Shee went home just before the battle was fought, and his
troops were commanded by Cadwallader in his stead. Graydon puts the
number of privates taken prisoner at 2706 and the officers at about
210. Bedinger, as we have already seen, states that there were 2673
privates and 210 officers. He was a man of painstaking accuracy, and
it is quite probable that his account is the most trustworthy. As one
of the privates was Bedinger's own young brother, a boy of fifteen,
whom he undoubtedly visited as often as possible, while Graydon only
went once to the prisons, perhaps Bedinger had the best opportunities
for computing the number of captives.
Graydon says that Colonel Rawlings was, some time late in the morning
of the 16th of November, attacked by the Hessians, when he fought with
great gallantry and effect as they were climbing the heights, until
the arms of the riflemen became useless from the foulness they
contracted from the frequent repetition of their fire.
Graydon, himself, becoming separated from his own men, mistook a party
of Highlanders for them, and was obliged to surrender to them. He was
put under charge of a Scotch sergeant, who said to him and his
companion, Forrest: "Young men, ye should never fight against your
Just then a British officer rode up at full gallop exclaiming, "What!
taking prisoners! Kill them, Kill every man of them!"
"My back was towards him when he spoke," says Graydon, "and although
by this time there was none of that appearance of ferocity in the
guard which would induce much fear that they would execute his
command, I yet thought it well enough to parry it, and turning to him,
I took off my hat, saying, 'Sir, I put myself under your protection!'
"No man was ever more effectually rebuked. His manner was instantly
softened; he met my salutation with an inclination of his body, and
after a civil question or two, as if to make amends for his sanguinary
mandate, rode off towards the fort, to which he had enquired the way.
"Though I had delivered up my arms I had not adverted to a cartouche
box which I wore about my waist, and which, having once belonged to
his British Majesty, presented in front the gilded letters, G. R.
Exasperated at this trophy on the body of a rebel, one of the soldiers
seized the belt with great violence, and in the act to unbuckle it,
had nearly jerked me off my legs. To appease the offended loyalty of
the honest Scot I submissively took it off and handed it to him, being
conscious that I had no longer any right to it. At this moment a
Hessian came up. He was not a private, neither did he look like a
regular officer. He was some retainer, however, to the German troops,
and as much of a brute as any one I have ever seen in human form. The
wretch came near enough to elbow us, and, half unsheathing his sword,
with a countenance that bespoke a most vehement desire to use it
against us, he grunted out in broken English, 'Eh! you rebel! you damn
"I had by this time entire confidence in our Scotchmen, and therefore
regarded the caitiff with the same indifference that I should have
viewed a caged wild beast, though with much greater abhorrence. * * *
"We were marched to an old stable, where we found about forty or fifty
prisoners already collected, principally officers, of whom I only
particularly recollect Lieutenant Brodhead of our battalion. We
remained on the outside of the building; and, for nearly an hour,
sustained a series of the most intolerable abuse. This was chiefly
from the officers of the light infantry, for the most part young and
insolent puppies, whose worthlessness was apparently their
recommendation to a service, which placed them in the post of danger,
and in the way of becoming food for powder, their most appropriate
destination next to that of the gallows. The term 'rebel,' with the
epithet 'damned' before it, was the mildest we received. We were
twenty times told, sometimes with a taunting affectation of concern,
that we should every man of us be hanged. * * * The indignity of being
ordered about by such contemptible whipsters, for a moment unmanned
me, and I was obliged to apply my handkerchief to my eyes. This was
the first time in my life that I had been the victim of brutal,
cowardly oppression, and I was unequal to the shock; but my elasticity
of mind was soon restored, and I viewed it with the indignant contempt
"For the greater convenience of guarding us we were now removed to the
barn of Colonel Morris's house, which had been the head-quarters of
our army. * * * It was a good, new building. * * * There were from a
hundred and fifty to two hundred, comprising a motley group, to be
sure. Men and officers of all descriptions, regulars and militia,
troops continental and state, and some in hunting shirts, the mortal
aversion of a red coat. Some of the officers had been plundered of
their hats, and some of their coats, and upon the new society into
which we were introduced, with whom a showy exterior was all in all,
we were certainly not calculated to make a very favorable
impression. I found Captain Tudor here, of our regiment, who, if I
mistake not, had lost his hat. * * * It was announced, by an huzza,
that the fort had surrendered.
"The officer who commanded the guard in whose custody we now were, was
an ill-looking, low-bred fellow of this dashing corps of light
infantry. * * * As I stood as near as possible to the door for the
sake of air, the enclosure in which we were being extremely crowded
and unpleasant, I was particularly exposed to his brutality; and
repelling with some severity one of his attacks, for I was becoming
desperate and careless of safety, the ruffian exclaimed, 'Not a word,
sir, or damme, I'll give you my butt!' at the same time clubbing his
fusee, and drawing it back as if to give the blow, I fully expected
it, but he contented himself with the threat. I observed to him that
I was in his power, and disposed to submit to it, though not proof
against every provocation. * * * There were several British officers
present, when a Serjeant-Major came to take an account of us, and
particularly a list of such of us as were officers. This Serjeant,
though not uncivil, had all that animated, degage impudence of air,
which belongs to a self complacent, non-commissioned officer of the
most arrogant army in the world; and with his pen in his hand and his
paper on his knee applied to each of us in his turn for his rank. * *
* The sentinels were withdrawn to the distance of about ten or twelve
feet, and we were told that such of us as were officers might walk
before the door. This was a great relief to us."
The officers were lodged in the barn loft quite comfortably. A young
Lieutenant Beckwith had them in charge, and was a humane gentleman. In
the evening he told them he would send them, if possible, a bottle of
wine, but at any rate, a bottle of spirits. He kept his word as to the
spirits, which was all the supper the party in the loft had. "In the
morning a soldier brought me Mr. B.'s compliments, and an invitation
to come down and breakfast with him. * * * I thankfully accepted his
invitation, and took with me Forrest and Tudor. * * * He gave us a
dish of excellent coffee, with plenty of very good toast, which was
the only morsel we had eaten for the last twenty-four hours. * * * Our
fellow sufferers got nothing until next morning. * * *
"All the glory that was going (in the battle of Fort Washington) had,
in my idea of what had passed, been engrossed by the regiment of
Rawlings, which had been actively engaged, killed a number of the
enemy, and lost many themselves.
"About two o'clock Mr. B. sent me a plate amply supplied with corned
beef, cabbage, and the leg and wing of a turkey, with bread in
Though Mr. Graydon calls this gentleman Mr. Becket, it seems that
there was no young officer of that name at the battle of Fort
Washington. Becket appears to be a mistake for Lieutenant Onslow
Beckwith. The prisoners were now marched within six miles of New York
and Graydon's party of officers were well quartered in a
house. "Here," he continues, "for the first time we drew provisions
for the famished soldiers. * * * Previously to entering the city we
were drawn up for about an hour on the high ground near the East
River. Here, the officers being separated from the men, we were
conducted into a church, where we signed a parole."
At this place a non-commissioned British officer, who had seen him at
the ordinary kept by his widowed mother in Philadelphia, when he was a
boy, insisted on giving him a dollar.
"Quarters were assigned for us in the upper part of the town, in what
was called 'The holy ground.' * * * I ventured to take board at four
dollars per week with a Mrs. Carroll. * * * Colonel Magaw, Major West,
and others, boarded with me."
He was fortunate in obtaining his trunk and mattress. Speaking of the
prisons in which the privates were confined he says: "I once and once
only ventured to penetrate into these abodes of human misery and
despair. But to what purpose repeat my visit, when I had neither
relief to administer nor comfort to bestow? * * * I endeavoured to
comfort them with the hope of exchange, but humanity forbade me to
counsel them to rush on sure destruction. * * * Our own condition was
a paradise to theirs. * * * Thousands of my unhappy countrymen were
consigned to slow, consuming tortures, equally fatal and potent to
The American officers on parole in New York prepared a memorial to Sir
William Howe on the condition of these wretched sufferers, and it was
signed by Colonels Magaw, Miles, and Atlee. This is, no doubt, the
paper of which Colonel Ethan Allen writes. Captain Graydon was
commissioned to deliver this document to Sir William Howe. He says:
"The representation which had been submitted to General Howe in behalf
of the suffering prisoners was more successful than had been expected.
* * * The propositions had been considered by Sir William Howe, and he
was disposed to accede to them. These were that the men should be sent
within our lines, where they should be receipted for, and an equal
number of the prisoners in our hands returned in exchange. * * * Our
men, no longer soldiers (their terms for which they had enlisted
having expired) and too debilitated for service, gave a claim to sound
men, immediately fit to take the field, and there was moreover great
danger that if they remained in New York the disease with which they
were infected might be spread throughout the city. At any rate hope
was admitted into the mansions of despair, the prison doors were
thrown open, and the soldiers who were yet alive and capable of being
moved were conveyed to our nearest posts, under the care of our
regimental surgeons, to them a fortunate circumstance, since it
enabled them to exchange the land of bondage for that of liberty. * *
* Immediately after the release of our men a new location was assigned
to us. On the 22nd of January, 1777, we were removed to Long Island."
A FOUL PAGE OF ENGLISH HISTORY
We will not follow Mr. Graydon now to Long Island. It was then late in
January, 1777. The survivors of the American prisoners were, many of
them, exchanged for healthy British soldiers. The crime had been
committed, one of the blackest which stains the annals of English
history. By the most accurate computation at least two thousand
helpless American prisoners had been slowly starved, frozen, or
poisoned to death in the churches and other prisons in New York.
No excuse for this monstrous crime can be found, even by those who are
anxiously in search of an adequate one.
We have endeavored to give some faint idea of the horrors of that
hopeless captivity. As we have already said scarcely any one who
endured imprisonment for any length of time in the churches lived to
tell the tale. One of these churches was standing not many years ago,
and the marks of bayonet thrusts might plainly be seen upon its
pillars. What terrible deeds were enacted there we can only
conjecture. We _know_ that two thousand, healthy, high-spirited
young men, many of them sons of gentlemen, and all patriotic, brave,
and long enduring, even unto death, were foully murdered in these
places of torment, compared to which ordinary captivity is described
by one who endured it as paradise. We know, we say, that these young
men perished awfully, rather than enlist in the British army; that
posterity has almost forgotten them, and that their dreadful
sufferings ought to be remembered wherever American history is read.
We have already said that it is impossible now to obtain the names of
all who suffered death at the hands of their inhuman jailors during
the fall and winter of 1776-7. But we have taken Captain Abraham
Shepherd's company of riflemen as a sample of the prisoners, and are
able, thanks to the pay roll now in our care, to indicate the fate of
each man upon the list.
It is a mistake to say that no prisoners deserted to the
British. After the account we have quoted from Ethan Allen's book we
feel sure that no one can find the heart to blame the poor starving
creatures who endeavored to preserve their remains of life in this
Henry Bedinger gives the names of seven men of this company who
deserted. They are Thomas Knox, a corporal; William Anderson, Richard
Neal, George Taylor, Moses McComesky, Anthony Blackhead and Anthony
Larkin. Thomas Knox did not join the British forces until the 17th of
January, 1777; William Anderson on the 20th of January, 1777. Richard
Neal left the American army on the tenth of August, 1776. He,
therefore, was not with the regiment at Fort Washington. George Taylor
deserted on the 9th of July, 1776, which was nine days after he
enlisted. Moses McComesky did not desert until the 14th of June,
1777. Anthony Blackhead deserted November 15th, 1776, the day before
the battle was fought; Anthony Larkin, September 15th, 1776. We cannot
tell what became of any of these men. Those who died of the prisoners
are no less than fifty-two in this one company of seventy-nine
privates and non-commissioned officers. This may and probably does
include a few who lived to be exchanged. The date of death of each man
is given, but not the place in which he died.
A very singular fact about this record is that no less than
_seventeen_ of the prisoners of this company died on the same
day, which was the fifteenth of February, 1777. Why this was so we
cannot tell. We can only leave the cause of their death to the
imagination of our readers. Whether they were poisoned by wholesale;
whether they were murdered in attempting to escape; whether the night
being extraordinarily severe, they froze to death; whether they were
butchered by British bayonets, we are totally unable to tell. The
record gives their names and the date of death and says that all
seventeen were prisoners. That is all.
The names of these men are Jacob Wine, William Waller, Peter Snyder,
Conrad Rush, David Harmon, William Moredock, William Wilson, James
Wilson, Thomas Beatty, Samuel Davis, John Cassody, Peter Good, John
Nixon, Christopher Peninger, Benjamin McKnight, John McSwaine, James
Griffith, and Patrick Murphy.
Two or three others are mentioned as dying the day after. Is it
possible that these men were on board one of the prison ships which
was set on fire? If so we have been able to discover no account of
such a disaster on that date.
Many of the papers of Major Henry Bedinger were destroyed. It is
possible that he may have left some clue to the fate of these men, but
if so it is probably not now in existence. But among the letters and
memoranda written by him which have been submitted to us for
inspection, is a list, written on a scrap of paper, of the men that he
recruited for Captain Shepherd's Company in the summer of 1776. This
paper gives the names of the men and the date on which each one died
in prison. It is as follows:
LIST OF MEN RAISED BY LIEUTENANT HENRY BEDINGER, AND THAT HE BROUGHT
FROM NEW TOWN, BERKELEY COUNTY, VA., AUGUST FIRST, 1776
Dennis Bush, Fourth Sergeant. (He was taken prisoner at Fort
Washington, but lived to be exchanged, and was paid up to October 1st,
1778, at the end of the term for which the company enlisted.)
Conrad Cabbage, Prisoner, Died, Jan. 7th, 1777.
John Cummins, Prisoner, Died, Jan. 27th, 1777.
Gabriel Stevens, Prisoner, Died, March 1st, 1777.
William Donally, Prisoner, Died, Jan. 10th, 1777.
David Gilmer, Prisoner, Died, Jan. 26th, 1777.
John Cassady, Prisoner, Died, Feb. 15th, 1777.
Samuel Brown, Prisoner, Died, Feb. 26th, 1777.
Peter Good, Prisoner, Died, Feb. 13th, 1777.
William Boyle, Prisoner, Died, Feb. 25th, 1777.
John Nixon, Prisoner, Died, Feb. 18th, 1777.
Anthony Blackhead, deserted, Nov. 15th, 1776.
William Case, Prisoner, Died, March 15th, 1777.
Caspar Myres, Prisoner, Died, Feb. 16th, 1777.
William Seaman, Prisoner, Died, July 8th, 1777.
Isaac Price, Prisoner, Died, Feb. 5th, 1777.
Samuel Davis, Prisoner, Died, Feb. 15th, 1777.
William Seaman was the son of Jonah Seaman, living near
Darkesville. Isaac Price was an orphan, living with James' Campbell's
father. Samuel Davis came from near Charlestown.
This is all, but it is eloquent with what it does not say. All but two
of this list of seventeen young, vigorous riflemen died in prison or
from the effects of confinement. One, alone had sufficient vitality to
endure until the 8th of July, 1777. Perhaps he was more to be pitied
than his comrades.
We now begin to understand how it happened that, out of more than
2,600 privates taken prisoner at Fort Washington, 1,900 were dead in
the space of two months and four days, when the exchange of some of
the survivors took place. Surely this is a lasting disgrace to one of
the greatest nations of the world. If, as seems undoubtedly true, more
men perished in prison than on the battle fields of the Revolution, it
is difficult to see why so little is made of this fact in the many
histories of that struggle that have been written. We find that the
accounts of British prisons are usually dismissed in a few words,
sometimes in an appendix, or a casual note. But history was ever
written thus. Great victories are elaborately described; and all the
pomp and circumstance of war is set down for our pleasure and
instruction. But it is due to the grand solemn muse of history, who
carries the torch of truth, that the other side, the horrors of war,
should be as faithfully delineated. Wars will not cease until the
lessons of their cruelty, their barbarity, and the dark trail of
suffering they leave behind them are deeply impressed upon the
mind. It is our painful task to go over the picture, putting in the
shadows as we see them, however gloomy may be the effect.
A BOY IN PRISON
In the winter of 1761 a boy was born in a German settlement near
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the third son of Henry Bedinger and his wife,
whose maiden name was Magdalene von Schlegel. These Germans, whom we
have already mentioned, moved, in 1762, to the neighborhood of the
little hamlet, then called Mecklenburg, Berkeley County,
Virginia. Afterwards the name of the town was changed to
Shepherdstown, in honor of its chief proprietor, Thomas Shepherd.
Daniel was a boy of fourteen when the first company of riflemen was
raised at Shepherdstown by the gallant young officer, Captain Hugh
Stephenson, in 1775.
The rendezvous of this company was the spring on his mother's farm,
then called Bedinger's Spring, where the clear water gushes out of a
great rock at the foot of an ancient oak. The son of Daniel Bedinger,
Hon. Henry Bedinger, Minister to the Court of Denmark in 1853, left a
short account of his father's early history, which we will quote in
this place. He says: "When the war of the Revolution commenced my
father's eldest brother Henry was about twenty-two years of age. His
next brother, Michael, about nineteen, and he himself only in his
fifteenth year. Upon the first news of hostilities his two brothers
joined a volunteer company under the command of Captain Hugh
Stephenson, and set off immediately to join the army at Cambridge.
"My father himself was extremely anxious to accompany them, but they
and his mother, who was a widow, forbade his doing so, telling him he
was entirely too young, and that he must stay at home and take care of
his younger brothers and sisters. And he was thus very reluctantly
compelled to remain at home. At the expiration of about twelve months
his brothers returned home, and when the time for their second
departure had arrived, the wonderful tales they had narrated of their
life in camp had wrought so upon my father's youthful and ardent
imagination that he besought them and his mother with tears in his
eyes, to suffer him to accompany them. But they, regarding his youth,
would not give their consent, but took their departure without him.
"However, the second night after their arrival in camp (which was at
Bergen, New Jersey), they were astonished by the arrival of my father,
he having run off from home and followed them all the way on foot, and
now appeared before them, haggard and weary and half starved by the
lengths of his march. * * * My father was taken prisoner at the
battle of Fort Washington, and the privations and cruel treatment
which he then underwent gave a blow to his constitution from which he
never recovered. After the close of the Revolution he returned home
with a constitution much shattered. * * *"
Many years after the Revolution Dr. Draper, who died in Madison,
Wisconsin, and left his valuable manuscripts to the Historical Society
of that State, interviewed an old veteran of the war, in Kentucky.
This venerable relic of the Revolution was Major George Michael
Bedinger, a brother of Daniel. Dr. Draper took down from his lips a
short account of the battle of Fort Washington, where his two brothers
were captured. Major G. M. Bedinger was not in service at that time,
but must have received the account from one or both of his
brothers. Dr. Draper says: "In the action of Fort Washington Henry
Bedinger heard a Hessian captain, having been repulsed, speak to his
riflemen in his own language, telling them to follow his example and
reserve their fire until they were close. Bedinger, recognizing his
mother tongue, watched the approach of the Hessian officer, and each
levelled his unerring rifle at the other. Both fired, Bedinger was
wounded in the finger: the ball passing, cut off a lock of his
hair. The Hessian was shot through the head, and instantly
expired. Captain Bedinger's young brother Daniel, in his company, then
but a little past fifteen, shot twenty-seven rounds, and was often
heard to say, after discharging his piece, 'There! take that, you
"His youthful intrepidity, and gallant conduct, so particularly
attracted the attention of the officers, that, though taken prisoner,
he was promoted to an ensigncy, his commission dating back six months
that he might take precedence of the other ensigns of his company.
"These two brothers remained prisoners, the youngest but a few months,
and the elder nearly four years, both on prison ships, with the most
cruel treatment, in filthy holds, impure atmosphere, and stinted
allowance of food. With such treatment it was no wonder that but eight
hundred out of the 2800 prisoners taken at Fort Washington survived.
"During the captivity of his brother Henry, Major Bedinger would by
labor, loans at different times, and the property sold which he
inherited from his father, procure money to convey to the British
Commissary of Prisoners to pay his brother Henry's board. Then he was
released from the filthy prison ship, limited on his parole of honor
to certain limits at Flatbush, and decently provisioned and better
treated, and it is pleasant to add that the British officers having
charge of these matters were faithful in the proper application of
funds thus placed in their hands. Major Bedinger made many trips on
this labor of fraternal affection. This, with his attention to his
mother and family, kept him from regularly serving in the army. But
he, never the less, would make short tours of service."
So far we have quoted Dr. Draper's recollections of an interview with
George Michael Bedinger in his extreme old age. We have already given
Henry Bedinger's own acount of his captivity. What we know of Daniel's
far severer treatment we will give in our own words.
It was four days before the privates taken at Fort Washington had one
morsel to eat. They were then given a little mouldy biscuit and raw
pork. They were marched to New York, and Daniel was lodged with many
others, perhaps with the whole company, in the Old Sugar House on
Liberty Street. Here he very nearly died of exposure and
starvation. There was no glass in the windows and scarce one of the
prisoners was properly clothed. When it snowed they were drifted over
as they slept.
One day Daniel discovered in some vats a deposit of sugar which he was
glad to scrape to sustain life. A gentleman, confined with him in the
Old Sugar House, used to tell his descendants that the most terrible
fight he ever engaged in was a struggle with a comrade in prison for
the carcass of a decayed rat.
It is possible that Henry Bedinger, an officer on parole in New York,
may have found some means of communicating with his young brother, and
even of supplying him, sometimes, with food. Daniel, however, was soon
put on board a prison ship, probably the Whitby, in New York harbor.
Before the first exchange was effected the poor boy had yielded to
despair, and had turned his face to the wall, to die. How bitterly he
must have regretted the home he had been so ready to leave a few
months before! And now the iron had eaten into his soul, and he longed
for death, as the only means of release from his terrible sufferings.
Daniel's father was born in Alsace, and he himself had been brought up
in a family where German was the familiar language of the
household. It seems that, in some way, probably by using his mother
tongue, he had touched the heart of one of the Hessian guards. When
the officers in charge went among the prisoners, selecting those who
were to be exchanged, they twice passed the poor boy as too far gone
to be moved. But he, with a sudden revival of hope and the desire to
live, begged and entreated the Hessian so pitifully not to leave him
behind, that that young man, who is said to have been an officer,
declared that he would be responsible for him, had him lifted and laid
down in the bottom of a boat, as he was too feeble to sit or stand. In
this condition he accompanied the other prisoners to a church in New
York where the exchange was effected. One or more of the American
surgeons accompanied the prisoners. In some way Daniel was conveyed to
Philadelphia, where he completely collapsed, and was taken to one of
the military hospitals.
Here, about the first of January, 1777, his devoted brother, George
Michael Bedinger, found him. Major Bedinger's son, Dr. B. F.
Bedinger, wrote an account of the meeting of these two brothers for
Mrs. H. B. Lee, one of Daniel's daughters, which tells the rest of the
story. He said:
"My father went to the hospital in search of his brother, but did not
recognize him. On inquiry if there were any (that had been) prisoners
there a feeble voice responded, from a little pile of straw and rags
in a corner, 'Yes, Michael, there is one.'
"Overcome by his feelings my father knelt by the side of the poor
emaciated boy, and took him in his arms. He then bore him to a house
where he could procure some comforts in the way of food and
clothing. After this he got an armchair, two pillows, and some leather
"He placed his suffering and beloved charge in the chair, supported
him by the pillows, swung him by the leather straps to his back, and
carried him some miles into the country, where he found a friendly
asylum for him in the house of some good Quakers. There he nursed him,
and by the aid of the kind owners, who were farmers, gave him
nourishing food, until he partially recovered strength.
"But your father was very impatient to get home, and wished to proceed
before he was well able to walk, and did so leave, while my father
walked by his side, with his arm around him to support him. Thus they
travelled from the neighborhood of Philadelphia, to Shepherdstown
(Virginia) of course by short stages, when my father restored him safe
to his mother and family.
"Your father related some of the incidents of that trip to me when I
last saw him at Bedford (his home) in the spring of 1817, not more
than one year before his death. Our uncle, Henry Bedinger, was also a
prisoner for a long time, and although he suffered greatly his
suffering was not to be compared to your father's.
"After your father recovered his health he again entered the service
and continued in it to the end of the war. He was made Lieutenant, and
I have heard my father speak of many battles he was in, but I have
forgotten the names and places." [Footnote: Letter of Dr
B. F. Bedinger to Mrs H. B. Lee, written in 1871.]
After Daniel Bedinger returned home he had a relapse, and lay, for a
long time, at the point of death. He, however, recovered, and
re-entered the service, where the first duty assigned him was that of
acting as one of the guards over the prisoners near Winchester. He
afterwards fought with Morgan in the southern campaigns, was in the
battle of the Cowpens, and several other engagements, serving until
the army was disbanded. He was a Knight of the Order of the
Cincinnati. His grandson, the Rev. Henry Bedinger, has the original
parchment signed by General Washington, in his possession. This
grandson is now the chaplain of the Virginia branch of the Society.
In 1791 Daniel Bedinger married Miss Sarah Rutherford, a daughter of
Hon. Robert Rutherford, of Flowing Springs, in what is now Jefferson
County, West Virginia, but was then part of Berkeley County, Virginia.
Lieutenant Bedinger lived in Norfolk for many years. He was first
engaged in the Custom House in that city. In 1802 he accepted the
position of navy agent of the Gosport Navy Yard. He died in 1818 at
his home near Shepherdstown, of a malady which troubled him ever after
his confinement as a prisoner in New York. He hated the British with a
bitter hatred, which is not to be wondered at. He was an ardent
supporter of Thomas Jefferson, and wrote much for the periodicals of
the time. Withal he was a scholarly gentleman, and a warm and generous
friend. He built a beautiful residence on the site of his mother's old
home near Sheperdstown; where, when he died in 1818, he left a large
family of children, and a wide circle of friends and admirers.
THE NEWSPAPERS OF THE REVOLUTION
What we have been able to glean from the periodicals of the day about
the state of the prisons in New York during the years 1776 and 1777 we
will condense into one short chapter.
We will also give an abstract taken from a note book written by
General Jeremiah Johnson, who as a boy, lived near Wallabout Bay
during the Revolution and who thus describes one of the first prison
ships used by the British at New York. He says: "The subject of the
naval prisoners, and of the British prisons-ships, stationed at the
Wallabout during the Revolution, is one which cannot be passed by in
silence. From printed journals, published in New York at the close of
the war, it appeared that 11,500 American prisoners had died on board
the prison ships. Although this number is very great, yet if the
numbers who perished had been less, the Commissary of Naval Prisoners,
David Sproat, Esq., and his Deputy, had it in their power, by an
official Return, to give the true number taken, exchanged, escaped,
and _dead_. Such a Return has never appeared in the United
"David Sproat returned to America after the war, and resided in
Philadelphia, where he died. [Footnote: This is, we believe, a
mistake. Another account says he died at Kirkcudbright, Scotland, in
1792.] The Commissary could not have been ignorant of the statement
published here on this interesting subject. We may, therefore, infer
that about that number, 11,500, perished in the Prison ships.
"A large transport called the Whitby, was the first prison ship
anchored in the Wallabout. She was moored near Remsen's Mill about the
20th of October, 1776, and was then crowded with prisoners. Many
landsmen were prisoners on board this vessel: she was said to be the
most sickly of all the prison ships. Bad provisions, bad water, and
scanted rations were dealt to the prisoners. No medical men attended
the sick. Disease reigned unrelieved, and hundreds died from
pestilence, or were starved on board this floating Prison. I saw the
sand beach, between a ravine in the hill and Mr. Remsen's dock, become
filled with graves in the course of two months: and before the first
of May, 1777, the ravine alluded to was itself occupied in the same
"In the month of May, 1777, two large ships were anchored in the
Wallabout, when the prisoners were transferred from the Whitby to
them. These vessels were also very sickly from the causes before
stated. Although many prisoners were sent on board of them, and none
exchanged, death made room for all.
"On a Sunday afternoon about the middle of October, 1777, one of these
prison ships was burnt. The prisoners, except a few, who, it was
said, were burnt in the vessel, were removed to the remaining ship. It
was reported at the time, that the prisoners had fired their prison,
which, if true, proves that they preferred death, even by fire, to the
lingering sufferings of pestilence and starvation. In the month of
February, 1778, the remaining prison ship was burnt, when the
prisoners were removed from her to the ships then wintering in the
One of the first notices we have in the newspapers of the day of
American prisoners is to the following effect: "London, August 5th,
1775. As every rebel, who is taken prisoner, has incurred the pain of
death by the law martial, it is said that Government will charter
several transports, after their arrival at Boston to carry the
culprits to the East Indies for the Company's service. As it is the
intention of Government only to punish the ringleaders and commanders
_capitally_, and to suffer the inferior Rebels to redeem their
lives by entering into the East India Company's service. This
translation will only render them more useful subjects than in their
This notice, copied from London papers, appeared in Holt's _New York
Journal_, for October 19th, 1775. It proved to be no idle
threat. How many of our brave soldiers were sent to languish out their
lives in the British possessions in India, and on the coast of Africa,
we have no means of knowing. Few, indeed, ever saw their homes again,
but we will give, in a future chapter, the narrative of one who
escaped from captivity worse than death on the island of Sumatra.
An account of the mobbing of William Cunningham and John Hill is given
in both the Tory and Whig papers of the day. It occurred in March,
1775. "William Cunningham and John Hill were mobbed by 200 men in New
York, dragged through the green, Cunningham was robbed of his watch
and the clothes torn off his back, etc., for being a Tory, and having
made himself obnoxious to the Americans. He has often been heard
blustering in behalf of the ministry, and his behavior has recommended
him to the favor of several men of eminence, both in the military and
civil departments. He has often been seen, on a footing of
familiarity, at their houses, and parading the streets on a horse
belonging to one of the gentlemen, etc., etc."
The _Virginia Gazette_ in its issue for the first of July, 1775,
says: "On June 6th, 1775, the prisoners taken at Lexington were
exchanged. The wounded privates were soon sent on board the Levity.
* * * At about three a signal was made by the Levity that they were
ready to deliver up our prisoners, upon which General Putnam and Major
Moncrief went to the ferry, where they received nine prisoners. The
regular officers expressed themselves as highly pleased, those who had
been prisoners politely acknowledged the genteel kindness they had
received from their captors; the privates, who were all wounded men,
expressed in the strongest terms their grateful sense of the
tenderness which had been shown them in their miserable situation;
some of them could do it only by their tears. It would have been to
the honor of the British arms if the prisoners taken from us could
with justice have made the same acknowledgement. It cannot be supposed
that any officers of rank or common humanity were knowing to the
repeated cruel insults that were offered them; but it may not be amiss
to hint to the upstarts concerned, two truths of which they appear to
be wholly ignorant, viz: That compassion is as essential a part of the
character of a truly brave man as daring, and that insult offered to
the person completely in the power of the insulters smells as strong
of cowardice as it does of cruelty." [Footnote: The first American
prisoners were taken on the 17th of June, 1775. These were thrown
indiscriminately into the jail at Boston without any consideration of
their rank. General Washington wrote to General Gage on this subject,
to which the latter replied by asserting that the prisoners had been
treated with care and kindness, though indiscriminately, as he
acknowledged no rank that was not derived from the King. General
Carleton during his command conducted towards the American prisoners
with a degree of humanity that reflected the greatest honor on his
character." From Ramsay's "History of the American Revolution"]
At the battle of the Great Bridge "the Virginia militia showed the
greatest humanity and tenderness to the wounded prisoners. Several of
them ran through a hot fire to lift up and bring in some that were
bleeding, and whom they feared would die if not speedily assisted by
the surgeon. The prisoners had been told by Lord Dunmore that the
Americans would scalp them, and they cried out, 'For God's sake do not
murder us!' One of them who was unable to walk calling out in this
manner to one of our men, was answered by him: 'Put your arm about my
neck and I'll show you what I intend to do.' Then taking him, with his
arm over his neck, he walked slowly along, bearing him with great
tenderness to the breastwork." _Pennsylvania Evening Post_,
January 6th, 1776.
The Great Bridge was built over the southern branch of the Elizabeth
River, twelve miles above Norfolk. Colonel William Woodford commanded
the Virginia militia on this occasion.
"The scene closed with as much humanity as it had been conducted with
bravery. The work of death being over, every one's attention was
directed to the succor of the unhappy sufferers, and it is an
undoubted fact that Captain Leslie was so affected with the tenderness
of our troops towards those who were yet capable of assistance that he
gave signs from the fort of his thankfulness for it." _Pennsylvania
Evening Post_, Jan. 6th, 1776.
The first mention we can find of a British prison ship is in the
_New York Packet_ for the 11th of April, 1776: "Captain Hammond *
* * Ordered Captain Forrester, his prisoner, who was on board the
Roebuck, up to the prison ship at Norfolk in a pilot boat."
_The Constitutional Gazette_ for the 19th of April, 1776, has
this announcement, and though it does not bear directly on the subject
of prisoners, it describes a set of men who were most active in taking
them, and were considered by the Americans as more cruel and
vindictive than even the British themselves.
"Government have sent over to Germany to engage 1,000 men called
Jagers, people brought up to the use of the rifle barrel guns in
boar-hunting. They are amazingly expert. Every petty prince who hath
forests keeps a number of them, and they are allowed to take
apprentices, by which means they are a numerous body of people. These
men are intended to act in the next campaign in America, and our
ministry plume themselves much in the thought of their being a
complete match for the American riflemen."
From Gaine's _Mercury_, a notorious Tory paper published in New
York during the British occupancy, we take the following: "November
25th, 1776. There are now 5,000 prisoners in town, many of them half
naked. Congress deserts the poor wretches,--have sent them neither
provisions nor clothing, nor paid attention to their distress nor that
of their families. Their situation must have been doubly deplorable,
but for the humanity of the King's officers. Every possible attention
has been given, considering their great numbers and necessary
confinement, to alleviate their distress arising from guilt, sickness,
This needs no comment. It is too unspeakably false to be worth
"New London, Conn., November 8th, 1776. Yesterday arrived E. Thomas,
who was captured September 1st, carried to New York, and put on board
the Chatham. He escaped Wednesday sennight."
"New London, Nov. 20th, 1776. American officers, prisoners on parole,
are walking about the streets of New York, but soldiers are closely
confined, have but half allowance, are sickly, and die fast."
"New London, Nov. 29th, 1776. A cartel arrived here for exchange of
seamen only. Prisoners had miserable confinement on board of store
ships and transports, where they suffered for want of the common
necessaries of life."
"Exact from a letter written on board the Whitby Prison Ship. New
York, Dec. 9th, 1776. Our present situation is most wretched; more
than 250 prisoners, some sick and without the least assistance from
physician, drug, or medicine, and fed on two-thirds allowance of salt
provisions, and crowded promiscuously together without regard, to
color, person or office, in the small room of a ship's between decks,
allowed to walk the main deck only between sunrise and sunset. Only
two at a time allowed to come on deck to do what nature requires, and
sometimes denied even that, and use tubs and buckets between decks, to
the great offence of every delicate, cleanly person, and prejudice of
all our healths. Lord Howe has liberated all in the merchant service,
but refuses to exchange those taken in arms but for like prisoners."
(This is an extract from the Trumbull Papers.)
From a Connecticut paper: "This may inform those who have friends in
New York, prisoners of war, that Major Wells, a prisoner, has come
thence to Connecticut on parole, to collect money for the much
distressed officers and soldiers there, and desires the money may be
left at Landlord Betts, Norwalk; Captain Benjamin's, Stratford;
Landlord Beers, New Haven; Hezekiah Wylly's, Hartford; and at said
Well's, Colchester, with proper accounts from whom received, and to
whom to be delivered. N. B. The letters must not be sealed, or
contain anything of a political nature." Conn. Papers, Dec. 6th,
"Conn. _Gazette_, Feb. 8th, 1777. William Gamble deposes that the
prisoners were huddled together with negroes, had weak grog; no swab
to clean the ship; bad oil; raw pork; seamen refused them water;
called them d----d rebels; the dead not buried, etc."
"Lieut. Wm. Sterrett, taken August 27, 1776, deposes that his clothing
was stolen, that he was abused by the soldiers; stinted in food; etc.,
those who had slight wounds were allowed to perish from neglect. The
recruiting officers seduced the prisoners to enlist, etc."
"March 7th, 1777. Forty-six prisoners from the Glasgow, transport
ship, were landed in New Haven, where one of them, Captain Craigie,
died and was buried." (Their names are published in the Connecticut
Connecticut _Gazette_ of April 30th, 1777, says: "The Connecticut
Assembly sent to New York a sufficient supply of tow shirts and
trousers for her prisoners, also L35 to Col. Ethan Allen, by his
"Lt. Thos. Fanning, now on parole from Long Island at Norwich, a
prisoner to General Howe, will be at Hartford on his return to New
York about September 8th, whence he proposes to keep the public road
to King's Bridge. Letters and money left at the most noted public
houses in the different towns, will be conveyed safe to the
prisoners. Extraordinaries excepted." Connecticut _Gazette_, Aug.
"Jan. 8th, '77. A flag of truce vessel arrived at Milford after a
tedious passage of eleven days, from New York, having above 200
prisoners, whose rueful countenances too well discovered the ill
treatment they received in New York. Twenty died on the passage, and
twenty since they landed." New Haven, Conn.
THE TRUMBULL PAPERS AND OTHER SOURCES OF INFORMATION
We will now quote from the Trumbull Papers and other productions, what
is revealed to the public of the state of the prisoners in New York in
1776 and 1777. Some of our information we have obtained from a book
published in 1866 called "Documents and Letters Intended to Illustrate
the Revolutionary Incidents of Long Island, by Henry Onderdonk, Jr."
He gives an affecting account of the wounding of General Woodhull,
after his surrender, and when he had given up his sword. The British
ruffians who held him insisted that he should cry, "God save the
King!" whereupon, taking off his hat, he replied, reverently, "God
save all of us!" At this the cruel men ran him through, giving him
wounds that proved mortal, though had they been properly dressed his
life might have been spared. He was mounted behind a trooper and
carried to Hinchman's Tavern, Jamaica, where permission was refused to
Dr. Ogden to dress his wounds. This was on the 28th of August,
1776. Next day he was taken westward and put on board an old vessel
off New Utrecht. This had been a cattle ship. He was next removed to
the house of Wilhelmus Van Brunt at New Utrecht. His arm mortified
from neglect and it was decided to take it off. He sent express to his
wife that he had no hope of recovery, and begged her to gather up what
provisions she could, for he had a large farm, and hasten to his
bedside. She accordingly loaded a wagon with bread, ham, crackers,
butter, etc., and barely reached her husband in time to see him
alive. With his dying breath he requested her to distribute the
provisions she had brought to the suffering and starving American
Elias Baylis, who was old and blind, was chairman of the Jamaica
Committee of Safety. He was captured and first imprisoned in the
church at New Utrecht. Afterwards he was sent to the provost prison in
New York. He had a very sweet voice, and was an earnest Christian. In
the prison he used to console himself and his companions in misery by
singing hymns and psalms. Through the intervention of his friends, his
release was obtained after two months confinement, but the rigor of
prison life had been too much for his feeble frame. He died, in the
arms of his daughter, as he was in a boat crossing the ferry to his
While in the Presbyterian church in New Utrecht used as a prison by
the British, he had for companions, Daniel Duryee, William Furman,
William Creed, and two others, all put into one pew. Baylis asked them
to get the Bible out of the pulpit and read it to him. They feared to
do this, but consented to lead the blind man to the pulpit steps. As
he returned with the Bible in his hands a British guard met him, beat
him violently and took away the book. They were three weeks in the
church at New Utrecht. When a sufficient number of Whig prisoners were
collected there they would be marched under guard to a prison
ship. One old Whig named Smith, while being conducted to his
destination, appealed to an onlooker, a Tory of his acquaintance, to
intercede for him. The cold reply of his neighbor was, "Ah, John,
you've been a great rebel!" Smith turned to another of his
acquaintances named McEvers, and said to him, "McEvers, its hard for
an old man like me to have to go to a prison! Can't you do something
"What have you been doing, John?"
"Why, I've had opinions of my own!"
"Well, I'll see what I can do for you."
McEvers then went to see the officers in charge and made such
representations to them that Smith was immediately released.
Adrian Onderdonk was taken to Flushing and shut up in the old Friends'
Meeting House there, which is one of the oldest places of worship in
America. Next day he was taken to New York. He, with other prisoners,
was paraded through the streets to the provost, with a gang of loose
women marching before them, to add insult to suffering.
Onderdonk says: "After awhile the rigor of the prison rules was
somewhat abated." He was allowed to write home, which he did in Dutch,
for provisions, such as smoked beef, butter, etc. * * * His friends
procured a woman to do his washing, prepare food and bring it to
him. * * * One day as he was walking through the rooms followed by his
constant attendant, a negro with coils of rope around his neck, this
man asked Onderdonk what he was imprisoned for.
"'I've been a Committee man,'" said he.
"'Well,' with an oath and a great deal of abuse, 'You shall be hung
This mulatto was named Richmond, and was the common hangman. He used
to parade the provost with coils of ropes, requesting the prisoners to
choose their own halters. He it was who hung the gallant Nathan Hale,
and was Cunningham's accessory in all his brutal midnight murders. In
Gaine's paper for August 4th, 1781, appears the following
advertisement: "One Guinea Reward, ran away a black man named
Richmond, being the common hangman, formerly the property of the rebel
Colonel Patterson of Pa.
After nearly four weeks imprisonment the friends of Adrian Onderdonk
procured his release. He was brought home in a wagon in the night, so
pale, thin, and feeble from bodily suffering that his family scarcely
recognized him. His constitution was shattered and he never recovered
his former strength.
Onderdonk says that women often brought food for the prisoners in
little baskets, which, after examination, were handed in. Now and then
the guard might intercept what was sent, or Cunningham, if the humor
took him, as he passed through the hall, might kick over vessels of
soup, placed there by the charitable for the poor and friendless
EXTRACT FROM A BETTER FROM DR. SILAS HOLMES
"The wounded prisoners taken at the battle of Brooklyn were put in the
churches of Flatbush and New Utrecht, but being neglected and
unattended were wallowing in their own filth, and breathed an infected
and impure air. Ten days after the battle Dr. Richard Bailey was
appointed to superintend the sick. He was humane, and dressed the
wounded daily; got a sack bed, sheet, and blanket for each prisoner;
and distributed the prisoners into the adjacent barns. When
Mrs. Woodhull offered to pay Dr. Bailey for his care and attention to
her husband, he said he had done no more than his duty, and if there
was anything due it was to me."
Woodhull's wounds were neglected nine days before Dr. Bailey was
allowed to attend them.
How long the churches were used as prisons cannot be ascertained, but
we have no account of prisoners confined in any of them after the year
1777. In the North Dutch Church in New York there were, at one time,
eight hundred prisoners huddled together. It was in this church that
bayonet marks were discernible on its pillars, many years after the
The provost and old City Hall were used as prisons until Evacuation
Day, when O'Keefe threw his ponderous bunch of keys on the floor and
retired. The prisoners are said to have asked him where they were to
"To hell, for what I care," he replied.
"In the Middle Dutch Church," says Mr. John Pintard, who was a nephew
of Commissary Pintard, "the prisoners taken on Long Island and at Fort
Washington, sick, wounded, and well, were all indiscriminately huddled
together, by hundreds and thousands, large numbers of whom died by
disease, and many undoubtedly poisoned by inhuman attendants for the
sake of their watches, or silver buckles."
"What was called the Brick Church was at first used as a prison, but
soon it and the Presbyterian Church in Wall Street, the Scotch Church
in Cedar Street, and the Friends' Meeting House were converted into
Oliver Woodruff, who died at the age of ninety, was taken prisoner at
Fort Washington, and left the following record: "We were marched to
New York and went into different prisons. Eight hundred and sixteen
went into the New Bridewell (between the City Hall and Broadway); some
into the Sugar House; others into the Dutch Church. On Thursday
morning they brought us a little provision, which was the first morsel
we got to eat or drink after eating our breakfast on Saturday
morning. * * * I was there (in New Bridewell) three months. In the
dungeons of the old City Hall which stood on the site of what was
afterwards the Custom House at first civil offenders were confined,
but afterwards whale-boatmen and robbers."
Robert Troup, a young lieutenant in Colonel Lasher's battalion,
testified that he and Lieut. Edward Dunscomb, Adjutant Hoogland, and
two volunteers were made prisoners by a detachment of British troops
at three o'clock a m. on the 27th of August, 1776. They were carried
before the generals and interrogated, with threats of hanging. Thence
they were led to a house near Flatbush. At 9 a. m. they were led, in
the rear of the army, to Bedford. Eighteen officers captured that
morning were confined in a small soldier's tent for two nights and
nearly three days. It was raining nearly all the time. Sixty
privates, also, had but one tent, while at Bedford the provost
marshal, Cunningham, brought with him a negro with a halter, telling
them the negro had already hung several, and he imagined he would hang
some more. The negro and Cunningham also heaped abuse upon the
prisoners, showing them the halter, and calling them rebels,
scoundrels, robbers, murderers, etc.
From Bedford they were led to Flatbush, and confined a week in a house
belonging to a Mr. Leffert, on short allowance of biscuit and salt
pork. Several Hessians took pity on them and gave them apples, and
once some fresh beef.
From Flatbush after a week, he, with seventy or eighty other officers,
were put on board a snow, lying between Gravesend and the Hook,
without bedding or blankets; afflicted with vermin; soap and fresh
water for washing purposes being denied them. They drank and cooked
with filthy water brought from England. The captain charged a very
large commission for purchasing necessaries for them with the money
they procured from their friends.
After six weeks spent on the snow they were taken on the 17th of
October to New York and confined in a house near Bridewell. At first
they were not allowed any fuel, and afterwards only a little coal for
three days in the week. Provisions were dealt out very negligently,
were scanty, and of bad quality. Many were ill and most of them would
have died had their wants not been supplied by poor people and loose
women of the town, who took pity on them.
"Shortly after the capture of Fort Washington these officers were
paroled and allowed the freedom of the town. Nearly half the prisoners
taken on Long Island died. The privates were treated with great
inhumanity, without fuel, or the common necessaries of life, and were
obliged to obey the calls of nature in places of their confinement."
It is said that the British did not hang any of the prisoners taken in
August on Long Island, but "played the fool by making them ride with a
rope around their necks, seated on coffins, to the gallows. Major Otho
Williams was so treated."
"Adolph Myer, late of Colonel Lasher's battalion, says he was taken by
the British at Montresor's Island. They threatened twice to hang him,
and had a rope fixed to a tree. He was led to General Howe's quarters
near Turtle Bay, who ordered him to be bound hand and foot. He was
confined four days on bread and water, in the 'condemned hole' of the
New Jail, without straw or bedding. He was next put into the College,
and then into the New Dutch Church, whence he escaped on the
twenty-fourth of January, 1777. He was treated with great inhumanity,
and would have died had he not been supported by his friends. * * *
Many prisoners died from want, and others were reduced to such
wretchedness as to attract the attention of the loose women of the
town, from whom they received considerable assistance. No care was
taken of the sick, and if any died they were thrown at the door of the
prison and lay there until the next day, when they were put in a cart
and drawn out to the intrenchments beyond the Jews' burial ground,
when they were interred by their fellow prisoners, conducted thither
for that purpose. The dead were thrown into a hole promiscuously,
without the usual rites of sepulchre. Myer was frequently enticed to
enlist." This is one of the few accounts we have from a prisoner who
was confined in one of the churches in New York, and he was so
fortunate as to escape before it was too late. We wish he had given
the details of his escape. In such a gloomy picture as we are obliged
to present to our readers the only high lights are occasional acts of
humanity, and such incidents as fortunate escapes.
It would appear, from many proofs, that the Hessian soldier was
naturally a good-natured being, and he seems to have been the most
humane of the prison guards. We will see, as we go on, instances of
the kindness of these poor exiled mercenaries, to many of whom the war
was almost as great a scene of calamity and suffering as it was to the
wretched prisoners under their care.
"Lieutenant Catlin, taken September 15th, '76, was confined in prison
with no sustenance for forty-eight hours; for eleven days he had only
two days allowance of pork offensive to the smell, bread hard, mouldy
and wormy, made of canail and dregs of flax-seed; water brackish. 'I
have seen $1.50 given for a common pail full. Three or four pounds of
poor Irish pork were given to three men for three days. In one church
were 850 prisoners for near three months.'"
"About the 25th of December he with 225 men were put on board the
Glasgow at New York to be carried to Connecticut for exchange. They
were aboard eleven days, and kept on coarse broken bread, and less
pork than before, and had no fire for sick or well; crowded between
decks, where twenty-eight died through ill-usage and cold." (This is
taken from the "History of Litchfield," page 39.)
EXTRACT FROM A LETTER DATED NEW YORK, DEC. 26, 1776
"The distress of the prisoners cannot be communicated in words. Twenty
or thirty die every day; they lie in heaps unburied; what numbers of
my countrymen have died by cold and hunger, perished for want of the
common necessaries of life! I have seen it! This, sir, is the boasted
British clemency! I myself had well nigh perished under it. The New
England people can have no idea of such barbarous policy. Nothing can
stop such treatment but retaliation. I ever despised private revenge,
but that of the public must be in this case, both just and necessary;
it is due to the manes of our murdered countrymen, and that alone can
protect the survivors in the like situation. Rather than experience
again their barbarity and insults, may I fall by the sword of the
Onderdonk, who quotes this fragment, gives us no clue to the writer. A
man named S. Young testifies that, "he was taken at Fort Washington
and, with 500 prisoners, was kept in a barn, and had no provisions
until Monday night, when the enemy threw into the stable, in a
confused manner, as if to so many hogs, a quantity of biscuits in
crumbs, mostly mouldy, and some crawling with maggots, which the
prisoners were obliged to scramble for without any division. Next day
they had a little pork which they were obliged to eat raw. Afterwards
they got sometimes a bit of pork, at other times biscuits, peas, and
rice. They were confined two weeks in a church, where they suffered
greatly from cold, not being allowed any fire. Insulted by soldiers,
women, and even negroes. Great numbers died, three, four, or more,
sometimes, a day. Afterwards they were carried on board a ship, where
500 were confined below decks."
The date of this testimony is given as Dec. 15th, 1776: "W. D. says
the prisoners were roughly used at Harlem on their way from Fort
Washington to New York, where 800 men were stored in the New
Bridewell, which was a cold, open house, the windows not glazed. They
had not one mouthful from early Saturday morning until Monday. Rations
per man for three days were half a pound of biscuit, half a pound of
pork, half a gill of rice, half a pint of peas, and half an ounce of
butter, the whole not enough for one good meal, and they were
defrauded in this petty allowance. They had no straw to lie on, no
fuel but one cart load per week for 800 men. At nine o'clock the
Hessian guards would come and put out the fire, and lay on the poor
prisoners with heavy clubs, for sitting around the fire.
"The water was very bad, as well as the bread. Prisoners died like
rotten sheep, with cold, hunger, and dirt; and those who had good
apparel, such as buckskin breeches, or good coats, were necessitated
to sell them to purchase bread to keep them alive." Hinman, page 277.
"Mrs. White left New York Jan. 20th, 1777. She says Bridewell, the
College, the New Jail, the Baptist Meeting House, and the tavern
lately occupied by Mr. De la Montaigne and several other houses are
filled with sick and wounded of the enemy. General Lee was under guard
in a small mean house at the foot of King Street. Wm. Slade says 800
prisoners taken at Fort Washington were put into the North church. On
the first of December 300 were taken from the church to the prison
ship. December second he, with others, was marched to the Grosvenor
transport in the North River; five hundred were crowded on board. He
had to lie down before sunset to secure a place." Trumbull Papers.
"Henry Franklin affirms that about two days after the taking of Fort
Washington he was in New York, and went to the North Church, in which
were about 800 prisoners taken in said Fort. He inquired into their
treatment, and they told him they fared hard on account both of
provisions and lodging, for they were not allowed any bedding, or
blankets, and the provisions had not been regularly dealt out, so that
the modest or backward could get little or none, nor had they been
allowed any fuel to dress their victuals. The prisoners in New York
were very sickly, and died in considerable numbers."
"Feb. 11, 1777. Joshua Loring, Commissary of Prisoners, says that but
little provisions had been sent in by the rebels for their prisoners."
_Jan. 4th_. 1777. "Seventy-seven prisoners went into the Sugar
House. N. Murray says 800 men were in Bridewell. The doctor gave
poison powders to the prisoners, who soon died. Some were sent to
Honduras to cut logwood; women came to the prison-gate to sell
gingerbread." Trumbull Papers.
The _New York Gazette_ of May 6th, 1777, states that "of 3000
prisoners taken at Fort Washington, only 800 are living."
Mr. Onderdonk says: "There seems to have been no systematic plan
adopted by the citizens of New York for the relief of the starving
prisoners. We have scattering notices of a few charitable individuals,
such as the following:--'Mrs. Deborah Franklin was banished from New
York Nov. 21st, 1780, by the British commandant, for her unbounded
liberality to the American prisoners. Mrs. Ann Mott was associated
with Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Whitten in relieving the sufferings of
American prisoners in New York, during the Revolution. John Fillis
died at Halifax, 1792, aged 68. He was kind to American prisoners in
New York. Jacob Watson, Penelope Hull, etc., are also mentioned.'"
BRITISH ACCOUNT OF MORTALITY OF PRISONERS
"P. Dobbyn, master of a transport, thus writes from New York,
Jan. 15th, 1777. 'We had four or five hundred prisoners on board our
ships, but they had such bad distempers that each ship buried ten or
twelve a day.' Another writer, under date of Jan. 14th, '77, says,
'The Churches are full of American prisoners, who die so fast that 25
or 30 are buried at a time, in New York City. General Howe gave all
who could walk their liberty, after taking their oath not to take up
arms against his Majesty.'" (From a London Journal.)
A JOURNAL KEPT IN THE PROVOST
An old man named John Fell was taken up by the British, and confined
for some months in the Provost prison. He managed to secrete writing
materials and made notes of his treatment. He was imprisoned for being
a Whig and one of the councilmen of Bergen, New Jersey. We will give
his journal entire, as it is quoted by Mr. Onderdonk.
April 23rd, 1777. Last night I was taken prisoner from my house by 25
armed men (he lived in Bergen) who brought me down to Colonel
Buskirk's at Bergen Point, and from him I was sent to Gen. Pigot, at
N. Y., who sent me with Captain Van Allen to the Provost Jail.
24th. Received from Mrs. Curzon, by the hands of Mr. Amiel, $16, two
shirts, two stocks, some tea, sugar, pepper, towels, tobacco, pipes,
paper, and a bed and bedding.
May 1st. Dr. Lewis Antle and Capt. Thomas Golden at the door, refused
May 2nd. 6 10 P. M. died John Thomas, of smallpox, aged 70 &
5th. Capt. Colden has brought from Mr. Curson $16.00.
11. Dr. Antle came to visit me. Nero at the door. (A dog?)
13. Cold weather.
20. Lewis Pintard came per order of Elias Boudinot to offer me
money. Refused admittance. Capt. Colden came to visit me.
21. Capt and Mrs Corne came to visit me, and I was called downstairs
to see them.
23. Lewis Pintard came as Commissary to take account of officers, in
order to assist them with money.
24. Every person refused admittance to the Provost.
25. All prisoners paraded in the hall: supposed to look for deserters.
27. Rev. Mr. Hart and Col. Smith brought to the Provost from Long
29. Stormy in Provost.
30. Not allowed to fetch good water.
31. Bad water; proposing buying tea-water, but refused. This night ten
prisoners from opposite room ordered into ours, in all twenty.
June 1. Continued the same today.
2. The people ordered back to their own room.
3. Captain Van Zandt sent to the dungeon for resenting Captain
Cunningham's insulting and abusing me.
4. Capt. Adams brought into our room. At 9 P.M. candles ordered out.
7. Captain Van Zandt returned from the dungeon.
8. All prisoners paraded and called over and delivered to care of
Sergt. Keath. (O'Keefe, probably.) And told we are all alike, no
distinction to be made.
10. Prisoners very sickly.
11. Mr Richards from Connecticut exchanged.
12. Exceeding strict and severe. "Out Lights!"
13. Melancholy scene, women refused speaking to their sick husbands,
and treated cruelly by sentries.
14. Mr. James Ferris released on parole. People in jail very sickly
and not allowed a doctor.
17. Capt. Corne came to speak to me; not allowed.
18. Letter from prisoners to Sergeant Keath, requesting more
19. Received six bottles claret and sundry small articles, but the
note not allowed to come up.
20. Memorandum sent to Gen. Pigot with list of grievances.
21. Answered. "Grant no requests made by prisoners."
22. Mrs. Banta refused speaking to her son.
23. Mr Haight died.
24. Nineteen prisoners from Brunswick. Eighteen sent to the Sugar
25. Dr Bard came to visit Justice Moore, but his wife was refused,
tho' her husband was dying.
26. Justice Moore died and was carried out.
27. Several sick people removed below.
30. Provost very sickly and some die.
July 3. Received from Mrs Curson per Mrs. Marriner, two half Joes.
6. Received of E. Boudinot, per Pintard, ten half Joes.
7. Capt. Thomas Golden came to the grates to see me.
9. Two men carried out to be hung for desertion, reprieved.
11. Mr Langdon brought into our room.
13. The Sergeant removed a number of prisoners from below.
14. Messrs Demarests exchanged. Dr. Romaine ordered to visit the sick.
15. A declaration of more privileges, and prisoners allowed to speak
at the windows.
17. Peter Zabriskie had an order to speak with me, and let me know
that all was well at home
19. Sergt. from Sugar House came to take account of officers in the
Provost. Capt. Cunningham in town.
21. Sergt. took account of officers. Capt. Jas. Lowry died.
22. Mr. Miller died. Capt. Lowry buried.
Aug. 1. Very sick. Weather very hot.
5. Barry sent to the dungeon for bringing rum for Mr Phillips without
leave of the Sergt. Everything looks stormy.
6. Warm weather. Growing better. Mr. Pintard came to supply prisoners
of war with clothes.
10. Two prisoners from Long Island and four Lawrences from Tappan.
11. John Coven Cromwell from White Plains. Freeland from Polly (?)
Fly whipped about salt.
12. Sergt. Keath took all pens and ink out of each room, and forbid
the use of any on pain of the dungeon.
13. Abraham Miller discharged.
14. Jacobus Blauvelt died in the morning, buried at noon.
16. Capt. Ed. Travis brought into our room from the dungeon, where he
had long been confined and cruelly treated.
17. Mr. Keath refused me liberty to send a card to Mr Amiel for a lb
21. Capt. Hyer discharged from the Provost.
25. Barry brought up from the dungeon, and Capt. Travis sent down
again without any provocation.
26. Badcock sent to dungeon for cutting wood in the evening. Locks put
on all the doors, and threatened to be locked up. Col. Ethan Allen
brought to the Provost from Long Island and confined below.
27. Badcock discharged from below.
30. 5 P.M. all rooms locked up close.
31. A.M. Col Allen brought into our room.
Sep. 1. Pleasant weather. Bad water.
4. Horrid scenes of whipping.
6. Lewis Pintard brought some money for the officers. P.M. Major Otho
H. Williams brought from Long Island and confined in our room. Major
Wells from same place confined below. A. M. William Lawrence of Tappan
8. Campbell, Taylor, John Cromwell, and Buchanan from Philadelphia
10. Provisions exceedingly ordinary,--pork very rusty, biscuit bad.
12. Capt. Travis, Capt. Chatham and others brought out of dungeon.
14. Two prisoners from Jersey, viz: Thomas Campbell of Newark and
Joralemon. (Jos. Lemon?)
16. Troops returned from Jersey. Several prisoners brought to Provost
viz:--Capt. Varick, Wm. Prevost Brower, etc. Seventeen prisoners from
22. Nothing material. Major Wells brought from below upstairs.
24. Received from Mr. Curson per Mr. Amiel four guineas, six bottles
of wine, and one lb tobacco.
26. Mr. Pintard carried list of prisoners and account of grievances to
the General Capt. Chatham and others carried to dungeon.
28. Yesterday a number of soldiers were sent below, and several
prisoners brought out of dungeon. Statement of grievances presented
to General Jones which much displeased Sergt. Keath who threatened to
lock up the rooms.
29. Last night Sergt. K. locked up all the rooms. Rev. Mr. Jas. Sears
was admitted upstairs.
30. Sent Mr. Pintard a list of clothing wanted for continental and
state prisoners in the Provost. Sergt. locks up all the rooms.
Oct. 2. Candles ordered out at eight.--Not locked up.
4. Locked up. Great numbers of ships went up North River. Received
sundries from Grove Bend. Three pair ribbed hose, three towels.
5. Garret Miller, of Smith's Cove, signed his will in prison, in
presence of Benjamin Goldsmith, Abr. Skinner, and myself. C. G.
Miller died of small-pox--P. M. Buried.
7. Wm. Prevost discharged from Provost.
8. Capt. Chatham and Lewis Thatcher brought out of dungeon.
10. Mr. Pintard sent up blankets, shoes, and stockings for the
12. Lt. Col. Livingstone and upwards of twenty officers from Fort
Montgomery and Clinton, all below.
13. Received from Mr. Pintard a letter by flag from Peter R. Fell,
A. M. Mr. Noble came to the grates to speak to me.
14. Sergt. Keath sent Lt. Mercer and Mr. Nath. Fitzrandolph to the
dungeon for complaining that their room had not water sufficient.
15. Mr. Pintard brought sundry articles for the prisoners.
17. Mr. Antonio and other prisoners brought here from up North River.
19. Ben Goldsmith ill of smallpox, made his will and gave it to
me. Died two A. M. Oct. 20.
21. Glorious news from the Northward.
22. Confirmation strong as Holy Writ. Beef, loaf bread, and butter
23. Weather continues very cold. Ice in the tub in the hall. A number
of vessels came down North River. Mr. Wm. Bayard at the door to take
out old Mr. Morris.
24. Prisoners from the Sugar House sent on board ships.
25. Rev. Mr. Hart admitted on parole in the city. Sergt. Woolley from
the Sugar House came to take names of officers, and says an exchange
28. Last night and today storm continues very severe. Provost in a
terrible condition. Lt. Col. Livingston admitted upstairs a few
Nov. 1. Lt. Callender of the train ordered back on Long Island; also
several officers taken at Fort Montgomery sent on parole to Long
3. In the evening my daughter, Elizabeth Colden, came to see me,
accompained by Mayor Matthews.
5. Elizabeth Colden came to let me know she was going out of
town. Yesterday Sergt refused her the liberty of speaking to
me. Gen. Robertson's Aid-decamp came to inquire into grievances of
16. Jail exceedingly disagreeable.--many miserable and shocking
objects, nearly starved with cold and hunger,--miserable prospect
18. The Town Major and Town Adjutant came with a pretence of viewing
19. Peter and Cor. Van Tassel, two prisoners from Tarrytown, in our
20 Mr. Pintard sent three barrels of flour to be distributed among the
21. Mr. Pintard came for an account of what clothing the prisoners
24. Six tailors brought here from prison ship to work in making
clothes for prisoners. They say the people on board are very
sickly. Three hundred sent on board reduced to one hundred.
25. Mr. Dean and others brought to jail from the town.
26. Dean locked up by himself, and Mr. Forman brought upstairs
attended by Rev. Mr. Inglis, and afterwards ordered downstairs. New
order--one of the prisoners ordered to go to the Commissary's and see
the provisions dealt out for the prisoners. Vast numbers of people
assembled at the Provost in expectation of seeing an execution.
27. John, one of the milkmen, locked upstairs with a sentry at his
door. A report by Mr. Webb that a prisoner, Herring, was come down to
be exchanged for Mr Van Zandt or me.
30. Captain Cunningham came to the Provost.
Dec. 1. Capt. Money came down with Mr Webb to be exchanged for Major
2. Col. Butler visited the Provost and promised a doctor should
attend. Received from Mr Bend cloth for a great coat, etc. Mr. Pmtard
took a list of clothing wanted for the prisoners.
3. Several prisoners of war sent from here on board the prison shop, &
some of the sick sent to the hospital, Dr Romaine being ordered by Sir
H. Clinton to examine the sick Prisoners sickly: cause,
cold. Prisoners in upper room (have) scanty clothing and only two
bushels of coal for room of twenty men per week.
5. Mr. Blanch ordered out; said to be to go to Morristown to get
prisoners exchanged. Cold.
7. Mr. Webb came to acquaint Major Wells his exchange was agreed to
with Capt. Money.
8. Major Gen. Robertson, with Mayor came to Provost to examine
prisoners. I was called and examined, and requested my parole. The
General said I had made bad use of indulgence granted me, in letting
my daughter come to see me. * * *
9. Major Wells exchanged.
10. Mr. Pintard sent 100 loaves for the prisoners. A. M. Walter
Thurston died. Prisoners very sickly and die very fast from the
hospitals and prison ships.
11. Some flags from North River.
12. Abel Wells died, a tailor from the prison ship. Mr. Pintard
brought letters for sundry people.
14. Sunday. Guards more severe than ever notwithstanding General
Robertson's promise of more indulgence. Capt. Van Zandt brought from
16. Sent message to Mr Pintard for wood. Cold and entirely out of
17. Commissary Winslow came and released Major Winslow on his parole
on Long Island.
18. Mr Pintard sent four cords of wood for the prisoners.
19. Capt. John Paul Schoot released on parole. Mr Pintard with
clothing for the people.
21. A paper found at the door of the Provost, intimating that three
prisoners had a rope concealed in a bag in one of the rooms in order
to make their escape. The Sergt. examined all the rooms, and at night
we were all locked up.
22. Received from Mr Pintard 100 loaves and a quarter of beef.
24. Distributed clothing, etc., to the prisoners.
28. Gen. Robertson sent a doctor to examine me in consequence of the
petition sent by Col. Allen for my releasement. The doctor reported to
29. Gen. Robertson sent me word I should be liberated in town,
provided I procured a gentleman in town to be responsible for my
appearance. Accordingly I wrote to Hon. H. White, Esq.
30. Dr Romaine, with whom I sent the letter, said Mr White had a
number of objections, but the doctor hoped to succeed in the
afternoon. Mr. Winslow came and told the same story I heard the day
31. Sergt. Keath brought a message from the General to the same
purpose as yesterday. N. B. I lost the memoranda from this date to the
time of my being liberated from the Provost on Jan. 7, 1778.
New York Feb. 11. '78. Received a letter from Joshua Loring, Esq,
Commissary of Prisoners, with leave from Gen. Robertson for my having
the bounds of the city allowed me.
March. 23. Wrote to Major Gen. Robertson and told him this was the
eleventh month of my imprisonment."
Fell's note to the general follows, in which he begs to be liberated
to the house of Mrs. Marriner, who kept an ordinary in the town. A
card in reply from the general states that it is impossible to comply
with his request until Mr. Fell's friends give him sufficient security
that he will not attempt to escape. A Mr. Langdon having broken his
faith in like circumstances has given rise to a rule, which it is out
of the general's power to dispense with, etc, etc.
"Feb. 4, 1778. I delivered to Mr. Pintard the wills of Garret Miller
and Benjamin Goldsmith, to be forwarded to their respective
families. Present E. Boudinot.
"May 20 '78, I had my parole extended by order of Gen. Daniel Jones,
to my own house in Bergen County, for thirty days.
"July 2. I left town, and next day arrived safe home.
"Nov. 15, 1778 I received a certificate from A. Skinner, Deputy
Com. of Prisoners of my being exchanged for Gov. Skene. Signed by
Joshua Loring, Commissary General of Prisoners, dated New York, Oct 26
FURTHER TESTIMONY OF CRUELTIES ENDURED BY AMERICAN PRISONERS
Mr. Fell's notes on his imprisonment present the best picture we can
find of the condition of the Provost Jail during the term of his
captivity. We have already seen how Mr Elias Boudinot, American
Commissary of Prisoners, came to that place of confinement, and what
he found there. This was in February, 1778. Boudinot also describes
the sufferings of the American prisoners in the early part of 1778 in
Philadelphia, and Mr. Fell speaks of Cunningham's return to New
York. He had, it appears, been occupied in starving prisoners in
Philadelphia during his absence from the Provost, to which General
Howe sent him back, after he had murdered one of his victims in
Philadelphia with the great key.
It appears that the prisoners in the Provost sent an account of their
treatment to General Jones, by Mr. Pintard, in September, 1777,
several months before the visit of Mr. Elias Boudinot. They complained
that they were closely confined in the jail without distinction of
rank or character, amongst felons, a number of whom were under
sentence of death: that their friends were not allowed to speak to
them, even through the grates: that they were put on the scanty
allowance of two pounds hard biscuit, and two pounds of raw pork per
week, without fuel to dress it. That they were frequently supplied
with water from a pump where all kinds of filth was thrown, by which
it was rendered obnoxious and unwholesome, the effects of which were
to cause much sickness. That good water could have been as easily
obtained. That they were denied the benefit of a hospital; not
permitted to send for medicine, nor to have the services of a doctor,
even when in the greatest distress. That married men and others who
lay at the point of death were refused permission to have their wives
or other relations admitted to see them. And that these poor women,
for attempting to gain admittance, were often beaten from the prison
door. That commissioned officers, and others, persons of character and
reputation, were frequently, without a cause, thrown into a loathsome
dungeon, insulted in a gross manner, and vilely abused by a Provost
Marshal, who was allowed to be one of the basest characters in the
British Army, and whose power was so unlimited, that he had caned an
officer, on a trivial occasion; and frequently beaten the sick
privates when unable to stand, "many of whom are daily obliged to
enlist in the New Corps to prevent perishing for want of the
necessaries of life.
"Neither pen, ink, or paper allowed (to prevent their treatment being
made public) the consequence of which indeed, the prisoners themselves
dread, knowing the malignant disposition of their keeper."
The Board of War reported on the 21 of January, 1778, that there were
900 privates and 300 officers in New York, prisoners, and that "the
privates have been crowded all summer in sugar houses, and the
officers boarded on Long Island, except about thirty, who have been
confined in the Provost-Guard, and in most loathsome jails, and that
since Oct. 1st, all those prisoners, both officers and privates, have
been confined in prisons, prison ships, or the Provost." Lists of
prisoners in the Provost; those taken by the Falcon, Dec. 1777, and
those belonging to Connecticut who were in the Quaker and Brick
Meeting House hospitals in Jan. 1778, may be found in the Trumbull
Papers, VII, 62.
It seems that General Lee, while a prisoner in New York, in 1778, drew
a prize of $500 in the New York Lottery, and immediately distributed
it among the prisoners in that city. A New London, Connecticut, paper,
dated Feb. 20, 1778, states that "it is said that the American
prisoners, since we have had a Commissary in New York, are well served
with good provisions, which are furnished at the expense of the
States, and they are in general very healthy."
We fear this was a rose-colored view of the matter, though there is no
doubt that our commissaries did what they could to alleviate the
miseries of captivity.
Onderdonk quotes from Gaine's _Mercury_ an advertisement for
nurses in the hospital, but it is undated. "Nurses wanted immediately
to attend the prison hospitals in this city. Good recommendations
required, signed by two respectable inhabitants. Lewis Pintard."
From the New York _Gazette_, May 6, 1778, we take the following:
"Colonel Miles, Irvin, and fifty more exchanged."
"Conn. _Gazette_. July 10, '78. About three weeks ago Robert
Shefield, of Stonington, made his escape from New York after
confinement in a prison ship. After he was taken he, with his crew of
ten, were thrust into the fore-peak, and put in irons. On their
arrival at New York they were carried on board a prison ship, and to
the hatchways, on opening which, tell not of Pandora's box, for that
must be an alabaster box in comparison to the opening of these
hatches. True there were gratings (to let in air) but they kept their
boats upon them. The steam of the hold was enough to scald the skin,
and take away the breath, the stench enough to poison the air all
"On his descending these dreary mansions of woe, and beholding the
numerous spectacles of wretchedness and despair, his soul fainted
within him. A little epitome of hell,--about 300 men confined between
decks, half Frenchmen. He was informed there were three more of these
vehicles of contagion, which contained a like number of miserable
Frenchmen also, who were treated worse, if possible, than Americans.
"The heat was so intense that (the hot sun shining all day on deck)
they were all naked, which also served the well to get rid of vermin,
but the sick were eaten up alive. Their sickly countenances, and
ghastly looks were truly horrible; some swearing and blaspheming;
others crying, praying, and wringing their hands; and stalking about
like ghosts; others delirious, raving and storming,--all panting for
breath; some dead, and corrupting. The air was so foul that at times a
lamp could not be kept burning, by reason of which the bodies were not
missed until they had been dead ten days.
"One person alone was admitted on deck at a time, after sunset, which
occasioned much filth to run into the hold, and mingle with the bilge
water, which was not pumped out while he was aboard, notwithstanding
the decks were leaky, and the prisoners begged permission to let in
water and pump it out again.
"While Mr. Sheffield was on board, which was six days, five or six
died daily, and three of his people. He was sent for on shore as
evidence in a Court of Admiralty for condemning his own vessel, and
"He was informed in New York that the fresh meat sent in to our
prisoners by our Commissary was taken by the men-of-war for their own
use. This he can say: he did not see any aboard the ship he was in,
but they were well supplied with soft bread from our Commissaries on
shore. But the provision (be it what it will) is not the
complaint. Fresh air and fresh water, God's free gift, is all their
"New London, Conn. July 31. 78. Last week 500 or 600 prisoners were
released from confinement at New York and sent out chiefly by way of
New Jersey, being exchanged."
"New London Conn. Sep. 26, 78. All American prisoners are nearly sent
out of New York, but there are 615 French prisoners still there."
"Oct 18, 78. The Ship, Good Hope, lies in the North River."
"New London Dec. 18, 78. A Flag with 70 men from the horrible prison
ships of New York arrived: 30 very sickly, 2 died since they arrived."
"N. London. Dec. 25, 78. A cartel arived here from New York with 172
American prisoners. They were landed here and in Groton, the greater
part are sickly and in most deplorable condition, owing chiefly to the
ill usage in the prison ships, where numbers had their feet and legs
THE OLD SUGAR HOUSE--TRINTY CHURCHYARD
We will now take our readers with us to the Sugar House on Liberty
Street, long called the Old Sugar House, and the only one of the three
Sugar Houses which appear to have been used as a place of confinement
for American prisoners of war after the year 1777.
We have already mentioned this dreary abode of wretchedness, but it
deserves a more elaborate description.
From Valentine's Manual of the Common Council of New York for 1844 we
will copy the following brief sketch of the British Prisons in New
York during the Revolution.
"The British took possession of New York Sep. 15, '76, and the
capture of Ft. Washington, Nov. 16, threw 2700 prisoners into their
power. To these must be added 1000 taken at the battle of Brooklyn,
and such private citizens as were arrested for their political
principles, in New York City and on Long Island, and we may safely
conclude that Sir William Howe had at least 5000 prisoners to provide
"The sudden influx of so many prisoners; the recent capture of the
city, and the unlooked-for conflagration of a fourth part of it, threw
his affairs into such confusion that, from these circumstances alone,
the prisoners must have suffered much, from want of food and other
bodily comforts, but there was superadded the studied cruelty of
Captain Cunningham, the Provost Marshal, and his deputies, and the
criminal negligence of Sir Wm. Howe.
"To contain such a vast number of prisoners the ordinary places of
confinement were insufficient. Accordingly the Brick Church, the
Middle Church, the North Church, and the French Church were
appropriated to their use. Beside these, Columbia College, the Sugar
House, the New Gaol, the new Bridewell, and the old City Hall were
filled to their utmost capacity.
"Till within a few years there stood on Liberty Street, south of the
Middle Dutch Church, a dark, stone building, with small, deep porthole
looking windows, rising tier above tier; exhibiting a dungeon-like
aspect. It was five stories high, and each story was divided into two
"On the stones and bricks in the wall were to be seen names and dates,
as if done with a prisoner's penknife, or nail. There was a strong,
gaol-like door opening on Liberty St., and another on the southeast,
descending into a dismal cellar, also used as a prison. There was a
walk nearly broad enough for a cart to travel around it, where night
and day, two British or Hessian guards walked their weary rounds. The
yard was surrounded by a close board fence, nine feet high. 'In the
suffocating heat of summer,' says Wm. Dunlap, 'I saw every narrow
aperture of these stone walls filled with human heads, face above
face, seeking a portion of the external air.'
"While the gaol fever was raging in the summer of 1777, the prisoners
were let out in companies of twenty, for half an hour at a time, to
breathe fresh air, and inside they were so crowded, that they divided
their numbers into squads of six each. No. 1 stood for ten minutes as
close to the windows as they could, and then No. 2 took their places,
and so on.
"Seats there were none, and their beds were but straw, intermixed with
"For many days the dead-cart visited the prison every morning, into
which eight or ten corpses were flung or piled up, like sticks of
wood, and dumped into ditches in the outskirts of the city."
Silas Talbot says: "A New York gentleman keeps a window shutter that
was used as a checkerboard in the Sugar House. The prisoners daily
unhinged it, and played on it."
Many years ago a small pamphlet was printed in New York to prove that
some of the American prisoners who died in the Old Sugar House were
buried in Trinity church-yard. Andrew S. Norwood, who was a boy during
the Revolution, deposed that he used to carry food to John Van Dyke,
in this prison. The other prisoners would try to wrest away the food,
as they were driven mad by hunger. They were frequently fed with bread
made from old, worm-eaten ship biscuits, reground into meal and
offensive to the smell. Many of the prisoners died, and some were put
into oblong boxes, sometimes two in a box, and buried in Trinity
church-yard, and the boy, himself, witnessed some of the interments. A
part of Trinity church-yard was used as a common burying-ground,--as
was also the yard of St. George's Church, and what was called the
This boy also deposed that his uncle Clifford was murdered during the
Revolution, it was supposed by foreign soldiers, and he was buried in
Jacob Freeman, also a boy during the Revolution, deposed that his
father and several other inhabitants of Woodbridge were arrested and
sent to New York. His grandfather was sixty years old, and when he
was arrested, his son, who was concealed and could have escaped, came
out of his hiding-place and surrendered himself for the purpose of
accompanying his father to prison. The son was a Lieutenant. They were
confined in the Sugar House several months. Every day some of the
prisoners died and were buried in Old Trinity church-yard. Ensign
Jacob Barnitz was wounded in both legs at the battle of Fort
Washington. He was conveyed to New York and there thrown into the
Sugar House, and suffered to lie on the damp ground. A kind friend had
him conveyed to more comfortable quarters. Barnitz came from York, or
Little John Pennell was a cabin boy, bound to Captain White of the
sloop of war, Nancy, in 1776. He testified that the prisoners of the
Sugar House, which was very damp, were buried on the hill called "The
Holy Ground." "I saw where they were buried. The graves were long and
six feet wide. Five or six were buried in one grave." It was Trinity
We will now give an account of Levi Hanford, who was imprisoned in the
Sugar House in 1777. Levi Hanford was a son of Levi Hanford, and was
born in Connecticut, in the town of Norwalk, on the 19th of Feb.,
1759. In 1775 he enlisted in a militia company. In 1776 he was in
service in New York. In March 1777, being then a member of a company
commanded by Captain Seth Seymour, he was captured with twelve others
under Lieut. J. B. Eels, at the "Old Well" in South Norwalk,
Conn. While a prisoner in the Old Sugar House he sent the following
letter to his father. A friend wrote the first part for him, and he
appears to have finished it in his own handwriting.
New York June 7. 1777
I take the opportunity to let you know I am alive, and in reasonable
health, since I had the small-pox.--thanks be to the Lord for it. * *
* I received the things you sent me. * * * I wish you would go and see
if you can't get us exchanged--if you please. Matthias Comstock is
dead. Sam. Hasted, Ebenezer Hoyt, Jonathan Kellog has gone to the
hospital to be inoculated today. We want money very much. I have been
sick but hope I am better. There is a doctor here that has helpt
me. * * * I would not go to the Hospital, for all manner of disease
prevail there. * * * If you can possibly help us send to the Governor
and try to help us. * * * Remember my kind love to all my friends. I
Your Obedient son, Levi Hanford.
Poor Levi Hanford was sent to the prison ship, Good Intent, and was
not exchanged until the 8th of May, 1778.
In the "Journal of American History," the third number of the second
volume, on page 527, are the recollections of Thomas Stone, a soldier
of the Revolution, who was born in Guilford, Conn., in 1755. In
April, 1777, he enlisted under Capt. James Watson in Colonel Samuel
Webb's Regiment, Connecticut line. He spent the following campaign
near the Hudson. The 9th of December following Stone and his comrades
under Gen. Parsons, embarked on board some small vessel at Norwalk,
Conn, with a view to take a small fort on Long Island. "We left the
shore," he says, "about six o'clock, P. M. The night was very dark,
the sloop which I was aboard of parted from the other vessels, and at
daybreak found ourselves alongside a British frigate. Our sloop
grounded, we struck our colors-fatal hour! We were conducted to New
York, introduced to the Jersey Prison Ship. We were all destitute of
any clothing except what we had on; we now began to taste the vials of
Monarchial tender mercy.
"About the 25th of Jan. 1778, we were taken from the ships to the
Sugar House, which during the inclement season was more intolerable
than the Ships.
"We left the floating Hell with joy, but alas, our joy was of short
duration. Cold and famine were now our destiny. Not a pane of glass,
nor even a board to a single window in the house, and no fire but once
in three days to cook our small allowance of provision. There was a
scene that truly tried body and soul. Old shoes were bought and eaten
with as much relish as a pig or a turkey; a beef bone of four or five
ounces, after it was picked clean, was sold by the British guard for
as many coppers.
"In the spring our misery increased; frozen feet began to mortify; by
the first of April, death took from our numbers, and, I hope, from
their misery, from seven to ten a day; and by the first of May out of