Produced by Dave Maddock, Charlz Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
AMERICAN PRISONERS OF THE REVOLUTION
TO THE MEMORY OF MY GRANDFATHER
Lieutenant Daniel Bedinger, of Bedford, Virginia
“A BOY IN PRISON”
AS REPRESENTATIVE OF ALL THAT WAS BRAVEST AND MOST HONORABLE IN THE LIFE AND CHARACTER OF THE PATRIOTS OF 1776
The writer of this book has been interested for many years in the subject of the sufferings of the American prisoners of the Revolution. Finding the information she sought widely scattered, she has, for her own use, and for that of all students of the subject, gathered all the facts she could obtain within the covers of this volume. There is little that is original in the compilation. The reader will find that extensive use has been made of such narratives as that Captain Dring has left us. The accounts could have been given in the compiler’s own words, but they would only, thereby, have lost in strength. The original narratives are all out of print, very scarce and hard to obtain, and the writer feels justified in reprinting them in this collection, for the sake of the general reader interested in the subject, and not able to search for himself through the mass of original material, some of which she has only discovered after months of research. Her work has mainly consisted in abridging these records, collected from so many different sources.
The writer desires to express her thanks to the courteous librarians of the Library of Congress and of the War and Navy Departments; to Dr. Langworthy for permission to publish his able and interesting paper on the subject of the prisons in New York, and to many others who have helped her in her task.
_December 6th, 1910._
II. THE RIFLEMEN OF THE REVOLUTION
III. NAMES OF SOME OF THE PRISONERS OF 1776
IV. THE PRISONERS OF NEW YORK–JONATHAN GILLETT
V. WILLIAM CUNNINGHAM, THE PROVOST MARSHAL
VI. THE CASE OF JABEZ FITCH
VII. THE HOSPITAL DOCTOR–A TORY’S ACCOUNT OF NEW YORK IN 1777–ETHAN ALLEN’S ACCOUNT OF THE PRISONERS
VIII. THE ACCOUNT OF ALEXANDER GRAYDON
IX. A FOUL PAGE OF ENGLISH HISTORY
X. A BOY IN PRISON
XI. THE NEWSPAPERS OF THE REVOLUTION
XII. THE TRUMBULL PAPERS AND OTHER SOURCES OF INFORMATION
XIII. A JOURNAL KEPT IN THE PROVOST
XIV. FURTHER TESTIMONY OF CRUELTIES ENDURED BY AMERICAN PRISONERS
XV. THE OLD SUGAR HOUSE–TRINITY CHURCHYARD
XVI. CASE OF JOHN BLATCHFORD
XVII. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN AND OTHERS ON THE SUBJECT OF AMERICAN PRISONERS
XVIII. THE ADVENTURES OF ANDREW SHERBURNE
XIX. MORE ABOUT THE ENGLISH PRISONS–MEMOIR OF ELI BICKFORD–CAPTAIN FANNING
XX. SOME SOUTHERN NAVAL PRISONERS
XXI. EXTRACTS FROM NEWSPAPERS–SOME OF THE PRISON SHIPS–CASE OF CAPTAIN BIRDSALL
XXII. THE JOURNAL OF DR. ELIAS CORNELIUS–BRITISH PRISONS IN THE SOUTH
XXIII. A POET ON A PRISON SHIP
XXIV. “THERE WAS A SHIP!”
XXV. A DESCRIPTION OF THE JERSEY
XXVI. THE EXPERIENCE OF EBENEZER FOX
XXVII. THE EXPERIENCE OF EBENEZER FOX (CONTINUED)
XXVIII. THE CASE OF CHRISTOPHER HAWKINS
XXIX. TESTIMONY OF PRISONERS ON BOARD THE JERSEY
XXX. RECOLLECTIONS OF ANDREW SHERBURNE
XXXI. CAPTAIN ROSWELL PALMER
XXXII. THE NARRATIVE OF CAPTAIN ALEXANDER COFFIN
XXXIII. A WONDERFUL DELIVERANCE
XXXIV. THE NARRATIVE OF CAPTAIN DRING
XXXV. THE NARRATIVE OF CAPTAIN DRING (CONTINUED)
XXXVI. THE INTERMENT OF THE DEAD
XXXVII. DAME GRANT AND HER BOAT
XXXVIII. THE SUPPLIES FOR THE PRISONERS
XXXIX. FOURTH OF JULY ON THE JERSEY
XL. AN ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE
XLI. THE MEMORIAL TO GENERAL WASHINGTON
XLII. THE EXCHANGE
XLIII. THE CARTEL–CAPTAIN DRING’S NARRATIVE (CONTINUED)
XLIV. CORRESPONDENCE OF WASHINGTON AND OTHERS
XLV. GENERAL WASHINGTON AND REAR ADMIRAL DIGBY–COMMISSARIES SPROAT AND SKINNER
XLVI. SOME OF THE PRISONERS ON BOARD THE JERSEY
APPENDIX A. LIST OF 8000 MEN WHO WERE PRISONERS ON BOARD THE OLD JERSEY
APPENDIX B. THE PRISON SHIP MARTYRS OF THE REVOLUTION, AND AN UNPUBLISHED DIARY OF ONE OF THEM, WILLIAM SLADE, NEW CANAAN, CONN., LATER OF CORNWALL, VT.
APPENDIX C. BIBLIOGRAPHY
It is with no desire to excite animosity against a people whose blood is in our veins that we publish this volume of facts about some of the Americans, seamen and soldiers, who were so unfortunate as to fall into the hands of the enemy during the period of the Revolution. We have concealed nothing of the truth, but we have set nothing down in malice, or with undue recrimination.
It is for the sake of the martyrs of the prisons themselves that this work has been executed. It is because we, as a people, ought to know what was endured; what wretchedness, what relentless torture, even unto death, was nobly borne by the men who perished by thousands in British prisons and prison ships of the Revolution; it is because we are in danger of forgetting the sacrifice they made of their fresh young lives in the service of their country; because the story has never been adequately told, that we, however unfit we may feel ourselves for the task, have made an effort to give the people of America some account of the manner in which these young heroes, the flower of the land, in the prime of their vigorous manhood, met their terrible fate.
Too long have they lain in the ditches where they were thrown, a cart-full at a time, like dead dogs, by their heartless murderers, unknown, unwept, unhonored, and unremembered. Who can tell us their names? What monument has been raised to their memories?
It is true that a beautiful shaft has lately been erected to the martyrs of the Jersey prison ship, about whom we will have very much to say. But it is improbable that even the place of interment of the hundreds of prisoners who perished in the churches, sugar houses, and other places used as prisons in New York in the early years of the Revolution, can now be discovered. We know that they were, for the most part, dumped into ditches dug on the outskirts of the little city, the New York of 1776. These ditches were dug by American soldiers, as part of the entrenchments, during Washington’s occupation of Manhattan in the spring of 1776. Little did these young men think that they were, in some cases, literally digging a grave for themselves.
More than a hundred and thirty years have passed since the victims of Cunningham’s cruelty and rapacity were starved to death in churches consecrated to the praise and worship of a God of love. It is a tardy recognition that we are giving them, and one that is most imperfect, yet it is all that we can now do. The ditches where they were interred have long ago been filled up, built over, and intersected by streets. Who of the multitude that daily pass to and fro over the ground that should be sacred ever give a thought to the remains of the brave men beneath their feet, who perished that they might enjoy the blessings of liberty?
Republics are ungrateful; they have short memories; but it is due to the martyrs of the Revolution that some attempt should be made to tell to the generations that succeed them who they were, what they did, and why they suffered so terribly and died so grimly, without weakening, and without betraying the cause of that country which was dearer to them than their lives.
We have, for the most part, limited ourselves to the prisons and prison ships in the city and on the waters of New York. This is because such information as we have been able to obtain concerning the treatment of American prisoners by the British relates, almost entirely, to that locality.
It is a terrible story that we are about to narrate, and we warn the lover of pleasant books to lay down our volume at the first page. We shall see Cunningham, that burly, red-faced ruffian, the Provost Marshal, wreaking his vengeance upon the defenceless prisoners in his keeping, for the assault made upon him at the outbreak of the war, when he and a companion who had made themselves obnoxious to the republicans were mobbed and beaten in the streets of New York. He was rescued by some friends of law and order, and locked up in one of the jails which was soon to be the theatre of his revenge. We shall narrate the sufferings of the American prisoners taken at the time of the battle of Long Island, and after the surrender of Fort Washington, which events occurred, the first in August, the second in November of the year 1776.
What we have been able to glean from many sources, none of which contradict each other in any important point, about the prisons and prison ships in New York, with a few narratives written by those who were imprisoned in other places, shall fill this volume. Perhaps others, far better fitted for the task, will make the necessary researches, in order to lay before the American people a statement of what took place in the British prisons at Halifax, Charleston, Philadelphia, the waters off the coast of Florida, and other places, during the eight years of the war. It is a solemn and affecting duty that we owe to the dead, and it is in no light spirit that we, for our part, begin our portion of the task.
THE RIFLEMEN OF THE REVOLUTION
We will first endeavor to give the reader some idea of the men who were imprisoned in New York in the fall and winter of 1776, It was in the summer of that year that Congress ordered a regiment of riflemen to be raised in Maryland and Virginia. These, with the so-called “Flying Camp” of Pennsylvania, made the bulk of the soldiers taken prisoners at Fort Washington on the fatal 16th of November. Washington had already proved to his own satisfaction the value of such soldiers; not only by his experience with them in the French and Indian wars, but also during the siege of Boston in 1775-6.
These hardy young riflemen were at first called by the British “regulars,” “a rabble in calico petticoats,” as a term of contempt. Their uniform consisted of tow linen or homespun hunting shirts, buckskin breeches, leggings and moccasins. They wore round felt hats, looped on one side and ornamented with a buck tail. They carried long rifles, shot pouches, tomahawks, and scalping knives.
They soon proved themselves of great value for their superior marksmanship, and the British, who began by scoffing at them, ended by fearing and hating them as they feared and hated no other troops. The many accounts of the skill of these riflemen are interesting, and some of them shall be given here.
One of the first companies that marched to the aid of Washington when he was at Cambridge in 1775 was that of Captain Michael Cresap, which was raised partly in Maryland and partly in the western part of Virginia. This gallant young officer died in New York in the fall of 1775, a year before the surrender of Fort Washington, yet his company may be taken as a fair sample of what the riflemen of the frontiers of our country were, and of what they could do. We will therefore give the words of an eyewitness of their performances. This account is taken from the _Pennsylvania Journal_ of August 23rd, 1775.
“On Friday evening last arrived at Lancaster, Pa., on their way to the American camp, Captain Cresap’s Company of Riflemen, consisting of one hundred and thirty active, brave young fellows, many of whom have been in the late expedition under Lord Dunmore against the Indians. They bear in their bodies visible marks of their prowess, and show scars and wounds which would do honour to Homer’s Iliad. They show you, to use the poet’s words:
“‘Where the gor’d battle bled at ev’ry vein!’
“One of these warriors in particular shows the cicatrices of four bullet holes through his body.
“These men have been bred in the woods to hardships and dangers since their infancy. They appear as if they were entirely unacquainted with, and had never felt the passion of fear. With their rifles in their hands, they assume a kind of omnipotence over their enemies. One cannot much wonder at this when we mention a fact which can be fully attested by several of the reputable persons who were eye-witnesses of it. Two brothers in the company took a piece of board five inches broad, and seven inches long, with a bit of white paper, the size of a dollar, nailed in the centre, and while one of them supported this board perpendicularly between his knees, the other at the distance of upwards of sixty yards, and without any kind of rest, shot eight bullets through it successively, and spared a brother’s thigh!
“Another of the company held a barrel stave perpendicularly in his hands, with one edge close to his side, while one of his comrades, at the same distance, and in the manner before mentioned, shot several bullets through it, without any apprehension of danger on either side.
“The spectators appearing to be amazed at these feats, were told that there were upwards of fifty persons in the same company who could do the same thing; that there was not one who could not ‘plug nineteen bullets out of twenty,’ as they termed it, within an inch of the head of a ten-penny nail.
“In short, to evince the confidence they possessed in these kind of arms, some of them proposed to stand with apples on their heads, while others at the same distance undertook to shoot them off, but the people who saw the other experiments declined to be witnesses of this.
“At night a great fire was kindled around a pole planted in the Court House Square, where the company with the Captain at their head, all naked to the waist and painted like savages (except the Captain, who was in an Indian shirt), indulged a vast concourse of people with a perfect exhibition of a war-dance and all the manoeuvres of Indians; holding council, going to war; circumventing their enemies by defiles; ambuscades; attacking; scalping, etc. It is said by those who are judges that no representation could possibly come nearer the original. The Captain’s expertness and agility, in particular, in these experiments, astonished every beholder. This morning they will set out on their march for Cambridge.”
From the _Virginia Gazette_ of July 22nd, 1775, we make the following extract: “A correspondent informs us that one of the gentlemen appointed to command a company of riflemen to be raised in one of the frontier counties of Pennsylvania had so many applications from the people in his neighborhood, to be enrolled in the service, that a greater number presented themselves than his instructions permitted him to engage, and being unwilling to give offence to any he thought of the following expedient: He, with a piece of chalk, drew on a board the figure of a nose of the common size, which he placed at the distance of 150 yards, declaring that those who came nearest the mark should be enlisted. Sixty odd hit the object.–General Gage, take care of your nose!”
From the _Pennsylvania Journal_, July 25th, 1775: “Captain Dowdle with his company of riflemen from Yorktown, Pa., arrived at Cambridge about one o’clock today, and since has made proposals to General Washington to attack the transport stationed at Charles River. He will engage to take her with thirty men. The General thinks it best to decline at present, but at the same time commends the spirit of Captain Dowdle and his brave men, who, though they just came a very long march, offered to execute the plan immediately.”
In the third volume of American Archives, is an extract from a letter to a gentleman in Philadelphia, dated Frederick Town, Maryland, August 1st, 1775, which speaks of the same company of riflemen whose wonderful marksmanship we have already noted. The writer says:
“Notwithstanding the urgency of my business I have been detained here three days by a circumstance truly agreeable. I have had the happiness of seeing Captain Michael Cresap marching at the head of a formidable company of upwards of one hundred and thirty men from the mountains and backwoods; painted like Indians; armed with tomahawks and rifles; dressed in hunting shirts and moccasins; and, tho’ some of them had travelled hundreds of miles from the banks of the Ohio, they seemed to walk light and easy, and not with less spirit than at the first hour of their march.
“I was favored by being constantly in Captain Cresap’s company, and watched the behavior of his men and the manner in which he treated them, for is seems that all who go out to war under him do not only pay the most willing obedience to him as their commander, but in every instance of distress look up to him as their friend and father. A great part of his time was spent in listening to and relieving their wants, without any apparent sense of fatigue and trouble. When complaints were before him he determined with kindness and spirit, and on every occasion condescended to please without losing dignity.
“Yesterday, July 31st, the company were supplied with a small quantity of powder, from the magazine, which wanted airing, and was not in good order for rifles: in the evening, however, they were drawn out to show the gentlemen of the town their dexterity in shooting. A clap board with a mark the size of a dollar was put up; they began to fire offhand, and the bystanders were surprised. Few shots were made that were not close to, or into, the paper. When they had shot some time in this way, some lay on their backs, some on their breasts or sides, others ran twenty or thirty steps, and, firing as they ran, appeared to be equally certain of the mark. With this performance the company were more than satisfied, when a young man took up the board in his hand, and not by the end, but by the side, and, holding it up, his brother walked to the distance, and coolly shot into the white. Laying down his rifle he took the board, and holding it as it was held before, the second brother shot as the former had done.
“By this exhibition I was more astonished than pleased, but will you believe me when I tell you that one of the men took the board, and placing it between his legs, stood with his back to a tree, while another drove the centre?
“What would a regular army of considerable strength in the forests of America do with one thousand of these men, who want nothing to preserve their health but water from the spring; with a little parched corn (with what they can easily procure by hunting); and who, wrapped in their blankets in the dead of night, would choose the shade of a tree for their covering, and the earth for their bed?”
The descriptions we have quoted apply to the rifle companies of 1775, but they are a good general description of the abilities of the riflemen raised in the succeeding years of the war, many indeed being the same men who first volunteered in 1775. In the possession of one of his descendants is a letter from one of these men written many years after the Revolution to the son of an old comrade in arms, giving an account of that comrade’s experiences during a part of the war. The letter was written by Major Henry Bedinger of Berkeley County, Virginia, to a son of General Samuel Finley.
Henry Bedinger was descended from an old German family. His grandfather had emigrated to America from Alsace in 1737 to escape persecution for his religious beliefs. The highest rank that Bedinger attained in the War of the Revolution was that of captain. He was a Knight of the Order of the Cincinnati, and he was, after the war, a major of the militia of Berkeley County. The document in possession of one of his descendants is undated, and appears to have been a rough copy or draught of the original, which may now be in the keeping of some one of the descendants of General Finley. We will give it almost entire. Such family letters are, we need scarcely say, of great value to all who are interested in historical research, supplying, as they do, the necessary details which fill out and amplify the bare facts of history, giving us a living picture of the times and events that they describe.
PART OF A LETTER FROM MAJOR HENRY BEDINGER TO A SON OF GENERAL SAMUEL FINLEY
“Some time in 1774 the late Gen’l Sam’l Finley Came to Martinsburg, Berkeley County, Virginia, and engaged with the late Col’o John Morrow to assist his brother, Charles Morrow, in the business of a retail store.
“Mr. Finley continued in that employment until the spring of 1775, when Congress called on the State of Virginia for two Complete Independent Volunteer Companies of Riflemen of l00 Men each, to assist Gen’l Washington in the Siege of Boston & to serve one year. Captains Hugh Stephenson of Berkeley, & Daniel Morgan of Frederick were selected to raise and command those companies, they being the first Regular troops required to be raised in the State of Virginia for Continental service.
“Captain Hugh Stephenson’s rendezvous was Shepherd’s Town (not Martinsburg) and Captain Morgan’s was Winchester. Great exertions were made by each Captain to complete his company first, that merit might be claimed on that account. Volunteers presented themselves in every direction in the Vicinity of these Towns, none were received but young men of Character, and of sufficient property to Clothe themselves completely, find their own arms, and accoutrements, that is, an approved Rifle, handsome shot pouch, and powder horn, blanket, knapsack, with such decent clothing as should be prescribed, but which was at first ordered to be only a Hunting shirt and pantaloons, fringed on every edge and in Various ways.
“Our Company was raised in less than a week. Morgan had equal success.–It was never decided which Company was first filled–
“These Companies being thus unexpectedly called for it was a difficult task to obtain rifles of the quality required & we were detained at Shepherds Town nearly six weeks before we could obtain such. Your Father and some of his Bosom Companions were among the first enrolled. My Brother, G. M. B., and myself, with many of our Companions, soon joined to the amount of 100–no more could be received. The Committee of Safety had appointed Wm Henshaw as 1st Lieut., George Scott 2nd, and Thomas Hite as 3rd Lieut to this Company, this latter however, declined accepting, and Abraham Shepherd succeeded as 3d Lieut–all the rest Stood on an equal footing as _Volunteers_–We remained at Shepherds Town untill the 16th July before we could be Completely armed, notwithstanding the utmost exertions. In the mean time your Father obtained from the gunsmith a remarkable neat light rifle, the stock inlaid and ornamented with silver, which he held, untill Compelled, as were all of us–to ground our arms and surrender to the enemy on the evening of the 16th day of November 1776.
“In our Company were many young men of Considerable fortune, & who generally entered from patriotic motives … Our time of service being about to expire Captain Hugh Stephenson was commissioned a Colonel; Moses Rawlings a Lieutenant Colonel, and Otho Williams Major, to raise a Rifle Regiment for three years: four companies to be raised in Virginia and four in Maryland.
“Henshaw and Scott chose to return home. Abraham Shepherd was commissioned Captain, Sam’l Finley First Lieutenant, William Kelly Second Lieutenant, and myself 3rd Lieutenant. The Commissions of the Field Officers were dated the 8th July, 1776, & those of our Company the 9th of the same month. Shepherd, Finley and myself were dispatched to Berkeley to recruit and refill the old Company, which we performed in about five weeks. Col’o Stephenson also returned to Virginia to facilitate the raising the additional Companies. While actively employed in August, 1776, he was taken sick, and in four days died. The command of the Regiment devolved on Lieutenant Colonel Moses Rawlings, a Very worthy and brave officer.
“Our Company being filled we Marched early in September to our Rendezvous at Bergen. So soon as the Regiment was formed it was ordered up the North River to the English Neighborhood, & in a short time ordered to cross the River and assist in the defence of Fort Washington, where were about three thousand men under the command of Col’o Magaw, on New York Island. The enemy in the mean time possessed New York, and had followed General Washington to the White Plains, from whence, after several partial actions, he returned, and approached us by the way of King’s bridge, with a force of from 8 to 12000 Men. Several frigates ran up the Hudson from New York to cut off our intercourse with Fort Lee, a fort on the opposite bank of the North River: and by regular approaches invested us on all sides.
“On the 15th November, 1776, the British General Pattison appeared with a flag near our Guards, demanding a surrender of Fort Washington and the Garrison. Col’o Magaw replied he should defend it to the last extremity. Pattison declared all was ready to storm the lines and fort, we of course prepared for the Pending contest.
“At break of day the next morning, the enemy commenced a tremendous Cannonade on every side, while their troops advanced. Our Regt. tho weak, was most advantageously posted by Rawlings and Williams, on a Small Ridge, about half a mile above Fort Washington. The Ridge ran from the North River, in which lay three frigates, towards the East River. A deep Valley divided us from the enemy, their frigates enfiladed, & their Cannon on the heights behind the advancing troops played incessantly on our party (consisting of Rawling’s Regiment, say 250 men, and one other company from Maryland, and four companies of Pennsylvania Flying Camp, also for the present commanded by Rawlings and Williams).
“The Artillery were endeavoring to clear the hill while their troops crossing the Valley were ascending it, but without much effect. A few of our men were killed with Cannon and Grape Shott. Not a Shott was fired on our side untill the Enemy had nearly gained the Sumit. Though at least five times our numbers our rifles brought down so many that they gave way several times, but by their overwhelming numbers they at last succeeded in possessing the summit. Here, however, was great carnage, each making every effort to possess and hold so advantageous a position. This obstinacy continued for more than an hour, when the enemy brought up some field pieces, as well as reinforcements. Finding all resistance useless, our Regiment gradually gave way, tho’ not before Col’o Rawlings, Major Williams, Peter Hanson, Nin Tannehill, and myself were wounded. Lt. Harrison [Footnote: Lieutenant Battaille Harrison of Berkeley County, Va.] was the only officer of our Regiment Killed. Hanson and Tannehill were mortally wounded. The latter died the same night in the Fort, & Hanson died in New York a short time after. Capt. A. Shepherd, Lieut. Daniel Cresap and myself, with fifty men, were detailed the day before the action and placed in the van to receive the enemy as they came up the hill.
“The Regiment was paraded in line about fifty yards in our rear, ready to support us. Your Father of course on that day, and in the whole of the action commanded Shepherd’s Company, which performed its duty admirably. About two o’clock P. M. the Enemy obtained complete possession of the hill, and former battle-ground. Our troops retreated gradually from redoubt to redoubt, contesting every inch of ground, still making dreadful Havoc in the ranks of the enemy. We laboured too under disadvantages, the wind blew the smoke full in our faces. About two o’clock A. Shepherd, being the senior Captain, took command of the Regiment, [Footnote: After Rawlings and Williams were disabled.] and by the advice of Col’o Rawlings & Major Williams, gradually retreated from redoubt to redoubt, to & into the fort with the surviving part of the Regiment. Col’o Rawlings, Major Williams, and Lt Hanson and myself quitted the field together, and retreated to the fort. I was slightly wounded, tho my right hand was rendered entirely useless. Your Father continued with the regiment until all had arrived in the fort. It was admitted by all the surviving officers that he had conducted himself with great gallantry and the utmost propriety.
“While we were thus engaged the enemy succeeded much better in every other quarter, & with little comparative loss. All were driven into the fort and the enemy began by sundown to break ground within 100 yards of the fort.
“Finding our situation desperate Col’o Magaw dispatched a flag to Gen. Howe who Commanded in person, proposing to surrender on certain conditions, which not being agreed to, other terms were proposed and accepted. The garrison, consisting of 2673 privates, & 210 officers, marched out, grounded arms, and were guarded to the White House that same night, but instead of being treated as agreed on, and allowed to retain baggage, clothes, and Side Arms, every valuable article was torn away from both officers and soldiers: every sword, pistol, every good hat was seized, even in presence of Brittish officers, & the prisoners were considered and treated as _Rebels_, to the king and country. On the third day after our surrender we were guarded to New York, fourteen miles from Fort Washington, where in the evening we received some barrels of raw pork and musty spoiled biscuit, being the first Morsel of provision we had seen for more than three days. The officers were then separated from the soldiers, had articles of parole presented to us which we signed, placed into deserted houses without Clothing, provisions, or fire. No officer was permitted to have a servant, but we acted in rotation, carried our Cole and Provisions about half a mile on our backs, Cooked as well as we could, and tried to keep from Starving.
“Our poor Soldiers fared most wretchedly different. They were crowded into sugar houses and Jails without blankets or covering; had Very little given to them to eat, and that little of the Very worst quality. So that in two months and four days about 1900 of the Fort Washington troops had died. The survivors were sent out and receipted for by General Washington, and we the officers were sent to Long Island on parole, and billetted, two in a house, on the families residing in the little townships of Flatbush, New Utrecht, Newlots, and Gravesend, who were compelled to board and lodge us at the rate of two dollars per week, a small compensation indeed in the exhausted state of that section of country. The people were kind, being mostly conquered Whigs, but sometimes hard run to provide sustenance for their own families, with the addition, generally, of two men who must have a share of what could be obtained. These people could not have furnished us but for the advantage of the fisheries, and access at all times to the water. Fish, oysters, clams, Eels, and wild fowl could always be obtained in their season.
“We were thus fixed on the inhabitants, but without money, or clothing. Sometimes a companion would receive a few hard dollars from a friend through a flag of truce, which was often shared by others to purchase a pair of shoes or a shirt.
“While in New York Major Williams received from a friend about forty silver dollars. He was still down with his wound, but requested Captain Shepherd, your Father and myself to come to his room, and there lent each of us ten Dollars, which enabled each of us to purchase a pair shoes, a shirt, and some other small matters: this liberality however, gave some offence. Major Williams was a Marylander, and to assist a Virginian, in preference to a Marylander, was a Crime almost unpardonable. It however passed off, as it so happened there were some refugees in New York from Maryland who had generosity enough to relieve the pressing wants of a few of their former acquaintances.
“We thus lived in want and perfect idleness for years: tho sometimes if Books could be obtained we made out to read: if paper, pen, and ink could be had we wrote. Also to prevent becoming too feeble we exercised our bodies by playing fives, throwing long bullets, wrestling, running, jumping, and other athletick exercises, in all of which your Father fully participated. Being all nearly on the same footing as to Clothing and pocket money (that is we seldom had any of the latter) we lived on an equality.
“In the fall of 1777 the Brittish Commander was informed a plan was forming by a party of Americans to pass over to Long Island and sweep us off, release us from captivity. There were then on the Island about three hundred American officers prisoners. We were of course ordered off immediately, and placed on board of two large transports in the North River, as prison ships, where we remained but about 18 days, but it being Very Cold, and we Confined between decks, the Steam and breath of 150 men soon gave us Coughs, then fevers, and had we not been removed back to our billets I believe One half would have died in six weeks. This is all the imprisonment your—-“
The rest of this valuable letter has been, most unfortunately lost, or possibly it was never completed.
We have given a great deal of it because of its graphic description of the men who were captured at Fort Washington, and of the battle itself. Major Bedinger was a dignified, well-to-do, country gentleman; honored and respected by all who knew him, and of unimpeachable veracity.
NAMES OF SOME OF THE PRISONERS OF 1776
As we have seen, the officers fared well in comparison with the wretched privates. Paroled and allowed the freedom of the city, they had far better opportunities to obtain the necessities of life. “Our poor soldiers fared most wretchedly different,” says Major Bedinger.
Before we begin, however, to speak of the treatment they received, we must make some attempt to tell the reader who they were. We wish it were possible to give the name of every private who died, or rather who was murdered, in the prisons of New York at this time. But that, we fear, is now an impossibility. As this account is designed as a memorial to those martyred privates, we have made many efforts to obtain their names. But if the muster rolls of the different companies who formed the Rifle Regiment, the Pennsylvania Flying Camp, and the other troops captured by the British in the summer and fall of 1776 are in existence, we have not been able to find them.
The records of the Revolution kept in the War Department in England have been searched in vain by American historians. It is said that the Provost Marshal, William Cunningham, destroyed his books, in order to leave no written record of his crimes. The names of 8,000 prisoners, mostly seamen, who were confined on the prison ship Jersey, alone, have been obtained by the Society of Old Brooklynites, from the British Archives, and, by the kind permission of this Society, we re-publish them in the Appendix to this volume.
Here and there, also, we have obtained a name of one of the brave young riflemen who died in torment a hundred times worse, because so much less swift, than that endured on a memorable occasion in India, when British soldiers were placed, during a single night, into one of their own “Black Holes.” But the names of almost all of these our tortured countrymen are forgotten as completely as their places of interment are neglected.
In the hands of the writer, however, at this time [Footnote: This muster roll was lent to the writer by Henry Bedinger Davenport, Esq, a descendant of Major Bedinger] is the pay-roll of one of these companies of riflemen,–that of Captain Abraham Shepherd of Shepherdstown, Virginia. It is in the handwriting of Henry Bedinger, one of the lieutenants of the company.
We propose to take this list, or pay roll, as a sample, and to follow, as well as we can, at this late day, the misfortunes of the men named therein. For this purpose we will first give the list of names, and afterwards attempt to indicate how many of the men died in confinement, and how many lived to be exchanged.
The paper in question, falling to pieces with age, and almost illegible in places, is headed, “An ABSTRACT of the Pay due the Officers and Privates of the Company of Riflemen belonging to Captain Abraham Shepherd, being part of a Battalion raised by Colonel Hugh Stevenson, deceased, and afterwards commanded by Lieut Colonel Moses Rawlings, in the Continental Service from July 1st, 1776, to October 1st, 1778.” The paper gives the dates of enlistment; those who were killed; those who died; those who deserted; those who were discharged; drafted; made prisoners; “dates until when pay is charged;” “pay per month;” “amount in Dollars,” and “amount in lawful Money, Pounds, Shillings and pence.” From this account much information can be gleaned concerning the members of the company, but we will, for the present, content ourselves with giving the muster roll of the company.
MUSTER ROLL OF CAPTAIN ABRAHAM SHEPHERD’S COMPANY OF RIFLEMEN RAISED IN JULY, 1776
Captain Abraham Shepherd.
First Lieutenant, Samuel Finley.
Second Lieutenant, William Kelly.
Third Lieutenant, Henry Bedinger.
First Sergeant, John Crawford.
Second Sergeant, John Kerney.
Third Sergeant, Robert Howard.
Fourth Sergeant, Dennis Bush.
First Corporal, John Seaburn.
Second Corporal, Evert Hoglant.
Third Corporal, Thomas Knox.
Fourth Corporal, Jonathan Gibbons.
Drummer, Stephen Vardine.
Fifer, Thomas Cook.
Armourer, James Roberts.
Privates, William Anderson, Jacob Wine, Richard Neal, Peter Hill, William Waller, Adam Sheetz, James Hamilton, George Taylor, Adam Rider, Patrick Vaughan, Peter Hanes, John Malcher, Peter Snyder, Daniel Bedinger, John Barger, William Hickman, Thomas Pollock, Bryan Timmons, Thomas Mitchell, Conrad Rush, David Harman, James Aitken, William Wilson, John Wilson, Moses McComesky, Thomas Beatty, John Gray, Valentine Fritz, Zechariah Bull, William Moredock, Charles Collins, Samuel Davis, Conrad Cabbage, John Cummins, Gabriel Stevens, Michael Wolf, John Lewis, William Donnelly, David Gilmore, John Cassody, Samuel Blount, Peter Good, George Helm, William Bogle (or Boyle), John Nixon, Anthony Blackhead, Christian Peninger, Charles Jones, William Case, Casper Myre, George Brown, Benjamin McKnight, Anthony Larkin, William Seaman, Charles Snowden, John Boulden, John Blake, Nicholas Russell, Benjamin Hughes, James Brown, James Fox, William Hicks, Patrick Connell, John Holmes, John McSwaine, James Griffith, Patrick Murphy, James Aitken.
Besides the names of this company we can give a few privates of the Pennsylvania Flying Camp who are mentioned by Saffel. He adds that, as far as is known, all of these perished in prison, after inscribing their names high up upon the walls.
SOME PRIVATES OF THE PENNSYLVANIA FLYING CAMP WHO PERISHED IN PRISON IN 1776-7
“Charles Fleming, John Wright, James McKinney, Ebenezer Stille, Jacob Leinhart, Abraham Van Gordon, Peter D’Aubert, William Carbury, John McDowell, Wm. McKague, Henry Parker, James Burns, Henry Yepler, Baltus Weigh, Charles Beason, Leonard Huber, John McCarroll, Jacob Guiger, John May, Daniel Adams, George McCormick, Jacob Kettle, Jacob Miller, George Mason, James Kearney, David Sutor, Adam Bridel, Christian Mull, Daniel McKnight, Cornelius Westbrook, Luke Murphy, Joseph Conklin, Adam Dennis, Edward Ogden, Wm. Scoonover, James Rosencrants.”
The names of the officers who were prisoners in New York after the battle of Long Island and the surrender of Fort Washington, can easily be obtained. But it is not with these, at present, that we have to do. We have already seen how much better was their treatment than that accorded to the hapless privates. It is chiefly to commemmorate the sufferings of the private soldier and seaman in the British prisons that this account has been written.
THE PRISONS OF NEW YORK–JONATHAN GILLETT
We will now endeavor to describe the principal places of confinement used by the British in New York during the early years of the war. Lossing, in his Field Book of the Revolution, thus speaks of these dens of misery: “At the fight around Fort Washington,” he says, “only one hundred Americans were killed, while the British loss was one thousand, chiefly Hessians, But the British took a most cruel revenge. Out of over 2600 prisoners taken on that day, in two months & four days 1900 were killed in the infamous sugar houses and other prisons in the city.
“Association of intense horror are linked with the records of the prisons and prison ships of New York. Thousands of captives perished miserably of hunger, cold, infection, and in some cases, actual poison.
“All the prisoners taken in the battle near Brooklyn in August, 1776 and at Fort Washington in November of the same year, were confined in New York, nearly 4000 in all. The New Jail and the New Bridewell were the only prisons. The former is the present Hall of Records. Three sugar houses, some dissenting churches, Columbia College, and the Hospital were all used as prisons. The great fire in September; the scarcity of provisions; and the cruel conduct of the Provost Marshal all combined to produce intense sufferings among the men, most of whom entered into captivity, strong, healthy, young, able-bodied, the flower of the American youth of the day.
“Van Cortlandt’s Sugar House was a famous (or infamous) prison. It stood on the northwest corner of Trinity church-yard.
“Rhinelander’s Sugar House was on the corner of William and Duane Streets. Perhaps the worst of all the New York prisons was the third Sugar House, which occupied the space on Liberty Street where two buildings, numbers 34 and 36, now stand.
“The North Dutch Church on William Street contained 800 prisoners, and there were perhaps as many in the Middle Dutch Church. The Friends’ Meeting House on Liberty and several other buildings erected for the worship of a God of love were used as prisons.
“The New Jail was made a Provost Prison, and here officers and men of note were confined. At one time they were so crowded into this building, that when they lay down upon the floor to sleep all in the row were obliged to turn over at the same time at the call, ‘Turn over! Left! Right!’
“The sufferings of these brave men were largely due to the criminal indifference of Loring, Sproat, Lennox, and other Commissaries of the prisoners.
“Many of the captives were hanged in the gloom of night without trial and without a semblance of justice.
“Liberty Street Sugar House was a tall, narrow building five stories in height, and with dismal underground dungeons. In this gloomy abode jail fever was ever present. In the hot weather of July, 1777, companies of twenty at a time would be sent out for half an hour’s outing, in the court yard. Inside groups of six stood for ten minutes at a time at the windows for a breath of air.
“There were no seats; the filthy straw bedding was never changed. Every day at least a dozen corpses were dragged out and pitched like dead dogs into the ditches and morasses beyond the city. Escapes, deaths, and exchange at last thinned the ranks. Hundreds left names and records on the walls.”
“In 1778 the hulks of decaying ships were moored in the Wallabout. These prison ships were intended for sailors and seaman taken on the ocean, mostly the crews of privateersmen, but some soldiers were also sent to languish in their holds.
“The first vessels used were transports in which cattle and other stores had been brought over by the British in 1776. These lay in Gravesend Bay and there many of the prisoners taken in battle near Brooklyn in August, 1776, were confined, until the British took possession of New York, when they were moved to that city. In 1778 the hulks of ships were moored in the Wallabout, a sheltered bay on the Long Island shore, where the Navy Yard now is.”
The sufferings of the prisoners can be better understood by giving individual instances, and wherever this is possible it shall be done. We will commence by an abstract of
THE CASE OF JONATHAN GILLETT OF WEST HARFORD
This man with seven others was captured on Long Island on the 27th of August, 1776, before they could take to their boats. He was at first confined in a prison ship, but a Masonic brother named John Archer procured him the liberty of the city on parole. His rank, we believe, was that of a lieutenant. He was a prisoner two years, then was allowed to go home to die. He exhibited every symptom of poison as well as starvation.
When he was dying he said to his son, Jonathan Gillett, Junior, “Should you enlist and be taken prisoner as I was, inquire for Mr. John Archer, a man with whom I boarded. He will assist you.”
In course of time his son enlisted, was taken prisoner, and confined in the Old Sugar House on Liberty Street. Here he was nearly starved to death. The prisoners ate mice, rats, and insects. He one day found in the prison yard the dry parings of a turnip which seemed to him a delicious banquet. It is recorded that Jonathan Gillett, Jr., was finally freed from captivity through the efforts of the same gentleman, Mr. John Archer, who had aided his father.
In 1852 Jacob Barker offered to present survivors who had been confined in the Old Sugar House with canes made from the lumber used in its construction. Four of these survivors were found. Their names were William Clark, Samuel Moulton, Levi Hanford, and Jonathan Gillett, Jr. The latter’s father during his confinement wrote a letter to his friends which has been preserved, and is as follows:
No doubt my misfortunes have reached your ears. Sad as it is, it is true as sad. I was made prisoner the 27th day of August past by a people called heshens, and by a party called Yagers the most Inhuman of all Mortals. I can’t give Room to picture them here but thus much–I at first Resolved not to be taken, but by the Impertunity of the Seven taken with me, and being surrounded on all sides I unhapily surendered; would to God I never had–then I should never (have) known there unmerciful cruelties; they first disarmed me, then plundered me of all I had, watch, Buckles, money, and sum Clothing, after which they abused me by bruising my flesh with the butts of there (guns). They knocked me down; I got up and they (kept on) beating me almost all the way to there (camp) where I got shot of them–the next thing was I was allmost starved to death by them. I was keept here 8 days and then sent on board a ship, where I continued 39 days and by (them was treated) much worse than when on shore–after I was set on (shore) at New York (I was) confined (under) a strong guard till the 20th day of November, after which I have had my liberty to walk part over the City between sun and sun, notwithstanding there generous allowance of food I must inevitably have perished with hunger had not sum friends in this (city) Relieved my extreme necessity, but I cant expect they can always do it–what I shall do next I know not, being naked for clothes and void of money, and winter present, and provisions very skerce; fresh meat one shilling per pound, Butter three shillings per pound, Cheese two shillings, Turnips and potatoes at a shilling a half peck, milk 15 Coppers per quart, bread equally as dear; and the General says he cant find us fuel thro’ the winter, tho’ at present we receive sum cole. [Footnote: I have made no changes in this letter except to fill up some blanks and to add a few marks of punctuation.]
“I was after put on board siezed violently with the disentarry–it followed me hard upwards of six weeks–after that a slow fever, but now am vastly better * * * my sincere love to you and my children. May God keep and preserve you at all times from sin, sickness, and death * * * I will Endeavor to faintly lead you into the poor cituation the soldiers are in, espechally those taken at Long Island where I was; in fact these cases are deplorable and they are Real objects of pitty–they are still confined and in houses where there is no fire–poor mortals, with little or no clothes–perishing with hunger, offering eight dollars in paper for one in silver to Relieve there distressing hunger; occasioned for want of food–there natures are broke and gone, some almost loose there voices and some there hearing–they are crouded into churches & there guarded night and day. I cant paint the horable appearance they make–it is shocking to human nature to behold them. Could I draw the curtain from before you; there expose to your view a lean Jawd mortal, hunger laid his skinny hand (upon him) and whet to keenest Edge his stomach cravings, sorounded with tattred garments, Rotten Rags, close beset with unwelcome vermin. Could I do this, I say, possable I might in some (small) manner fix your idea with what appearance sum hundreds of these poor creatures make in houses where once people attempted to Implore God’s Blessings, &c, but I must say no more of there calamities. God be merciful to them–I cant afford them no Relief. If I had money I soon would do it, but I have none for myself.–I wrote to you by Mr. Wells to see if some one would help me to hard money under my present necessity I write no more, if I had the General would not allow it to go out, & if ever you write to me write very short or else I will never see it–what the heshens robbed me of that day amounted to the value of seventy two dollars at least. * * * I will give you as near an exact account of how many prisoners the enemy have taken as I can. They took on Long Island of the Huntingon Regiment 64, and of officers 40, of other Regiments about 60. On Moulogin Island 14, Stratton Island (Staten) 7, at Fort Washington 2200 officers and men. On the Jersey side about 28 officers and men. In all 3135 and how many killed I do not know. Many died of there wounds. Of those that went out with me of sickness occasioned by hunger eight and more lie at the point of death.
“Roger Filer hath lost one of his legs and part of a Thigh, it was his left. John Moody died here a prisoner.
“So now to conclude my little Ragged History * * * I as you know did ever impress on your mind to look to God, for so still I continue to do the same–think less of me but more of your Creator, * * * So in this I wish you well and bid you farewell and subscribe myself your nearest friend and well wisher for Ever
New York, Dec. 2nd, 1776.
To Eliza Gillett at West Harford
The figures given in this pathetic letter may be inaccurate, but the description of the sufferings of the prisoners is unexaggerated. Of all the places of torment provided for these poor men the churches seem to have been the worst, and they were probably the scenes of the most brutal cruelty that was inflicted upon these unfortunate beings by the wicked and heartless men, in whose power they found themselves. Whether it was because the knowledge that they were thus desecrating buildings dedicated to the worship of God and instruction in the Christian duties of mercy and charity, had a peculiarly hardening effect upon the jailers and guards employed by the British, or whether it was merely because of their unfitness for human habitation, the men confined in these buildings perished fast and miserably. We cannot assert that no prisoners shut up in the churches in New York lived to tell the awful tale of their sufferings, but we do assert that in all our researches we have never yet happened upon any record of a single instance of a survivor living to reach his home. All the information we have gained on this subject we shall lay before the reader, and then he may form his own opinion of the justice of these remarks.
WILLIAM CUNNINGHAM, THE PROVOST MARSHAL
We will condense all that we have to say of this man, whose cruelty and wickedness are almost inconceivable, into one chapter, and have done with the dreadful subject. As far as we have been able to learn, the facts about his life are the following.
William Cunningham was an Irishman, born in Dublin Barracks in 1738. His father was a trumpeter in the Blue Dragoons. When he was sixteen he became an assistant to the riding-master of the troop. In 1761 he was made a sergeant of dragoons, but peace having been proclaimed the following year, the company to which he belonged was disbanded. He afterwards commenced the business of a scaw-banker, which means that he went about the country enticing mechanics and rustics to ship to America, on promise of having their fortunes made in that country; and then by artful practices, produced their indentures as servants, in consequence of which on their arrival in America they were sold, or at least obliged to serve a term of years to pay for their passage. This business, no doubt, proved a fit apprenticeship for the career of villainy before him.
About the year 1774 he appears to have embarked from Newry in the ship Needham for New York, with some indentured servants he had kidnapped in Ireland. He is said to have treated these poor creatures so cruelly on the passage that they were set free by the authorities in New York upon their arrival.
When Cunningham first appeared in New York he offered himself as a horse-breaker, and insinuated himself into the favor of the British officers by blatant toryism. He soon became obnoxious to the Whigs of that city, was mobbed, and fled to the Asia man-of-war for protection. From thence he went to Boston, where General Gage appointed him Provost Marshal. When the British took possession of New York he followed them to that city, burning with desire to be revenged upon the Whigs.
He is said to have compassed the death of thousands of prisoners by selling their provisions, exchanging good for spoiled food, and even by poisoning them. Many also fell victims to his murderous violence. About two hundred and fifty of these poor creatures were taken out of their places of confinement at midnight and hung, without trial, simply to gratify his bloodthirsty instincts. Private execution was conducted in the following manner. A guard was first dispatched from the Provost, about midnight, to the upper barracks, to order the people on the line of march to shut their window shutters and put out their lights, forbidding them at the same time to presume to look out of their windows on pain of death. After this the prisoners were gagged, and conducted to the gallows just behind the upper barracks and hung without ceremony there. Afterwards they were buried by his assistant, who was a mulatto.
This practice is said to have been stopped by the women along the line of march from the Provost to the barracks. They appealed to General Howe to prevent further executions, as the noise made by the sufferers praying for mercy, and appealing to Heaven for justice was dreadful to their ears.
It would seem from this account that, although the wretched men were gagged as they were conveyed along the streets, their ferocious murderer could not deny himself the pleasure of hearing their shrieks of agony at the gallows.
Watson, in his “Annals of New York,” says that Cunningham glutted his vengence by hanging five or six of his prisoners every night, until the women who lived in the neighborhood petitioned Howe to have the practice discontinued.
A pamphlet called “The Old Martyrs’ Prison,” says of Cunningham: “His hatred of the Americans found vent in torture by searing irons and secret scourges to those who fell under the ban of his displeasure. The prisoners were crowded together so closely that many fell ill from partial asphyxiation, and starved to death for want of the food which he sold to enrich himself.”
They were given muddy and impure water to drink, and that not in sufficient quantities to sustain life. Their allowance was, nominally, two pounds of hard tack and two of pork _per week_, and this was often uncooked, while either the pork, or the biscuit, or both, were usually spoiled and most unwholesome.
Cunningham’s quarters were in the Provost Prison, and on the right hand of the main door of entry. On the left of the hall was the guard room. Within the first barricade was the apartment of his assistant, Sergeant O’Keefe. Two sentinels guarded the entrance day and night; two more were stationed at the first and second barricades, which were grated, barred, and chained.
“When a prisoner was led into the hall the whole guard was paraded, and he was delivered over to Captain Cunningham or his deputy, and questioned as to his name, age, size, rank, etc., all of which was entered in a record book. These records appear to have been discreetly destroyed by the British authorities.
“At the bristling of arms, unbolting of locks and bars, clanking of enormous iron chains in a vestibule dark as Erebus, the unfortunate captive might well sink under this infernal sight and parade of tyrannical power, as he crossed the threshold of that door which probably closed on him for life.
“The north east chamber, turning to the left on the second floor, was appropriated to officers of superior rank, and was called Congress Hall. * * * In the day time the packs and blankets used by the prisoners to cover them were suspended around the walls, and every precaution was taken to keep the rooms clean and well ventilated.
“In this gloomy abode were incarcerated at different periods many American officers and citizens of distinction, awaiting with sickening hope the protracted period of their liberation. Could these dumb walls speak what scenes of anguish might they not disclose!
“Cunningham and his deputy were enabled to fare sumptuously by dint of curtailing the prisoners’ rations, selling good for bad provisions, etc., in order to provide for the drunken orgies that usually terminated his dinners. Cunningham would order the rebel prisoners to turn out and parade for the amusement of his guests, pointing them out with such characterizations as ‘This is the d—-d rebel, Ethan Allen. This is a rebel judge, etc.'”
Cunningham destroyed Nathan Hale’s last letters containing messages to his loved ones, in order, as he said, that “the rebels should not know that they had a man in their army who could die with such firmness.”
From Elias Boudinot’s “Journal of Events” during the Revolution we extract the following account of his interview with Cunningham in New York. “In the spring of 1777 General Washington wrote me a letter requesting me to accept of a Commission as Commissary General of Prisoners in the Army of America. I waited on him and politely declined the task, urging the wants of the Prisoners and having nothing to supply them.”
Washington, however, urged him not to refuse, saying that if no one in whom he could trust would accept the office, the lot of the prisoners would be doubly hard. At last Boudinot consented to fill the position as best he could, and Washington declared that he should be supplied with funds by the Secret Committee of Congress. “I own,” he says, “that after I had entered on my department, the applications of the Prisoners were so numerous, and their distress so urgent, that I exerted every nerve to obtain supplies, but in vain–Excepting L600 I had received from the Secret Committee in Bills of exchange, at my first entrance into the Office–I could not by any means get a farthing more, except in Continental Money, which was of no avail in New York. I applied to the General describing my delicate Situation and the continual application of the Officers, painting their extreme distress and urging the assurance they had received that on my appointment I was to be furnished with adequate means for their full relief. The General appeared greatly distressed and assured me that it was out of his power to afford me any supplies. I proposed draining Clothing from the public stores, but to this he objected as not having anything like a sufficient supply for the Army. He urged my considering and adopting the best means in my power to satisfy the necessities of the Prisoners, and he would confirm them. I told him I knew of no means in my Power but to take what Monies I had of my own, and to borrow from my friends in New York, to accomplish the desirable purpose. He greatly encouraged me to the attempt, promising me that if I finally met with any loss, he would divide it with me. On this I began to afford them some supplies of Provisions over and above what the Enemy afforded them, which was very small and very indifferent.
“The complaints of the very cruel treatment our Prisoners met with in the Enemy’s lines rose to such a Heighth that in the Fall of this Year, 1777 the General wrote to General Howe or Clinton reciting their complaints and proposing to send an Officer into New York to examine into the truth of them. This was agreed to, and a regular pass-port returned accordingly. The General ordered me on this service. I accordingly went over on the 3rd of Feb. 1778, in my own Sloop.”
The Commandant at this time was General Robertson, by whom Boudinot was very well treated, and allowed, in company with a British officer, to visit the prisons. He continues: “Accordingly I went to the Provost with the Officer, where we found near thirty Officers from Colonels downwards, in close confinement in the Gaol in New York. After some conversation with the late Ethan Allen, I told him my errand, on which he was very free in his abuse of the British. *** We then proceeded upstairs to the Room of their Confinement. I had the Officers drawn up in a Ring and informed them of my mission, that I was determined to hear nothing in secret. That I therefore hoped they would each of them in their turn report to me faithfully and candidly the Treatment they severally had received,–that my design was to obtain them the proper redress, but if they kept back anything from an improper fear of their keepers, they would have themselves only to blame for their want of immediate redress. That for the purpose of their deliverance the British officer attended. That the British General should be also well informed of the Facts. On this, after some little hesitation from a dread of their keeper, the Provost Martial, one of them began and informed us that * * * some had been confined in the Dungeon for a night to await the leisure of the General to examine them and forgot for months; for being Committee men, &c, &c. That they had received the most cruel Treatment from the Provost Martial, being locked up in the Dungeon on the most trifling pretences, such as asking for more water to drink on a hot day than usual–for sitting up a little longer in the Evening than orders allowed–for writing a letter to the General making their Complaints of ill-usage and throwing (it) out of the Windows. That some of them were kept ten, twelve, and fourteen weeks in the Dungeon on these trifling Pretenses. A Captain Vandyke had been confined eighteen months for being concerned in setting fire to the City, When, on my calling for the Provost Books, it appeared that he had been made Prisoner and closely confined in the Provost four days before the fire happened. A Major Paine had been confined eleven months for killing a Captain Campbell in the Engagement when he was taken Prisoner, when on examination it appeared that the Captain had been killed in another part of the Action. The charge was that Major Paine when taken had no commission, though acknowledged by us as a Major.
“Most of the cases examined into turned out wholly false or too trifling to be regarded. It also appeared by the Declaration of some of the Gentlemen that their water would be sometimes, as the Caprice of the Provost Martial led him, brought up to them in the tubs they used in their Rooms, and when the weather was so hot that they must drink or perish. On hearing a number of these instances of Cruelty, I asked who was the Author of them–they answered the provost keeper–I desired the Officer to call him up that we might have him face to face. He accordingly came in, and on being informed of what had passed, he was asked if the complaints were true. He, with great Insolence answered that every word was true–on which the British Officer, abusing him very much, asked him how he dared to treat Gentlemen in that cruel Manner. He, insolently putting his hands to his side, swore that he was as absolute there as General Howe was at the head of his Army. I observed to the Officer that now there could be no dispute about Facts, as the fellow had acknowledged every word to be true. I stated all the Facts in substance and waited again on General Robertson, who hoped I was quite satisfied with the falsity of the reports I had heard. I then stated to him the Facts and assured him that they turned out worse than anything we had heard. On his hesitating as to the truth of this assertion–I observed to him the propriety of having an Officer with me, to whom I now appealed for the truth of the Facts. He being present confirmed them–on which the General expressed great dissatisfaction, and promised that the Author of them should be punished. I insisted that the Officers should be discharged from his Power on Parole on Long Island, as other Officers were–To this after receiving from me a copy of the Facts I had taken down, he assented, & all were discharged except seven, who were detained some time before I could obtain their release. I forgot to mention that one Officer, Lieutenant–was taken Prisoner and brought in with a wound through the leg. He was sent to the Provost to be examined, next night he was put into the Dungeon and remained there ten weeks, totally forgotten by the General, and never had his wound dressed except as he washed it with a little Rum and Water given to him by the Centinels, through the–hole out of their own rations. Captain–and a Captain Chatham were confined with them and their allowance was four pounds hard spoiled Biscuit, and two pounds Pork per week, which they were obliged to eat raw. While they were thus confined for the slightest Complaints, the Provost Martial would come down and beat them unmercifully with a Rattan, and Knock them down with his fist. After this I visited two Hospitals of our Sick Prisoners, and the Sugar House:–in the two first were 211 Prisoners, and in the last about 190. They acknowledged that for about two months past they fared pretty well, being allowed two pounds of good Beef and a proportion of flour or Bread per week, by Mr. Lewis, My Agent, over and above the allowance received from the British, which was professed to be two thirds allowance; but before they had suffered much from the small allowance they had received, and and that their Bread was very bad, being mostly biscuit, but that the British soldiers made the same complaint as to the bread. From every account I received I found that their treatment had been greatly changed for the better within a few months past, except at the Provost. They all agreed that previous to the capture of General Burgoyne, and for some time after, Their treatment had been cruel beyond measure. That the Prisoners in the French church, amounting on an average to three or four hundred, could not all lay down at once, that from the 15th October to the first January they never received a single stick of wood, and that for the most part they eat their Pork Raw, when the Pews and Door, and Wood on Facings failed them for fuel.
“But as to my own personal knowledge I found General Robertson very ready to agree to every measure for alleviating the miseries of War and very candidly admitted many faults committed by the inferior Officers, and even the mistakes of the General himself, by hearkening to the representations of those around him. He showed me a letter from General Howe who was in Philadelphia, giving orders that we should not be at liberty to purchase blankets within their lines, and containing a copy of an order I had issued that they should not purchase provisions within ours, by way of retaliation, but he represented it as if my order was first. I stated the facts to General Robertson, who assured me that General Howe had been imposed upon, and requested me to state the facts by way of letter, when he immediately wrote to General Howe, urging the propriety of reversing his orders, which afterwards he did in a very hypocritical manner as will appear hereafter.”
It does not seem that Cunningham was very seriously punished. It is probable that he was sent away from New York to Philadelphia, then in the hands of General Howe. Cunningham was Provost Marshal in that city during the British occupancy, where his cruelties were, if possible, more astrocious than ever before.
Dr. Albigense Waldo was a surgeon in the American army at Valley Forge, and he declares in his Journal concerning the prisoners in Philadelphia that “the British did not knock the prisoners in the head, or burn them with torches, or flay them alive, or dismember them as savages do, but they starved them slowly in a large and prosperous city. One of these unhappy men, driven to the last extreme of hunger, is said to have gnawed his own fingers to the first joint from the hand, before he expired. Others ate the mortar and stone which they chipped from the prison walls, while some were found with bits of wood and clay in their mouths, which in their death agonies they had sucked to find nourishment.” [Footnote: This account is quoted by Mr. Bolton in a recent book called “The Private Soldier under Washington,” a valuable contribution to American history.]
Boudinot has something to say about these wretched sufferers in the City of Brotherly Love during the months of January and February, 1778. “Various Reports having reached us with regard to the Extreme Sufferings of our Prisoners in Philadelphia, I was directed by the Commander-in-Chief to make particular inquiry into the truth. After some time I obtained full Information of their Sufferings. It was proved by some Militia of good Character that on being taken they were put under the care of the General’s Guard, and kept four or five days without the least food. That on the fifth day they were taken into the Provost, where a small quantity of Raw Pork was given to them. One of their number seized and devoured it with so much eagerness that he dropped down dead:–that the Provost Martial used to sell their provisions and leave them to starve, as he did their Allowance of Wood. I received information from a British Officer who confided in my integrity, that he happened in the Provost just at the time the Provost Martial was locking up the Prisoners. He had ordered them from the Yard into the House. Some of them being ill with the Dysentery could scarcely walk, and for not coming faster he would beat them with his Rattan. One being delayed longer than the rest. On his coming up Cunningham gave him a blow with one of the large Keys of the Goal which killed him on the Spot. The Officer, exceedingly affected with the sight, went next day and lodged a formal Complaint of the Murder with General Howe’s Aid. After waiting some days, and not discovering any measures taken for the tryal of Cunningham, he again went to head quarters and requested to see the General, but was refused. He repeated his Complaint to his Aid, and told him if this passed unpunished it would become disreputable to wear a British uniform. No notice being taken the Officer determined to furnish me privately with the means of proof of the Facts, so that General Washington might remonstrate to General Howe on the subject:–I reported them with the other testimony I had collected to General Washington. He accordingly wrote in pretty strong Terms to General Howe and fixed a day, when if he did not receive a satisfactory answer, he would retaliate on the prisoners in his Custody. On the day he received an answer from General Howe, acknowledging that, on Examination he found that Cunningham had sold the Prisoners’ rations publicly in the Market. That he had therefor removed him from the Charge of the Prisoners and appointed Mr. Henry H. Ferguson in his place. This gave us great pleasure as we knew Mr. Ferguson to be a Gentleman of Character and great Humanity, and the issue justified our expectations. But to our great surprise Mr. Cunningham was only removed from the Charge of the Prisons in Philadelphia, and sent to that of New York. Soon after this great complaints being made of our Prisoners being likely to perish for want of Cloathing and Blankets, having been mostly stripped and robbed of their Cloaths when taken, application was made for permission to purchase (with the provisions which the British wanted,) Blankets and cloathing, which should be used only by the Prisoners while in Confinement. This was agreed to, as we were informed by our own Agent as well as by the British Commissioner. Provisions were accordingly attempted to be sent in, when General Howe pretending to ignorance in the business, forbid the provisions to be admitted, or the Blankets to be purchased. On this I gave notice to the British Commissary that after a certain day they must provide food for their prisoners south west of New Jersey, and to be sent in from their lines, as they should no longer be allowed to purchase provisions with us. The line drawn arose from our being at liberty to purchase in New York. This made a great noise, when General Howe on receiving General Robertson’s letter from New York before mentioned, urging the propriety of the measures, issued an order that every Person in Philadelphia, who had a Blanket to sell or to spare should bring them into the King’s Stores. When this was done he then gave my Agent permission to purchase Blankets and Cloathing, in the City of Philadelphia. On my Agent attempting it he found every Blanket in the City purchased by the Agents for the Army, so that not a Blanket could be had. My Agent knowing the necessities of our Prisoners, immediately employed persons in every part of the city and before General Howe could discover his own omission, purchased up every piece of flannel he could meet with, and made it up into a kind of Blanket, which answered our purpose.”
Wherever General Howe and Cunningham were together, either in New York or in Philadelphia, the most atrocious cruelties were inflicted upon the American prisoners in their power, and yet some have endeavoured to excuse General Howe, on what grounds it is difficult to determine. It has been said that Cunningham _acted on higher authority than any in America_, and that Howe in vain endeavored to mitigate the sufferings of the prisoners. This, however, is not easy of belief. Howe must at least have wilfully blinded himself to the wicked and murderous violence of his subordinate. It was his duty to know how the prisoners at his mercy fared, and not to employ murderers to destroy them by the thousands as they were destroyed in the prisons of New York and Philadelphia.
Oliver Bunce, in His “Romance of the Revolution,” thus speaks of the inhumanity of Cunningham.
“But of all atrocities those committed in the prisons and prison ships of New York are the most execrable, and indeed there is nothing in history to excel the barbarities there inflicted. Twelve thousand suffered death by their inhuman, cruel, savage, and barbarous usage on board the filthy and malignant prison ships–adding those who died and were poisoned in the infected prisons in the city a much larger number would be necessary to include all those who suffered by command of British Generals in New York. The scenes enacted in these prisons almost exceed belief. * * * Cunningham, the like of whom, for unpitying, relentless cruelty, the world has not produced, * * * thirsted for blood, and took an eager delight in murder.”
He remained in New York until November, 1783, when he embarked on board a British man-of-war and America was no longer cursed with his presence. He is said to have been hung for the crime of forgery on the tenth of August, 1791. The newspapers of the day contained the accounts of his death, and his dying confession. These accounts have, however, been discredited by historians who have in vain sought the English records for the date of his death. It is said that no man of the name of Cunningham was hung in England in the year 1791. It is not possible to find any official British record of his transactions while Provost Marshal, and there seems a mystery about the disappearance of his books kept while in charge of the Provost, quite as great as the mystery which envelopes his death. But whether or no he confessed his many crimes; whether or no he received in this world a portion of the punishment he deserved, it is certain that the crimes were committed, and duly recorded in the judgment book of God, before whose awful bar he has been called to account for every one of them.
THE CASE OF JABEZ FITCH
In presenting our gleanings from the books, papers, letters, pamphlets, and other documents that have been written on the subject of our prisoners during the Revolution, we will endeavor to follow some chronological order, so that we may carry the story on month by month and year by year until that last day of the British possession of New York when Sergeant O’Keefe threw down upon the pavement of the Provost the keys of that prison, and made his escape on board a British man-of-war.
One of the prisoners taken on Long Island in the summer of 1776 was Captain Jabez Fitch, who was captured on the 27th of August, of that year. While a prisoner he contracted a scorbutic affection which rendered miserable thirty years of his life.
On the 29th of August he was taken to the transport Pacific. It was a very rainy day. The officers, of whom there were about twenty-five, were in one boat, and the men “being between three and four hundred in several other Boats, and had their hands tied behind them. In this Situation we were carried by several Ships, where there appeared great numbers of Women on Deck, who were very liberal of their Curses and Execrations: they were also not a little Noisy in their Insults, but clap’d their hands and used other peculiar gestures in so Extraordinary a Manner yet they were in some Danger of leaping overboard in this surprising Extacy.” On arriving at the Pacific, a very large transport ship, they were told that all officers and men together were to be shut down below deck. The master of the ship was a brute named Dunn. At sundown all were driven down the hatches, with curses and execrations. “Both ye lower Decks were very full of Durt,” and the rains had leaked in and made a dreadful sloppy mess of the floor, so that the mud was half over their shoes. At the same time they were so crowded that only half their number could lie down at a time.
“Some time in the Evening a number of the Infernal Savages came down with a lanthorn and loaded two small pieces or Cannon with Grape shot, which were pointed through two Ports in such a manner as to Rake ye deck where our people lay, telling us at ye same time with many Curses yt in Case of any Disturbance or the least noise in ye Night, they were to be Imediately fired on ye Damned Rebels.” When allowed to come on deck “we were insulted by those Blackguard Villians in the most vulgar manner….We were allowed no water that was fit for a Beast to Drink, although they had plenty of good Water on board, which was used plentifully by the Seamen, etc.
“Lieutenant Dowdswell, with a party of Marines sent on board for our Guard; this Mr. Dowdswell treated us with considerable humanity, and appeared to be a Gentleman, nor were the Marines in General so Insolent as the Ships Crew….On the 31st the Commissary of Prisoners came on Board and took down the names, etc, of the prisoners….he told us Colonel Clark and many other Officers were confined at Flatbush. On Sunday, September 1st, we were removed to the ship Lord Rochford, commanded by one Lambert. This ship was much crowded. Most of the Officers were lodged on the quarter deck. Some nights we were considerably wet with rain.”
The Lord Rochford lay off New Utrecht. On the third of September the officers that had been confined at Flatbush were brought on board the snow called the Mentor. “On the fifth,” says Fitch, in his written account, of which this is an abstract, “we were removed on board this Snow, which was our prison for a long time. * * * We were about 90 in number, and ye Field Officers had Liberty of ye Cabbin, etc. * * * This Snow was commanded by one Davis, a very worthless, low-lived fellow. * * * When we first met on board the Mentor we spent a considerable time in Relating to each other ye particular Circumstances of our first being Taken, and also ye various Treatment with which we met on yt occasion, nor was this a disagreeable Entertainment in our Melancholy Situation. * * * Many of the officers and men were almost Destitute of Clothes, several having neither Britches, Stockings or Shoes, many of them when first taken were stripped entirely naked. Corporal Raymond of the 17th Regiment after being taken and Stripped was shamefully insulted and Abused by Gen’l Dehightler, seized by ye Hair of his head, thrown on the ground, etc. Some present, who had some small degree of humanity in their Composition, were so good as to favor them (the prisoners) with some old durty worn Garments, just sufficient to cover their nakedness, and in this Situation (they) were made Objects of Ridicule for ye Diversion of those Foreign Butchers.
“One Sam Talman (an Indian fellow belonging to the 17th Regiment) was Stripped and set up as a mark for them to Shoot at for Diversion or Practice, by which he Received two severe wounds, in the neck and arm * * * afterwards they destroyed him with many hundreds others by starvation in the prisons of New York.
“On October first orders came to land the prisoners in New York. This was not done until the seventh. On Monday about four o’clock Mr. Loring conducted us to a very large house on the West side of Broadway in the corner south of Warren Street near Bridewell, where we were assigned a small yard back of the house, and a Stoop in ye Front for our Walk. We were also Indulged with Liberty to pass and Repass to an adjacent pump in Ye Street.”
Although paroled the officers were closely confined in this place for six weeks. Their provisions, he says: “were insufficient to preserve ye Connection between Soul and Body, yet ye Charitable People of this City were so good as to afford us very considerable Relief on this account, but it was ye poor and those who were in low circumstances only who were thoughtful of our Necessities, and provisions were now grown scarce and Excessive dear. * * * Their unparalleled generosity was undoubtedly ye happy means of saving many Lives, notwithstanding such great numbers perished with hunger.
“Here we found a number of Officers made prisoners since we were, Colonel Selden, Colonel Moulton, etc. They were first confined in Ye City Hall. Colonel Selden died the Fryday after we arrived. He was Buried in the New Brick Churchyard, and most of the Officers were allowed to attend his Funeral. Dr. Thatcher of the British army attended him, a man of great humanity.”
Captain Fitch declares that there were two thousand wounded British and Hessians in the hospitals in New York after the battle of Fort Washington, which is a much larger estimate than we have found in other accounts. He says that the day of the battle was Saturday, November 16th, and that the prisoners were not brought to New York until the Monday following. They were then confined in the Bridewell, as the City Jail was then called, and in several churches. Some of them were soon afterwards sent on board a prison ship, which was probably the Whitby. “A number of the officers were sent to our place of confinement; Colonel Rawlings, Colonel Hobby, Major (Otho) Williams, etc. Rawlings and Williams were wounded, others were also wounded, among them Lieutenant Hanson (a young Gent’n from Va.) who was Shot through ye Shoulder with a Musq’t Ball of which wound he Died ye end of Dec’r.
“Many of ye charitable Inhabitants were denied admittance when they came to Visit us.”
On the twentieth of November most of the officers were set at liberty on parole. “Ye first Objects of our attention were ye poor men who had been unhappily Captivated with us. They had been landed about ye same time yt we were, and confined in several Churches and other large Buildings and although we had often Received Intelligence from them with ye most Deplorable Representation of their Miserable Situation, yet when we came to visit them we found their sufferings vastly superior to what we had been able to conceive. Nor are words sufficient to convey an Adequate Idea of their Unparalled Calamity. Well might ye Prophet say, ‘They yt be slain with ye sword are better than they yt be slain with hunger, for these pine away, etc.’
“Their appearance in general Rather Resembled dead Corpses than living men. Indeed great numbers had already arrived at their long home, and ye Remainder appeared far advanced on ye same Journey: their accommodations were in all respects vastly Inferior to what a New England Farmer would have provided for his Cattle, and although ye Commissary pretended to furnish them with two thirds of ye allowance of ye King’s Troops, yet they were cheated out of one half of that. They were many times entirely neglected from Day to Day, and received no Provision at all; they were also frequently Imposed upon in Regard to ye Quality as well as Quantity of their provision. Especially in the Necessary article of Bread of which they often received such Rotten and mouldy stuff, as was entirely unfit for use.
“* * * A large number of ye most feeble were Removed down to ye Quaker Meeting House on Queen Street, where many hundreds of them perished in a much more miserable Situation than ye dumb Beasts, while those whose particular business it was to provide them relief, paid very little or no attention to their unparalleled sufferings. This house I understand was under ye Superintendence of one Dr. Dibuke * * * who had been at least once convicted of stealing (in Europe) and had fled to this country for protection: It was said he often made application of his Cane among ye Sick instead of other medicines. * * * I have often been in danger of being stabbed for attempting to speak to a prisoner in ye yard. * * *
“About the 24th December a large number of prisoners were embarked on a ship to be sent to New England. What privates of the 17th Regiment remained living were Included in this number, but about one half had already perished in Prison. I was afterwards informed that the Winds being unfavourable and their accommodations and provisions on board ye Ship being very similar to what they had been provided with before, a large proportion of them perished before they could reach New England, so that it is to be feared very few of them lived to see their native homes.
“Soon after there was large numbers of the prisoners sent off by land both to the Southward and Eastward so yt when ye Officers were Removed over into Long Island in the latter part of January there remained but very few of the privates in that City except those released by Death which number was supposed to be about 1800.
“General Robertson, so famous for Politeness and Humanity was commanding Officer at New York during the aforesaid treatment of the prisoners. Governor Scheene was said to have visited the prisoners at the Churches and manifested great dissatisfaction at their ill Usage, yet I was never able to learn that ye poor Sufferers Rec’d any Advantage thereby.”
Captain Jabez Fitch was a prisoner eighteen months. After the Revolution he lived in Vermont, where he died in 1812.
THE HOSPITAL DOCTOR–A TORY’S ACCOUNT OF NEW YORK IN 1777–ETHAN ALLEN’S ACCOUNT OF THE PRISONERS
The doctor spoken of by Jabez Fitch as Dr. Dibuke is perhaps the notorious character described by Mr. Elias Boudinot in the Journal from which we have already quoted. On page 35 of this book he gives us the following:
“AN ACCOUNT OF THE FRENCHMAN WHO POISONED. AMERICAN PRISONERS IN NEW YORK, AND WAS REWARDED FOR SO DOING BY GENERAL, HOWE
“When the British Army took possession of New York they found a Frenchman in Goal, under Condemnation for Burglery and Robbery. He was liberated. He was a very loos, ignorant man. Had been a Servant. This fellow was set over our Prisoners in the Hospital, as a Surgeon, though he knew not the least principle of the Art. Dr. McHenry, a Physician of note in the American Army, and then a Prisoner, finding the extreme ignorance of this man, and that he was really murdering our people, remonstrated to the British Director of the Hospital, and refused visiting our sick Prisoners if this man was not dismissed. A British Officer, convinced that he had killed several of our People, lodged a complaint against him, when he was ordered to be tryed by a Court Martial, but the morning before the Court were to set, this Officer was ordered off to St Johns, and the Criminal was discharged for want of Evidence. During this man having the Charge of our Prisoners in the Hospital, two of our Men deserted from the Hospital and came into our Army when they were ordered to me for Examination. They Joined in this story. That they were sick in the Hospital under the care of the above Frenchman. That he came and examined them, and gave to each of them a dose of Physick to be taken immediately. A Young Woman, their Nurse, made them some private signs not to take the Physick immediately. After the Doctor was gone, she told them she suspected the Powder was poison. That she had several times heard this Frenchman say that he would have ten Rebels dead in such a Room and five dead in such a Room the next morning, and it always so happened. They asked her what they should do: She told them their only chance was to get off, sick as they were, that she would help them out and they must shift for themselves. They accordingly got off safe, and brought the Physick with them. This was given to a Surgeon’s Mate, who afterwards reported that he gave it to a Dog, and that he died in a very short time. I afterwards saw an account in a London Paper of this same Frenchman being taken up in England for some Crime and condemned to dye. At his Execution he acknowledged the fact of his having murdered a great number of Rebels in the Hospitals at New York by poyson. That on his reporting to General Howe the number of the Prisoners dead, he raised his pay. He further confessed that he poisoned the wells used by the American Flying Camp, which caused such an uncommon Mortality among them in the year 1776.”
Jabez Fitch seems to have been mistaken in thinking that General Robertson instead of Lord Howe was commanding in New York at this time.
We will now give the account written by a Tory gentleman, who lived in New York during a part of the Revolution, of Loring, the Commissary of Prisons, appointed by General Howe in 1776. Judge Thomas Jones was a noted loyalist of the day. Finding it inconvenient to remain in this country after the war, he removed to England, where he died in 1792, having first completed his “History of New York during the Revolution.” He gives a much larger number of prisoners in that city in the year 1776 than do any of the other authorities. We will, however, give his statements just as they were written.
“Upon the close of the campaign in 1776 there were not less than 10,000 prisoners (Sailors included) within the British lines in New York. A Commissary of Prisoners was therefore appointed, and one Joshua Loring, a Bostonian, was commissioned to the office with a guinea a day, and rations of all kinds for himself and family. In this appointment there was reciprocity. Loring had a handsome wife. The General, Sir William Howe, was fond of her. Joshua made no objections. He fingered the cash: the General enjoyed Madam. Everybody supposing the next campaign (should the rebels ever risk another) would put a final period to the rebellion. Loring was determined to make the most of his commission and by appropriating to his own use nearly two thirds of the rations allowed the prisoners, he actually starved to death about three hundred of the poor wretches before an exchange took place, and which was not until February, 1777, and hundreds that were alive at the time were so emaciated and enfeebled for the want of provisions, that numbers died on the road on their way home, and many lived but a few days after reaching their habitations. The war continuing, the Commissaryship of Prisoners grew so lucrative that in 1778 the Admiral thought proper to appoint one for naval prisoners. Upon the French War a Commissary was appointed for France. When Spain joined France another was appointed for Spain. When Great Britain made war upon Holland a Commissary was appointed for Dutch prisoners. Each had his guinea a day, and rations for himself and family. Besides, the prisoners were half starved, as the Commissaries filched their provisions, and disposed of them for their own use. It is a known fact, also, that whenever an exchange was to take place the preference was given to those who had, or could procure, the most money to present to the Commissaries who conducted the exchange, by which means large sums of money were unjustly extorted and demanded from the prisoners at every exchange, to the scandal and disgrace of Britons. We had five Commissaries of Prisoners, when one could have done all the business. Each Commissary had a Deputy, a Clerk, a Messenger in full pay, with rations of every kind.”
As Judge Jones was an ardent Tory we would scarcely imagine that he would exaggerate in describing the corruptions of the commissaries. He greatly deplored the cruelties with which he taxed General Howe and other officials, and declared that these enormities prevented all hopes of reconciliation with Great Britain.
We will next quote from the “Life of Ethan Allen,” written by himself, as he describes the condition of the prisoners in the churches in New York, more graphically than any of his contemporaries.
ETHAN ALLEN’S ACCOUNT OF THE AMERICAN PRISONERS
“Our number, about thirty-four, were all locked up in one common large room, without regard to rank, education, or any other accomplishment, where we continued from the setting to the rising sun, and as sundry of them were infected with the gaol and other distempers, the furniture of this spacious room consisted principally of excrement tubs. We petitioned for a removal of the sick into hospitals, but were denied. We remonstrated against the ungenerous usage of being confined with the privates, as being contrary to the laws and customs of nations, and particularly ungrateful in them, in consequence of the gentleman-like usage which the British imprisoned officers met with in America; and thus we wearied ourselves petitioning and remonstrating, but o no purpose at all; for General Massey, who commanded at Halifax, was as inflexible as the d—l himself. * * * Among the prisoners were five who had a legal claim to a parole, James Lovel, Esq; Captain Francis Proctor; a Mr. Rowland, Master of a Continental armed vessel; a Mr. Taylor, his mate, and myself. * * * The prisoners were ordered to go on board of a man-of-war, which was bound for New York, but two of them were not able to go on board and were left in Halifax: one died and the other recovered. This was about the 12th of October, 1776. * * * We arrived before New York and cast an anchor the latter part of October, where we remained several days, and where Captain Smith informed me that he had recommended me to Admiral Howe, and General Sir Wm. Howe, as a gentleman of honor and veracity, and desired that I might be treated as such. Captain Burk was then ordered on board a prison ship in the harbor. I took my leave of Captain Smith, and with the other prisoners was sent on board a transport ship. * * * Some of the last days of November the prisoners were landed at New York, and I was admitted to parole with the other officers, viz: Proctor, Rowland, and Taylor. The privates were put into the filthy churches in New York, with the distressed prisoners that were taken at Fort Washington, and the second night Sergeant Roger Moore, who was bold and enterprising, found means to make his escape, with every of the remaining prisoners that were taken with me, except three who were soon after exchanged: so that out of thirty-one prisoners who went with me the round exhibited in these sheets, two only died with the enemy, and three only were exchanged, one of whom died after he came within our lines. All the rest at different times made their escape from the enemy.
“I now found myself on parole, and restricted to the limits of the city of New York, where I soon projected means to live in some measure agreeable to my rank, though I was destitute of cash. My constitution was almost worn out by such a long and barbarous captivity. * * * In consequence of a regular diet and exercise my blood recruited, and my nerves in a great measure recovered their former tone * * * in the course of six months.
“* * * Those who had the misfortune to fall into the enemy’s hands at Fort Washington * * * were reserved from immediate death to famish and die with hunger: in fine the word rebel’ was thought by the enemy sufficient to sanctify whatever cruelties they were pleased to inflict, death itself not excepted. * * *
“The prisoners who were brought to New York were crowded into churches, and environed with slavish Hessian guards, a people of a strange language * * * and at other times by merciless Britons, whose mode of communicating ideas being unintelligible in this country served only to tantalize and insult the helpless and perishing; but above all the hellish delight and triumph of the tories over them, as they were dying by hundreds. This was too much for me to bear as a spectator; for I saw the tories exulting over the dead bodies of their countrymen. I have gone into the churches and seen sundry of the prisoners in the agonies of death, in consequence of very hunger; and others speechless and near death, biting pieces of chips; others pleading, for God’s sake for something to eat, and at the same time shivering with the cold. Hollow groans saluted my ears, and despair seemed to be imprinted on every of their countenances. The filth in these churches, in consequence of the fluxes, was almost beyond description. I have carefully sought to direct my steps so as to avoid it, but could not. They would beg for God’s sake for one copper or morsel of bread. I have seen in one of the churches seven dead, at the same time, lying among the excrements of their bodies.
“It was a common practice with the enemy to convey the dead from these filthy places in carts, to be slightly buried, and I have seen whole gangs of tories making derision, and exulting over the dead, saying ‘There goes another load of d—-d rebels!’ I have observed the British soldiers to be full of their blackguard jokes and vaunting on those occasions, but they seemed to me to be less malignant than the Tories.
“The provision dealt out to the prisoners was by no means sufficient for the support of life. It was deficient in Quantity, and much more so in Quality. The prisoners often presented me with a sample of their bread, which I certify was damaged to such a degree that it was loathsome and unfit to be eaten, and I am bold to aver it as my opinion, that it had been condemned and was of the very worst sort. I have seen and been fed upon damaged bread, in the course of my captivity, and observed the quality of such bread as has been condemned by the enemy, among which was very little so effectually spoiled as what was dealt out to these prisoners. Their allowance of meat, as they told me, was quite trifling and of the basest sort. I never saw any of it, but was informed, bad as it was, it was swallowed almost as quick as they got hold of it. I saw some of them sucking bones after they were speechless; others who could yet speak and had the use of their reason, urged me in the strongest and most pathetic manner, to use my interest in their behalf: ‘For you plainly see,’ said they,’that we are devoted to death and destruction,’ and after I had examined more particularly into their truly deplorable condition and had become more fully apprized of the essential facts, I was persuaded that it was a premeditated and systematized plan of the British council to destroy the youths of our land, with a view thereby to deter the country and make it submit to their despotism: but as I could not do them any material service, and by any public attempt for that purpose I might endanger myself by frequenting places the most nauseous and contagious that could be conceived of, I refrained going into the churches, but frequently conversed with such of the prisoners as were admitted to come out into the yard, and found that the systematical usage still continued. The guard would often drive me away with their fixed bayonets. A Hessian one day followed me five or six rods, but by making use of my legs, I got rid of the lubber.
“Sometimes I could obtain a little conversation notwithstanding their severities.
“I was in one of the yards and it was rumoured among those in the church, and sundry of the prisoners came with their usual complaints to me, and among the rest a large-boned, tall young man, as he told me from Pennsylvania, who was reduced to a mere skeleton. He said he was glad to see me before he died, which he had expected to have done last night, but was a little revived. He further informed me that he and his brother had been urged to enlist into the British army, but had both resolved to die first; that his brother had died last night, in consequence of that resolve, and that he expected shortly to follow him; but I made the other prisoners stand a little off and told him with a low voice to enlist; he then asked whether it was right in the sight of God? I assured him that it was, and that duty to himself obliged him to deceive the British by enlisting and deserting the first opportunity; upon which he answered with transport that he would enlist. I charged him not to mention my name as his adviser, lest it should get air and I should be closely confined, in consequence of it.
“The integrity of these suffering prisoners is incredible. Many hundreds of them, I am confident, submitted to death rather than enlist in the British service, which, I am informed, they most generally were pressed to do. I was astonished at the resolution of the two brothers, particularly; it seems that they could not be stimulated to such exertions of heroism from ambition, as they were but obscure soldiers. Strong indeed must the internal principle of virtue be which supported them to brave death, and one of them went through the operation, as did many hundreds others * * * These things will have their proper effect upon the generous and brave.
“The officers on parole were most of them zealous, if possible, to afford the miserable soldiers relief, and often consulted with one another on the subject, but to no effect, being destitute of the means of subsistence which they needed, nor could they project any measure which they thought would alter their fate, or so much as be a mean of getting them out of those filthy places to the privilege of fresh air. Some projected that all the officers should go in procession to General Howe and plead the cause of the perishing soldiers, but this proposal was negatived for the following reasons: viz: because that General Howe must needs be well acquainted and have a thorough knowledge of the state and condition of the prisoners in every of their wretched apartments, and that much more particular and exact than any officer on parole could be supposed to have, as the General had a return of the circumstances of the prisoners by his own officers every morning, of the number who were alive, as also of the number who died every twenty-four hours: and consequently the bill of mortality, as collected from the daily returns, lay before him with all the material situations and circumstances of the prisoners, and provided the officers should go in procession to General Howe, according to the projection, it would give him the greatest affront, and that he would either retort upon them, that it was no part of their parole to instruct him in his conduct to prisoners; that they were mutinying against his authority, and, by affronting him, had forfeited their parole, or that, more probably, instead of saying one word to them, would order them all into as wretched a confinement as the soldiers whom they sought to relieve, for at that time the British, from the General to the private centinel, were in full confidence, nor did they so much as hesitate, but that they should conquer the country.
“Thus the consultation of the officers was confounded and broken to pieces, in consequence of the dread which at the time lay on their minds of offending General Howe; for they conceived so murderous a tryant would not be too good to destroy even the officers on the least pretence of an affront, as they were equally in his power with the soldiers; and as General Howe perfectly understood the condition of the private soldiers, it was argued that it was exactly such as he and his council had devised, and as he meant to destroy them it would be to no purpose for them to try to dissuade him from it, as they were helpless and liable to the same fate, on giving the least affront. Indeed anxious apprehensions disturbed them in their then circumstances.
“Meantime mortality raged to such an intolerable degree among the prisoners that the very school boys in the street knew the mental design of it in some measure; at least they knew that they were starved to death. Some poor women contributed to their necessity till their children were almost starved; and all persons of common understanding knew that they were devoted to the cruellest and worst of deaths.
“It was also proposed by some to make a written representation of the condition of the soldiery, and the officers to sign it, and that it should be couched in such terms, as though they were apprehensive that the General was imposed upon by his officers, in their daily returns to him of the state and condition of the prisoners, and that therefor the officers moved with compassion, were constrained to communicate to him the facts relative to them, nothing doubting but that they would meet with a speedy redress; but this proposal was most generally negatived also, and for much the same reason offered in the other case; for it was conjectured that General Howe’s indignation would be moved against such officers as should attempt to whip him over his officers’ backs; that he would discern that he himself was really struck at, and not the officers who made the daily returns; and therefor self preservation deterred the officers from either petitioning or remonstrating to General Howe, either verbally or in writing; as also they considered that no valuable purpose to the distressed would be obtained.