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