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