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American Prisoners of the Revolution by Danske Dandridge

Part 4 out of 11

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many of the wretched sufferers were in this manner done to death we
have no means of discovering, but it must have been easier to die in
that manner than to have endured the protracted agonies of death by

John Pintard, who assisted his uncle, Lewis Pintard, Commissioner for
American prisoners in New York, thus wrote of their sufferings. It
must be remembered that the prisoners taken in 1776 died, for the most
part, before our struggling nation was able to protect them, before
Commissioners had been appointed, and when, in her feeble infancy, the
Republic was powerless to aid them.

"The prisoners taken on Long Island and at Fort Washington, sick,
wounded, and well, were all indiscriminately huddled together, by
hundreds and thousands, large numbers of whom died by disease, and
many undoubtedly poisoned by inhuman attendants, for the sake of their
watches or silver buckles."

It was on the 20th of January, 1777, that Washington proposed to
Mr. Lewis Pintard, a merchant of New York, that he should accept the
position as resident agent for American prisoners. In May of that year
General Parsons sent to Washington a plan for making a raid upon Long
Island, and bringing off the American officers, prisoners of war on
parole. Washington, however, disapproved of the plan, and it was not

No one sympathized with the unfortunate victims of British cruelty
more deeply than the Commander-in-chief. But he keenly felt the
injustice of exchanging sound, healthy, British soldiers, for starved
and dying wretches, for the most part unable even to reach their
homes. In a letter written by him on the 28th of May, 1777, to General
Howe, he declared that a great proportion of prisoners sent out by the
British were not fit subjects for exchange, and that, being made so
unfit by the severity of their treatment, a deduction should be
made. It is needless to say that the British General refused this

On the 10th of June, 1777, Washington, in a long letter to General
Howe, states that he gave clothing to the British prisoners in his
care. He also declares that he was not informed of the sufferings of
the Americans in New York until too late, and that he was refused
permission to establish an agency in that city to purchase what was
necessary to supply the wants of the prisoners.

It was not until after the battle of Trenton that anything could be
done to relieve these poor men. Washington, by his heroism, when he
led his little band across the half frozen Delaware, saved the lives
of the small remnant of prisoners in New York. After the battle he had
so many British and Hessian prisoners in his power, that he was able
to impress upon the British general the fact that American prisoners
were too valuable to be murdered outright, and that it was more
expedient to keep them alive for purposes of exchange.

Rivington's _Gazette_ of Jan. 15th, 1779, contains this notice:
"Privateers arriving in New York Harbor are to put their prisoners on
board the Good Hope or Prince of Wales prison ships.

"James Dick."

If the Jersey were in use at that time it must have been too crowded
for further occupancy. But although there is frequent mention in the
periodicals of the day of the prison ships of New York the Jersey did
not become notorious until later.

On the 29th of June, 1779, Sir George Collier, in a notice in
Rivington's _Gazette_, forbids "privateers landing prisoners on
Long Island to the damage and annoyance of His Majesty's faithful

This order was no doubt issued, in fear of contagion, which fear led
the British to remove their prison ships out of New York Harbor to the
retired waters of Wallabout Bay, where the work of destruction could
go on with less fear of producing a general pestilence.

In the issue for the 23rd of August, 1779, we read: "To be sold, The
sails and rigging of the ship Good Hope. Masts, spars, and yards as
good as new."

Among the accounts of cruelty to the prisoners it is refreshing to
come upon such a paragraph as this, from a New London, Conn. paper,
dated August 18th, 1779. "Last week five or six hundred American
prisoners were exchanged. A flag returned here with 47 American
prisoners, and though taken out of the Good Hope prison ship, it must
(for once) be acknowledged that all were very well and healthy. Only
150 left."

The next quotation that we will give contains one of the first
mentions of the Jersey as a prison ship, that we have been able to

"New London, Sept. 1st, 1779. D. Stanton testifies that he was taken
June 5th and put in the Jersey prison ship. An allowance from Congress
was sent on board. About three or four weeks past we were removed on
board the Good Hope, where we found many sick. There is now a hospital
ship provided, to which they are removed, and good attention paid."

A Boston paper dated September 2nd, 1779, has the following: "Returned
to this port Alexander Dickey, Commissary of Prisoners, from New York,
with a cartel, having on board 180 American prisoners. Their
countenances indicate that they have undergone every conceivable

"New London, Sep. 29th 1779. A Flag arrived here from New York with
117 prisoners, chiefly from New England."

From Rivington's _Gazette,_ March lst, 1780. "Last Saturday
afternoon the Good Hope prison ship, lying in the Wallebocht Bay was
entirely consumed after having been wilfully set on fire by a
Connecticut man named Woodbury, who confessed to the fact. He with
others of the incendiaries are removed to the Provost. The prisoners
let each other down from the port holes and decks into the water."

So that was the end of the Good Hope. She seems to have been burned by
some of the prisoners in utter desperation, probably with some hope
that, in the confusion, they might be enabled to escape, though we do
not learn that any of them were so fortunate, and the only consequence
of the deed appears to have been that the remaining ships were crowded
to suffocation.

A writer in the Connecticut _Gazette,_ whose name is not given,
says: "May 25th, 1780. I am now a prisoner on board the Falmouth, a
place the most dreadful; we are confined so that we have not room even
to lie down all at once to sleep. It is the most horrible, cursed,
hole that can be thought of. I was sick and longed for some small
beer, while I lay unpitied at death's door, with a putrid fever, and
though I had money I was not permitted to send for it. I offered
repeatedly a hard dollar for a pint. The wretch who went forward and
backward would not oblige me. I am just able to creep about. Four
prisoners have escaped from this ship. One having, as by accident,
thrown his hat overboard, begged leave to go after it in a small boat,
which lay alongside. Having reached the hat they secured the sentinel
and made for the Jersey shore, though several armed boats pursued, and
shot was fired from the shipping."

The New Jersey _Gazette_ of June 4th, 1780, says: "Thirty-five
Americans, including five officers, made their escape from the prison
ship at New York and got safely off."

"For Sale. The remains of the hospital ship Kitty, as they now lie at
the Wallebocht, with launch, anchors, and cables." Gaine's
_Mercury_, July 1st, 1780.

New Jersey _Gazette_, August 23, 1780. "Captain Grumet, who made
his escape from the Scorpion prison ship, at New York, on the evening
of the 15th, says more lenity is shown the prisoners. There are 200 in
the Strombolo, and 120 in the Scorpion."

It was in 1780 that the poet Freneau was a prisoner on the Scorpion,
which, at that time, was anchored in the East River. In Rivington's
_Gazette_, at the end of that year, the "hulks of his Majesty's
sloops Scorpion and Hunter" are advertised for sale. Also "the
Strombolo fire-ship, now lying in North River." It appears, however,
that there were no purchasers, and they remained unsold. They were
still in use until the end of the year 1781. Gaine's _Mercury_
declares that "the Strombolo, from August 21st to December 10th, 1781,
had never less than 150 prisoners on board, oftener over 200."

"Captain Cahoon with four others escaped from a prison ship to Long
Island in a boat, March 8, notwithstanding they were fired on from the
prison and hospital ships, and pursued by guard boats from three in
the afternoon to seven in the evening. He left 200 prisoners in New
York." _Connecticut Journal_, March 22, 1781.

The _Connecticut Gazette_, in May, 1781, stated that 1100 French
and American prisoners had died during the winter in the prison
ships. "New London, November 17th, 1781. A Flag of truce returned here
from New York with 132 prisoners, with the rest of those carried off
by Arnold. They are chiefly from the prison ships, and some from the
Sugar House, and are mostly sick."

"New London, Jan. 4th, 1782. 130 prisoners landed here from New York
December third, in most deplorable condition. A great part are since
dead, and the survivors so debilitated that they will drag out a
miserable existence. It is enough to melt the most obdurate heart to
see these miserable objects landed at our wharves sick and dying, and
the few rags they have on covered with vermin and their own



We must now conduct our readers back to the Provost Prison in New
York, where, for some time, Colonel Ethan Allen was incarcerated. Dr.
Elias Cornelius, a surgeon's mate, was taken prisoner by the British
on the 22nd of August, 1777. On that day he had ridden to the enemy's
advanced post to make observations, voluntarily accompanying a
scouting party. On his way back he was surprised, over-powered, and
captured by a party of British soldiers.

This was at East Chester. He seems to have lagged behind the rest of
the party, and thus describes the occurrence: "On riding into town
(East Chester) four men started from behind a shed and took me
prisoner. They immediately began robbing me of everything I had, horse
and harness, pistols, Great Coat, shoe-buckles, pocket book, which
contained over thirty pounds, and other things. The leader of the
guard abused me very much. * * * When we arrived at King's Bridge I
was put under the Provost Guard, with a man named Prichard and several
other prisoners." They were kept at the guard house there for some
time, and regaled with mouldy bread, rum and water, and sour apples,
which were thrown down for them to scramble for, as if they were so
many pigs. They were at last marched to New York. Just before reaching
that city they were carried before a Hessian general to be "made a
show of." The Hessians mocked them, told them they were all to be
hung, and even went so far as to draw their swords across their
throats. But a Hessian surgeon's mate took pity on Cornelius, and gave
him a glass of wine.

On the march to New York in the hot summer afternoon they were not
allowed to stop even for a drink of water. Cornelius was in a fainting
condition, when a poor woman, compassionating his sad plight, asked to
be allowed to give them some water. They were then about four miles
from New York. She ran into her house and brought out several pails of
beer, three or four loaves of bread, two or three pounds of cheese,
and besides all this, she gave money to some of the prisoners. Her
name was Mrs. Clemons. She was from Boston and kept a small store
along the road to New York.

Cornelius says: "We marched till we come to the Bowery, three quarters
of a mile from New York. * * * As we come into town, Hessians,
Negroes, and children insulted, stoned, and abused us. * * * In this
way we were led through half the streets as a show. * * * At last we
were ordered to the Sugar House, which formerly went by the name of
Livingstone's Sugar House. Here one Walley, a Sergeant of the 20th
Regiment of Irish traitors in the British service, had the charge of
the prisoners. This man was the most barbarous, cruel man that ever I
saw. He drove us into the yard like so many hogs. From there he
ordered us into the Sugar House, which was the dirtiest and most
disagreeable place that I ever saw, and the water in the pump was not
better than that in the docks. The top of the house was open * * * to
the weather, so that when it rained the water ran through every floor,
and it was impossible for us to keep dry. Mr. Walley gave thirteen of
us four pounds of mouldy bread and four pounds of poor Irish pork for
four days. I asked Mr Walley if I was not to have my parole. He
answered 'No!' When I asked for pen and ink to write a few lines to my
father, he struck me across the face with a staff which I have seen
him beat the prisoners." (with)

On the next morning Cornelius was conveyed to the Provost Guard. "I
was then taken down to a Dungeon. The provost marshal was Sergeant
Keith" (Cunningham appears to have been, at this time, murdering the
unfortunate prisoners in his power at Philadelphia).

"There was in this place a Captain Travis of Virginia, and Captain of
a sloop of war. There were also in this dismal place nine thieves,
murderers, etc. A Captain Chatham was taken sick with nervous
fever. I requested the Sergeant to suffer me to send for some
medicine, or I believed he might die, to which he replied he might
die, and if he did he would bury him.

"All the provisions each man had was but two pounds meat and two
pounds bread for a week, always one and sometimes both was not fit to
eat. * * * I had no change of linen from the 25th of August to the
12th of September."

It seems that the father of Cornelius, who lived on Long Island, was
an ardent Tory. Cornelius asked Sergeant O'Keefe to be allowed to send
to his father for money and clothing. But this was refused. "In this
hideous place," he continues, "I was kept until the 20th of September;
when Sergeant Keath took Captains C., and Travis, and myself, and led
us to the upper part of the prison, where were Ethan Allen, Major
Williams, Paine and Wells and others. Major Williams belonged at
Maryland and was taken prisoner at Fort Washington. * * *

"While at this place we were not allowed to speak to any friend, not
even out of the window. I have frequently seen women beaten with canes
and ram-rods who have come to the prisons' windows to speak to their
Husbands, Sons, or Brothers, and officers put in the dungeon just for
asking for cold water."

Dried peas were given out to the prisoners, without the means of
cooking them.

When Fort Montgomery was taken by the British the American officers
who had been in command at that post were brought to the Provost and
put into two small rooms on the lower floor. Some of them were badly
wounded, but no surgeon was allowed to dress their wounds. Cornelius
asked permission to do so, but this was refused. "All of us in the
upper prison," he continues, "were sometimes allowed to go on top of
the house. I took this opportunity to throw some Ointment and Lint
down the chimney to the wounded in the lower rooms with directions how
to use it. I knew only one of them--Lt. Col. Livingstone."

At the time of Burgoyne's surrender a rumor of the event reached the
prisoners, and women passing along the street made signs to assure
them that that general was really a captive. Colonel Livingstone
received a letter from his father giving an account of Burgoyne's
surrender. "Soon we heard hollooing and other expressions of joy from
him and others in the (lower) rooms. * * * He put the letter up
through a crack in the floor for us to read. * * * The whole prison
was filled with joy inexpressible. * * * From this time we were
better treated, although the provision was bad, but we drew rather
larger quantities of it. Some butter, and about a gill of rice and
some cole were dealt out to us, which we never drew before.

"About this time my father came to see me. I was called down to the
grates. My heart at first was troubled within me; I burst into tears,
and did not speak for some minutes. I put my hand through the grates,
and took my father's and held it fast. The poor old gentleman shed
many tears, and seemed much troubled to see me in so woeful a place.
* * * He asked me what I thought of myself now, and why I could not
have been ruled by him. * * * Soon the Provost Marshal came and said
he could not allow my father to stay longer.

"* * * Toward the latter part of December we had Continental bread and
beef sent us, and as much wood as we wished to burn. A friend gave me
some money which was very useful.

"Jan. 9th, 1778. This day Mr. Walley came and took from the prison
myself and six others under guard to the Sugar House. * * * At this
time my health was bad, being troubled with the scurvy, and my
prospects for the winter were dark."

He describes the Sugar House as a dreadful place of torment, and says
that thirty disorderly men were allowed to steal from the other
prisoners the few comforts they possessed. They would even take the
sick out of their beds, steal their bedding, and beat and kick the
wretched sufferers. The articles thus procured they would sell to
Mr. Walley (or Woolley) for rum.

On the 13th of January Cornelius was sent to the hospital. The Brick
Meeting House was used for the sick among the prisoners.

"Here," he continues, "I stayed until the 16th. I was not much better
than I was in the Sugar House, no medicine was given me, though I had
a cough and a fever. The Surgeon wished me as soon as I got better to
take the care of the sick, provided I could get my parole.

"Jan. 16th. On coming next morning he (the surgeon) said he could get
my parole. I was now determined to make my escape, though hardly able
to undertake it. Just at dusk, having made the Sentinel intoxicated, I
with others, went out into the backyard to endeavor to escape over the
fence. The others being backward about going first, I climbed upon a
tombstone and gave a spring, and went over safe, and then gave orders
for the others to do so also. A little Irish lad undertook to leap
over, and caught his clothes in the spikes on the wall, and made
something of a noise. The sentinel being aroused called out 'Rouse!'
which is the same as to command the guards to turn out. They were soon
out and surrounded the prison. In the mean time I had made my way to
St. Paul's Church, which was the wrong way to get out of town.

"The guards, expecting that I had gone towards North River, went in
that direction. On arriving at the Church I turned into the street to
go by the College and thus go out of town by the side of the river.
Soon after I was out of town I heard the eight o'clock gun, which * *
* was the signal for the sentinels to hail every man that came by. I
wished much to cross the river, but could not find any boat
suitable. While going along up the side of the river at 9 P.M., I was
challenged by a sentinel with the usual word (Burdon), upon which I
answered nothing, and on being challenged the second time I answered
'Friend.' He bade me advance and give the countersign, upon which I
fancied (pretended) I was drunk, and advanced in a staggering manner,
and after falling to the ground he asked me where I was going. I told
him 'Home,' but that I had got lost, and having been to New York had
taken rather too much liquor, and become somewhat intoxicated. He
then asked me my name which I told him was Matthew Hoppen. Mr. Hoppen
lived not far distant. I solicited him to put me in the right
direction, but he told me I must not go until the Sergeant of the
guard dismissed me from him, unless I could give him the
countersign. I still entreated him to let me go. Soon he consented and
directed my course, which I thanked him for. Soon the moon arose and
made it very light, and there being snow on the ground, crusted over,
and no wind, therefore a person walking could be heard a great

"At this time the tumor in my lungs broke, and being afraid to cough
for fear of being heard, prevented me from relieving myself of the pus
that was lodged there.

"I had now to cross lots that were cleared and covered with snow, the
houses being thick on the road which I was to cross, and for fear of
being heard I lay myself flat on my stomach and crept along on the
frozen snow. When I come to the fence I climbed over, and walked down
the road, near a house where there was music and dancing. At this time
one of the guards came out. I immediately fell down upon my face. Soon
the man went into the house. I rose again, and crossed the fence into
the field, and proceeded towards the river. There being no trees or
rocks to prevent my being seen, and not being able to walk without
being heard, and the dogs beginning to bark, I lay myself down flat
again, and crept across the field, which took me half an hour. I at
length reached the river and walked by the side of it some distance,
and saw a small creek which ran up into the island, and by the side of
it a small house, and two Sentinels one on each side of it. Not
knowing what to do I crept into a hole in the bank which led in
between two rocks. Here I heard them talk. I concluded to endeavor to
go around the head of the creek, which was about half a mile, but on
getting out of the hole I took hold of the limb of a tree which gave
way, and made a great noise. The sentinel, on hearing it said, 'Did
you not hear a person on the creek?'

"I waited some minutes and then went around the head of the creek and
came down the river on the other side to see if I could not find a
boat to cross to Long Island. But on finding sentinels near by I
retreated a short distance back, and went up the river. I had not
gone more than thirty rods when I saw another sentinel posted on the
bank of the river where I must pass. * * * I stood some time thinking
what course to pursue, but on looking at the man found he did not move
and was leaning on his gun. I succeeded in passing by without waking
him up. After this I found a Sentinel every fifteen or twenty rods
until I came within two miles of Hell Gate. Here I stayed until my
feet began to freeze, and having nothing to eat I went a mile further
up the river. It now being late I crept into the bushes and lay down
to think what to do next. I concluded to remain where I was during the
night, and early in the morning to go down to New York and endeavor to
find some house to conceal myself in.

"In the morning as soon as the Revelry Beating commenced I went on my
way to New York which was eight miles from this place. After
proceeding awhile I heard the morning guns fired from New York, though
I was four miles from it. I passed the sentinels unmolested down the
middle of the road, and arrived there before many were up. I met many
British and Hessian soldiers whom I knew very well, but they did not
know me.

"I went to a house, and found them friends of America, and was kindly
received of them, and (they) promised to keep me a few days.

"I had not been here but three quarters of an hour when I was obliged
to call for a bed. After being in bed two or three hours I was taken
with a stoppage in my breast, and made my resperation difficult, and
still being afraid to cough loud for fear of being heard. The good
lady of the house gave me some medicine of my own prescribing, which
soon gave me relief. Soon after a rumor spread about town among the
friends of America of my confinement, and expecting soon to be
retaken, they took measures to have me conveyed to Long Island, which
was accordingly done.

"Feb. 18th, 1778. The same day I was landed I walked nine miles, and
put up at a friend's house, during my walk I passed my Grandfather's
house, and dare not go in for fear he would deliver me up to the
British. Next morning I started on my journey again, and reached the
place I intended at 12 o'clock, and put up with two friends. The next
morning I and two companions started from our friends with four days
provisions, and shovels and axes to build us a hut in the woods. We
each of us had a musket, powder, and balls. After going two miles in
the woods we dug away the snow and made us a fire. After warming
ourselves we set to work to build ourselves a hut; and got one side of
it done the first day, and the next we finished it. It was tolerably
comfortable. We kept large fires, and cooked our meat on the
coals. In eight or ten days we had some provisions brought us by our
friends. At this time we heard that Captain Rogers was cast away on
Long Island, and concealed by some of his friends. We went to see him,
and found him. We attempted to stay in the house in a back room. At
about ten A. M. there came in a Tory, he knowing some of us seemed
much troubled. We made him promise that he would not make known our
escape. The next day our two comrades went back to their old quarters,
and Captain Rogers and myself and a friend went into the woods and
built us a hut, about ten miles from my former companions, with whom
we kept up a constant correspondence. Soon a man was brought to us by
our friends, whom we found to be John Rolston, a man who was confined
in the Provost Jail with us, and was carried to the Hospital about
three weeks after I was, and made his escape the same way, and by
friends was brought to Long Island.

"March 19th, 1778. About 5 o'clock a friend came to us and and said we
had an opportunity to go over to New England in a boat that had just
landed with four Tories, that had stolen the boat at Fairfield,
Conn. We immediately sent word to our two friends with whom I first
helped to build a hut, but they could not be found. At sunset those
that came in the boat went off, and some of our friends guided us
through the woods to the boat, taking two oars with us, for fear we
should not find any in the boat. On arrival at the place our kind
friends helped us off. We rowed very fast till we were a great
distance from land. The moon rose soon, and the wind being fair we
arrived we knew not where, about a half hour before day. We went on
shore, and soon found it was Norwalk, Conn. We had bade farewell to
Long Island, for the present, upon which I composed the following

"O fair you well, once happy land,
Where peace and plenty dwelt,
But now oppressed by tyrants' hands,
Where naught but fury's felt

"Behold I leave you for awhile,
To mourn for all your sons,
Who daily bleed that you may smile
When we've your freedom won

"After being rested, just as the day began to dawn, we walked to a
place called the Old Mill, where we found a guard (American) who
hailed us at a distance, and on coming up to him kindly received us,
and invited us to his house to warm us. This being done we went home
with Captain Rodgers, for he lived in Norwalk. Here we went to bed at
sunrise, and stayed till 10 o'clock. After dinner we took leave of
Captain Rodgers and started for head-quarters in Pennsylvania, where
the grand Army was at that time. In seven days we arrived at Valley

"Elias Cornelius."

This portion of the journal of Dr. Cornelius was published in the
_Putnam County Republican_, in 1895, with a short account of the

Dr. Cornelius was born on Long Island in 1758, and was just twenty at
the time of his capture. His ancestors came from Holland. They were of
good birth, and brought a seal bearing their coat of arms to this
country. On the 15th of April, 1777, he was appointed surgeon's mate
to the Second Regiment of Rhode Island troops under Colonel Israel

The article in the _Republican_ gives a description of Cunningham
and the Provost which we do not quote in full, as it contains little
that is new. It says, however that "While Cunningham's victims were
dying off from cold and starvation like cattle, he is said to have
actually mingled an arsenical preparation with the food to make them
die the quicker. It is recorded that he boasted that he had killed
more rebels with his own hand than had been slain by all the King's
forces in America."

Cornelius continued in the Continental service until January 1st,
1781, and received an honorable discharge. After the war he settled
at Yorktown, Westchester County, and came to be known as the "beloved
physician." He was very gentle and kind, and a great Presbyterian. He
died in 1823, and left descendants, one of whom is Judge
C. M. Tompkins, of Washington, D. C.

As we have seen, Cunningham was not always in charge of the
Provost. It appears that, during his absence in Philadelphia and other
places, where he spread death and destruction, he left Sergeant
O'Keefe, almost as great a villian as himself, in charge of the
hapless prisoners in New York. It is to be hoped that his boast that
he had killed more Americans than all the King's forces is an
exaggeration. It may, however, be true that in the years 1776 and
1777 he destroyed more American soldiers than had, at that time,
fallen on the field of battle.

When an old building that had been used as a prison near the City Hall
was torn down a few years ago to make way for the Subway Station of
the Brooklyn Bridge, a great number of skeletons were found _in its
cellars_. That these men starved to death or came to their end by
violence cannot be doubted. New York, at the time of the Revolution,
extended to about three-quarters of a mile from the Battery, its
suburbs lying around what is now Fulton Street. Cornelius speaks of
the Bowery as about three-quarters of a mile from New York!
"St. Paul's Church," says Mr. Haltigan, in his very readable book
called "The Irish in the American Revolution," "where Washington
attended divine service, is now the only building standing that
existed in those days, and that is a veritable monument to Irish and
American patriotism. * * * On the Boston Post Road, where it crossed a
brook in the vicinity of Fifty-Second street and Second avenue, then
called Beekman's Hill, William Beekman had an extensive country
house. During the Revolution this house was the British headquarters,
and residence of Sir William Howe, where Nathan Hale was condemned to
death, and where Major Andre received his last instructions before
going on his ill-fated mission to the traitor Arnold."

Lossing tells us of the imprisonment of one of the signers of the
Declaration of Independence, in the following language: "Suffering and
woe held terrible sway after Cornwallis and his army swept over the
plains of New Jersey. Like others of the signers of the great
Declaration, Richard Stockton was marked for peculiar vengeance by the
enemy. So suddenly did the flying Americans pass by in the autumn of
1776, and so soon were the Hessian vultures and their British
companions on the trail, that he had barely time to remove his family
to a place of safety before his beautiful mansion was filled with rude
soldiery. The house was pillaged, the horses and stock were driven
away, the furniture was converted into fuel, the choice old wines in
the cellar were drunk, the valuable library, and all the papers of
Mr. Stockton were committed to the flames, and the estate was laid
waste. Mr. Stockton's place of concealment was discovered by a party
of loyalists, who entered the house at night, dragged him from his
bed, and treating him with every indignity that malice could invent,
hurried him to New York, where he was confined in the loathsome
Provost Jail and treated with the utmost cruelty. When, through the
interposition of Congress he was released, his constitution was
hopelessly shattered, and he did not live to see the independence of
his country achieved. He died at his home at Princeton, in February,
1781, blessed to the last with the tender and affectionate attentions
of his noble wife."

We have gathered very little information about the British prisons in
the south, but that little shall be laid before the reader. It repeats
the same sad story of suffering and death of hundreds of martyrs to
the cause of liberty, and of terrible cruelty on the part of the
English as long as they were victorious.

Mr. Haltigan tells of the "tender mercies" of Cornwallis at the south
in the following words: "Cornwallis was even more cruel than Clinton,
and more flagrant in his violations of the conditions of capitulation.
After the fall of Charleston the real misery of the inhabitants
began. Every stipulation made by Sir Henry Clinton for their welfare
was not only grossly violated, but he sent out expeditions in various
sections to plunder and kill the inhabitants, and scourge the country
generally. One of these under Tarleton surprised Colonel Buford and
his Virginia regiment at Waxhaw, N. C., and while negotiations were
pending for a surrender, the Americans, without notice, were suddenly
attacked and massacred in cold blood. Colonel Buford and one hundred
of his men saved themselves only by flight. Though the rest sued for
quarter, one hundred and thirteen of them were killed on the spot, and
one hundred and fifty more were so badly hacked by Tarleton's dragoons
that they could not be removed. Only fifty-three out of the entire
regiment were spared and taken prisoners. 'Tarleton's quarter'
thereafter became the synonym for barbarity. * * * Feeling the silent
influence of the eminent citizens under parole in Charleston,
Cornwallis resolved to expatriate them to Florida.

"Lieutenant Governor Gadsden and seventy-seven other public and
influential men were taken from their beds by armed parties, before
dawn on the morning of the 27th of August, 1780, hurried on board the
Sandwich prison ship, without being allowed to bid adieu to their
families, and were conveyed to St. Augustine.

"The pretence for this measure, by which the British authorities
attempted to justify it, was the false accusation that these men were
concerting a scheme for burning the town and massacring the loyal
inhabitants. Nobody believed the tale, and the act was made more
flagrant by this wicked calumny. Arrived at St. Augustine the
prisoners were offered paroles to enjoy liberty within the precincts
of the town. Gadsden, the sturdy patriot, refused acquiescence, for he
disdained making further terms with a power that did not regard the
sanctity of a solemn treaty. He was determined not to be deceived the
second time.

"'Had the British commanders,' he said, 'regarded the terms of
capitulation at Charleston I might now, although a prisoner, enjoy the
smiles and consolations of my family under my own roof; but even
without a shadow of accusation preferred against me, for any act
inconsistent with my plighted faith, I am torn from them, and here, in
a distant land, invited to enter into new engagements. I will give no

"'Think better of it,' said Governor Tonyn, who was in command, 'a
second refusal of it will fix your destiny,--a dungeon will be your
future habitation.'

"'Prepare it then,' replied the inflexible patriot, 'I will give no
parole, so help me God!'

"And the petty tyrant did prepare it, and for forty-two weeks that
patriot, of almost threescore years of age, never saw the light of the
blessed sun, but lay incarcerated in the dungeon of the castle of St
Augustine. All the other prisoners accepted paroles, but they were
exposed to indignities more harrowing to the sensitive soul than close
confinement. When they were exchanged, in June, 1781, they were not
allowed even to touch at Charleston, but were sent to Philadelphia,
whither their families had been banished when the prisoners were taken
to the Sandwich. More than a thousand persons were thus exiled, and
husbands and wives, fathers and children, first met in a distant State
after a separation of ten months.

"Nearly all the soldiers taken prisoners at Charleston were confined
in prison ships in the harbor, where foul air, bad food, filth, and
disease killed hundreds of them. Those confined at Haddrell's Point
also suffered terribly. Many of them had been nurtured in affluence;
now far from friends and entirely without means, they were reduced to
the greatest straits. They were not even allowed to fish for their
support, but were obliged to perform the most menial services. After
thirteen months captivity, Cornwallis ordered them to be sent to the
West Indies, and this cruel order would have been carried out, but for
the general exchange of prisoners which took place soon afterwards.

"Governor Rutledge, in speaking before the South Carolina Assembly at
Jacksonboro, thus eloquently referred to the rigorous and
unjustifiable conduct of the British authorities:

"'Regardless of the sacred ties of honor, destitute of the feelings of
humanity, and determined to extinguish, if possible, every spark of
freedom in this country, the enemy, with the insolent pride of
conquerors, gave unbounded scope to the exercise of their tyrannical
disposition, infringed their public engagements, and violated their
most solemn treaties. Many of our worthiest citizens, without cause,
were long and closely confined, some on board prison ships, and others
in the town and castle of St. Augustine. Their properties were
disposed of at the will and caprice of the enemy, and their families
sent to a different and distant part of the continent without the
means of support. Many who had surrendered prisoners of war were
killed in cold blood. Several suffered death in the most ignominious
manner, and others were delivered up to savages and put to tortures,
under which they expired. Thus the lives, liberties, and properties of
the people were dependent solely on the pleasure of the British
officers, who deprived them of either or all on the most frivolous
pretenses. Indians, slaves, and a desperate banditti of the most
profligate characters were caressed and employed by the enemy to
execute their infamous purposes. Devastation and ruin marked their
progress and that of their adherents; nor were their violences
restrained by the charms or influence of beauty and innocence; even
the fair sex, whom it is the duty of all, and the pleasure and pride
of the brave to protect, they and their tender offspring, were victims
to the inveterate malice of an unrelenting foe. Neither the tears of
mothers, nor the cries of infants could excite pity or compassion. Not
only the peaceful habitation of the widow, the aged and the infirm,
but the holy temples of the Most High were consumed in flames, kindled
by their sacrilegious hands. They have tarnished the glory of the
British army, disgraced the profession of a British soldiery, and
fixed indelible stigmas of rapine, cruelty and peridy, and profaneness
on the British name.'"

When in 1808 the Tammany Society of New York laid the cornerstone of a
vault in which the bones of many of the prison ship martyrs were laid
Joseph D. Fay, Esq., made an oration in which he said:

"But the suffering of those unfortunate Americans whom the dreadful
chances of war had destined for the prison-ships, were far greater
than any which have been told. In that deadly season of the year, when
the dog-star rages with relentless fury, when a pure air is especially
necessary to health, the British locked their prisoner, after long
marches, in the dungeons of ships affected with contagion, and reeking
with the filth of crowded captives, dead and dying. * * * No
reasoning, no praying could obtain from his stern tyrants the smallest
alleviation of his fate.

"In South Carolina the British officer called Fraser, after trying in
every manner to induce the prisoners to enlist, said to them: 'Go to
your dungeons in the prison ships, where you shall perish and rot, but
first let me tell you that the rations which have been hitherto
allowed for your wives and children shall, from this moment, cease
forever; and you shall die assured that they are starving in the
public streets, and that _you_ are the authors of their fate.'

"A sentence so terribly awful appalled the firm soul of every
listening hero. A solemn silence followed the declaration; they cast
their wondering eyes one upon the other, and valor, for a moment, hung
suspended between love of family, and love of country. Love of
country at length rose superior to every other consideration, and
moved by one impulse, this glorious band of patriots thundered into
the astonished ears of their persecutors, 'The prison-ships and Death,
or Washington and our country!'

"Meagre famine shook hands with haggard pestilence, joining a league
to appall, conquer, and destroy the glorious spirit of liberty."



Philip Freneau, the poet of the Revolution, as he has been called, was
of French Huguenot ancestry. The Freneaus came to New York in 1685.
His mother was Agnes Watson, a resident of New York, and the poet was
born on the second of January, 1752.

In the year 1780 a vessel of which he was the owner, called the
Aurora, was taken by the British. Freneau was on board, though he was
not the captain of the ship. The British man-of-war, Iris, made the
Aurora her prize, after a fight in which the sailing master and many
of the crew were killed. This was in May, 1780. The survivors were
brought to New York, and confined on board the prison ship, Scorpion.
Freneau has left a poem describing the horrors of his captivity in
very strong language, and it is easy to conceive that his suffering
must have been intense to have aroused such bitter feelings. We give a
part of his poem, as it contains the best description of the
indignities inflicted upon the prisoners, and their mental and
physical sufferings that we have found in any work on the subject.


Conveyed to York we found, at length, too late,
That Death was better than the prisoner's fate
There doomed to famine, shackles, and despair,
Condemned to breathe a foul, infected air,
In sickly hulks, devoted while we lay,--
Successive funerals gloomed each dismal day

The various horrors of these hulks to tell--
These prison ships where Pain and Penance dwell,
Where Death in ten-fold vengeance holds his reign,
And injured ghosts, yet unavenged, complain:
This be my task--ungenerous Britons, you
Conspire to murder whom you can't subdue

* * * * *

So much we suffered from the tribe I hate,
So near they shoved us to the brink of fate,
When two long months in these dark hulks we lay,
Barred down by night, and fainting all the day,
In the fierce fervors of the solar beam
Cooled by no breeze on Hudson's mountain stream,
That not unsung these threescore days shall fall
To black oblivion that would cover all.

No masts or sails these crowded ships adorn,
Dismal to view, neglected and forlorn;
Here mighty ills oppressed the imprisoned throng;
Dull were our slumbers, and our nights were long.
From morn to eve along the decks we lay,
Scorched into fevers by the solar ray;
No friendly awning cast a welcome shade,
Once was it promised, and was never made;
No favors could these sons of Death bestow,
'Twas endless vengeance, and unceasing woe.
Immortal hatred doth their breasts engage,
And this lost empire swells their souls with rage.

Two hulks on Hudson's stormy bosom lie,
Two, on the east, alarm the pitying eye,
There, the black Scorpion at her mooring rides,
And there Strombolo, swinging, yields the tides;
Here bulky Jersey fills a larger space,
And Hunter, to all hospitals disgrace.
Thou Scorpion, fatal to thy crowded throng,
Dire theme of horror to Plutonian song,
Requir'st my lay,--thy sultry decks I know,
And all the torments that exist below!
The briny wave that Hudson's bosom fills
Drained through her bottom in a thousand rills;
Rotten and old, replete with sighs and groans,
Scarce on the water she sustained her bones:

Here, doomed to toil, or founder in the tide,
At the moist pumps incessantly we plied;
Here, doomed to starve, like famished dogs we tore
The scant allowance that our tyrants bore.
Remembrance shudders at this scene of fears,
Still in my view, some tyrant chief appears,
Some base-born Hessian slave walks threatening by,
Some servile Scot with murder in his eye,
Still haunts my sight, as vainly they bemoan
Rebellions managed so unlike their own.
O may I never feel the poignant pain
To live subjected to such fiends again!
Stewards and mates that hostile Britain bore,
Cut from the gallows on their native shore;
Their ghastly looks and vengeance beaming eyes
Still to my view in dismal visions rise,--
O may I ne'er review these dire abodes,
These piles for slaughter floating on the floods!
And you that o'er the troubled ocean go
Strike not your standards to this venomed foe,
Better the greedy wave should swallow all,
Better to meet the death-conducting ball,
Better to sleep on ocean's oozy bed,
At once destroyed and numbered with the dead,
Than thus to perish in the face of day
Where twice ten thousand deaths one death delay.
When to the ocean sinks the western sun,
And the scorched tories fire their evening gun,
"Down, rebels, down!" the angry Scotchmen cry,
"Base dogs, descend, or by our broadswords die!"

Hail, dark abode! What can with thee compare?
Heat, sickness, famine, death, and stagnant air,--

* * * * *

Swift from the guarded decks we rushed along,
And vainly sought repose, so vast our throng.
Three hundred wretches here, denied all light,
In crowded quarters pass the infernal night.
Some for a bed their tattered vestments join,
And some on chest, and some on floors recline;
Shut from the blessings of the evening air
Pensive we lay with mingled corpses there:
Meagre and wan, and scorched with heat below,
We looked like ghosts ere death had made us so:
How could we else, where heat and hunger joined
Thus to debase the body and the mind?
Where cruel thirst the parching throat invades,
Dries up the man and fits him for the shades?
No waters laded from the bubbling spring
To these dire ships these little tyrants bring--
By plank and ponderous beams completely walled
In vain for water, still in vain we called.
No drop was granted to the midnight prayer
To rebels in these regions of despair!
The loathsome cask a deadly dose contains,
Its poison circles through the languid veins.
"Here, generous Briton, generous, as you say,
To my parched tongue one cooling drop convey--
Hell has no mischief like a thirsty throat,
Nor one tormentor like your David Sproat!"

Dull flew the hours till, from the East displayed,
Sweet morn dispelled the horrors of the shade:
On every side dire objects met the sight,
And pallid forms, and murders of the night:
The dead were past their pains, the living groan,
Nor dare to hope another morn their own.

* * * * *

O'er distant streams appears the living green,
And leafy trees on mountain tops are seen:
But they no grove or grassy mountain tread,
Marked for a longer journey to the dead.

Black as the clouds that shade St. Kilda's shore,
Wild as the winds that round her mountains roar,
At every post some surly vagrant stands,
Culled from the English, or the Scottish bands.
Dispensing death triumphantly they stand,
Their musquets ready to obey command;
Wounds are their sport, and ruin is their aim;
On their dark souls compassion has no claim,
And discord only can their spirits please,
Such were our tyrants here, such foes as these.

* * * * *

But such a train of endless woes abound
So many mischiefs in these hulks are found
That on them all a poem to prolong
Would swell too high the horrors of our song.
Hunger and thirst to work our woe combine,
And mouldy bread, and flesh of rotten swine;
The mangled carcase and the battered brain;
The doctor's poison, and the captain's cane;
The soldier's musquet, and the steward's debt:
The evening shackle, and the noonday threat.

* * * * *

That charm whose virtue warms the world beside,
Was by these tyrants to our use denied.
While yet they deigned that healthsome balm to lade,
The putrid water felt its powerful aid;
But when refused, to aggravate our pains,
Then fevers raged and revelled through our veins;
Throughout my frame I felt its deadly heat;
I felt my pulse with quicker motions beat;
A pallid hue o'er every face was spread,
Unusual pains attacked the fainting head:
No physic here, no doctor to assist,
With oaths they placed me on the sick man's list:
Twelve wretches more the same dark symptoms took,
And these were entered on the doctor's book.
The loathsome Hunter was our destined place,
The Hunter, to all hospitals disgrace.
With soldiers sent to guard us on the road,
Joyful we left the Scorpion's dire abode:
Some tears we shed for the remaining crew,
Then cursed the hulk, and from her sides withdrew.


Now towards the Hunter's gloomy decks we came,
A slaughter house, yet hospital in name;
For none came there till ruined with their fees,
And half consumed, and dying of disease:--

But when too near, with laboring oar, we plied,
The Mate, with curses, drove us from the side:--
That wretch, who banished from the navy crew,
Grown old in blood did here his trade renew.
His rancorous tongue, when on his charge let loose,
Uttered reproaches, scandal, and abuse;
Gave all to hell who dared his king disown,
And swore mankind were made for George alone.
A thousand times, to irritate our woe,
He wished us foundered in the gulph below:
A thousand times he brandished high his stick,
And swore as often, that we were not sick:--
And yet so pale! that we were thought by some
A freight of ghosts from Death's dominions come.
But, calmed at length, for who can always rage?
Or the fierce war of boundless passion wage?
He pointed to the stairs that led below
To damps, disease, and varied forms of woe:--
Down to the gloom I took my pensive way,
Along the decks the dying captives lay,
Some struck with madness, some with scurvy pained,
But still of putrid fevers most complained.
On the hard floors the wasted objects laid
There tossed and tumbled in the dismal shade:
There no soft voice their bitter fate bemoaned,
But Death strode stately, while his victims groaned.
Of leaky decks I heard them long complain,
Drowned as they were in deluges of rain:
Denied the comforts of a dying bed,
And not a pillow to support the head:
How could they else but pine, and grieve and sigh,
Detest a wretched life, and wish to die?

Scarce had I mingled with this wretched band,
When a thin victim seized me by the hand:--
"And art thou come?"--death heavy on his eyes--
"And art thou come to these abodes?" he cries,
"Why didst thou leave the Scorpion's dark retreat?
And hither haste, a surer death to meet?
Why didst thou leave thy damp, infected cell?
If that was purgatory, this is hell.
We too, grown weary of that horrid shade,
Petitioned early for the Doctor's aid;
His aid denied, more deadly symptoms came,
Weak and yet weaker, glowed the vital flame;
And when disease had worn us down so low
That few could tell if we were ghosts or no,
And all asserted death would be our fate,
Then to the Doctor we were sent, too late"

Ah! rest in peace, each injured, parted shade,
By cruel hands in death's dark weeds arrayed,
The days to come shall to your memory raise
Piles on these shores, to spread through earth your praise.


From Brooklyn heights a Hessian doctor came,
Nor great his skill, nor greater much his fame:
Fair Science never called the wretch her son,
And Art disdained the stupid man to own.

He on his charge the healing work begun
With antmomial mixtures by the tun:
Ten minutes was the time he deigned to stay,
The time of grace allotted once a day:
He drenched us well with bitter draughts, tis true,
Nostrums from hell, and cortex from Peru:
Some with his pills he sent to Pluto's reign,
And some he blistered with his flies of Spain.
His Tartar doses walked their deadly round,
Till the lean patient at the potion frowned,
And swore that hemlock, death, or what you will,
Were nonsense to the drugs that stuffed his bill.
On those refusing he bestowed a kick,
Or menaced vengeance with his walking stick:
Here uncontrolled he exercised his trade,
And grew experienced by the deaths he made.

Knave though he was, yet candor must confess
Not chief physician was this man of Hesse:
One master o'er the murdering tribe was placed,
By him the rest were honored or disgraced
Once, and but once, by some strange fortune led,
He came to see the dying and the dead.
He came, but anger so inflamed his eye,
And such a faulchion glittered on his thigh,
And such a gloom his visage darkened o'er,
And two such pistols in his hands he bore,
That, by the gods, with such a load of steel,
We thought he came to murder, not to heal.
Rage in his heart, and mischief in his head,
He gloomed destruction, and had smote us dead
Had he so dared, but fear withheld his hand,
He came, blasphemed, and turned again to land


From this poor vessel, and her sickly crew
A british seaman all his titles drew,
Captain, Esquire, Commander, too, in chief,
And hence he gained his bread and hence his beef:
But sir, you might have searched creation round,
And such another ruffian not have found
Though unprovoked an angry face he bore,--
All were astonished at the oaths he swore
He swore, till every prisoner stood aghast,
And thought him Satan in a brimstone blast
He wished us banished from the public light;
He wished us shrouded in perpetual night;

* * * * *

He swore, besides, that should the ship take fire
We, too, must in the pitchy flames expire--
That if we wretches did not scrub the decks
His staff should break our base, rebellious necks;

* * * * *

If, where he walked, a murdered carcase lay,
Still dreadful was the language of the day;
He called us dogs, and would have held us so,
But terror checked the meditated blow
Of vengeance, from our injured nation due,
To him, and all the base, unmanly crew
Such food they sent to make complete our woes
It looked like carrion torn from hungry crows
Such vermin vile on every joint were seen,
So black, corrupted, mortified, and lean,
That once we tried to move our flinty chief,
And thus addressed him, holding up the beef--
"See, Captain, see, what rotten bones we pick,
What kills the healthy cannot cure the sick,
Not dogs on such by Christian men are fed,
And see, good master, see, what lousy bread!"
"Your meat or bread," this man of death replied,
"Tis not my care to manage or provide
But this, base rebel dogs I'd have you know,
That better than you merit we bestow--
Out of my sight!" nor more he deigned to say,
But whisked about, and frowning, strode away


Each day at least six carcases we bore
And scratched them graves along the sandy shore
By feeble hands the shallow graves were made,
No stone memorial o'er the corpses laid
In barren sands and far from home they lie,
No friend to shed a tear when passing by
O'er the mean tombs insulting Britons tread,
Spurn at the sand, and curse the rebel dead.
When to your arms these fatal islands fall--
For first or last, they must be conquered, all,
Americans! to rites sepulchral just
With gentlest footstep press this kindred dust,
And o'er the tombs, if tombs can then be found,
Place the green turf, and plant the myrtle round

This poem was written in 1780, the year that Freneau was captured. He
was on board the Scorpion and Hunter about two months, and was then
exchanged. We fear that he has not in the least exaggerated the
horrors of his situation. In fact there seem to have been many bloody
pages torn from the book of history, that can never be perused. Many
dark deeds were done in these foul prisons, of which we can only give
hints, and the details of many crimes committed against the helpless
prisoners are left to our imaginations. But enough and more than
enough is known to make us fear that _inhumanity_, a species of
cruelty unknown to the lower animals, is really one of the most
prominent characteristics of men. History is a long and bloody record
of battles, massacres, torture chambers; greed and violence; bigotry
and sin. The root of all crimes is selfishness. What we call
inhumanity is we fear not _inhuman_, but _human nature unrestrained_.
It is true that some progress is made, and it is no longer the custom
to kill all captives, at least not in civilized countries. But war
will always be "_horrida bella_," chiefly because war means license,
when the unrestrained, wolfish passions of man get for the time the
upper hand. Our task, however, is not that of a moralist, but of a
narrator of facts, from which all who read can draw the obvious moral
for themselves.



Of all the ships that were ever launched the "Old Jersey" is the most
notorious. Never before or since, in the dark annals of human
sufferings, has so small a space enclosed such a heavy weight of
misery. No other prison has destroyed so many human beings in so short
a space of time. And yet the Jersey was once as staunch and beautiful
a vessel as ever formed a part of the Royal Navy of one of the
proudest nations of the world. How little did her builders imagine
that she would go down to history accompanied by the execrations of
all who are acquainted with her terrible record!

It is said that it was in the late spring of 1780 that the Old Jersey,
as she was then called, was first moored in Wallabout Bay, off the
coast of Long Island. We can find no record to prove that she was used
as a prison ship until the winter of that year. She was, at first, a
hospital ship for British soldiers.

The reason for the removal of the unfortunate prisoners from the ships
in New York Harbor was that pestilential sickness was fast destroying
them, and it was feared that the inhabitants of New York would suffer
from the prevailing epidemics. They were therefore placed in rotten
hulks off the quiet shores of Long Island, where, secluded from the
public eye, they were allowed to perish by the thousands from cruel
and criminal neglect.

"The Old Jersey and the two hospital ships," says General J. Johnson,
"remained in the Wallabout until New York was evacuated by the
British. The Jersey was the receiving ship: the others, truly, the
ships of death!

"It has been generally thought that all the prisoners died on board
the Jersey. This is not true. Many may have died on board of her who
were not reported as sick, but all who were placed on the sick list
were removed to the hospital ships, from which they were usually
taken, sewed up in a blanket, to their graves.

"After the hospital ships were brought into the Wallabout, it was
reported that the sick were attended by physicians. Few indeed were
those who recovered, or came back to tell the tale of their sufferings
in those horrible places. It was no uncommon sight to see five or six
dead bodies brought on shore in a single morning, when a small
excavation would be dug at the foot of the hill, the bodies cast into
it, and then a man with a shovel would quickly cover them by
shovelling sand down the hill upon them.

"Many were buried in a ravine of this hill and many on Mr. Remsen's
farm. The whole shore, from Rennie's Point, to Mr. Remsen's dooryard,
was a place of graves; as were also the slope of the hill near the
house; the shore, from Mr. Remsen's barn along the mill-pond to
Rappelye's farm; and the sandy island between the flood-gates and the
mill-dam, while a few were buried on the shore on the east side of the

"Thus did Death reign here, from 1776 (when the Whitby prison ship was
first moored in the Wallabout) until the peace. The whole Wallabout
was a sickly place during the war. The atmosphere seemed to be charged
with foul air: from the prison ships; and with the effluvia of dead
bodies washed out of their graves by the tides. * * * More than half
of the dead buried on the outer side of the mill-pond, were washed out
by the waves at high tide, during northeasterly winds.

"The bodies of the dead lay exposed along the beach, drying and
bleaching in the sun, and whitening the shores, till reached by the
power of a succeeding storm, as the agitated waves receded, the bones
receded with them into the deep, where they remain, unseen by man,
awaiting the resurrection morn, when, again joined to the spirits to
which they belong, they will meet their persecuting murderers at the
bar of the Supreme Judge of the quick and the dead.

"We have ourselves," General Johnson continues, "examined many of the
skulls lying on the shore. From the teeth they appeared to be the
remains of men in the prime of life."

We will quote more of this interesting account written by an
eyewitness of the horrors he records, in a later chapter. At present
we will endeavor to give the reader a short history of the Jersey,
from the day of her launching to her degradation, when she was devoted
to the foul usages of a prison ship.

She was a fourth rate ship of the line, mounting sixty guns, and
carrying a crew of four hundred men. She was built in 1736, having
succeeded to the name of a celebrated 50-gun ship, which was then
withdrawn from the service, and with which she must not be
confounded. In 1737 she was fitted for sea as one of the Channel
Fleet, commanded by Sir John Norris.

In the fall of 1738 the command of the Jersey was given to Captain
Edmund Williams, and in July, 1739, she was one of the vessels which
were sent to the Mediterranean under Rear Admiral Chaloner Ogle, when
a threatened rupture with Spain rendered it necessary to strengthen
the naval force in that quarter.

The trouble in the Mediterranean having been quieted by the appearance
of so strong a fleet, in 1740 the Jersey returned home; but she was
again sent out, under the command of Captain Peter Lawrence, and was
one of the vessels forming the fleet of Sir John Norris, when, in the
fall of that year and in the spring of 1741, that gentleman made his
fruitless demonstrations against the Spanish coast. Soon afterwards
the Jersey, still forming one of the fleet commanded by Sir Chaloner
Ogle, was sent to the West Indies, to strengthen the forces at that
station, commanded by Vice-Admiral Vernon, and she was with that
distinguished officer when he made his well-known, unsuccessful
attack on Carthagena, and the Spanish dominions in America in that

In March, 1743, Captain Lawrence was succeeded m the command of the
Jersey by Captain Harry Norris, youngest son of Admiral Sir John
Norris: and the Jersey formed one of the fleet commanded by Sir John
Norris, which was designed to watch the enemy's Brest fleet; but
having suffered severely from a storm while on that station, she was
obliged to return to the Downs.

Captain Harry Norris having been promoted to a heavier ship, the
command of the Jersey was given soon afterwards to Captain Charles
Hardy subsequently well known as Governor of the Colony of New York;
and in June, 1744, that officer having been appointed to the command
of the Newfoundland Station, she sailed for North America, and bore
his flag in those waters during the remainder of the year. In 1745,
still under the immediate command of Captain Hardy, the Jersey was one
of the ships which, under Vice-Admiral Medley, were sent to the
Mediterranean, where Vice-Admiral Sir William Rowley then commanded;
and as she continued on that station during the following year there
is little doubt that Captain Hardy remained there, during the
remainder of his term of service on that vessel.

It was while under the command of Captain Hardy in July, 1745, that
the Jersey was engaged with the French ship, St. Esprit, of 74 guns,
in one of the most desperate engagements on record. The action
continued during two hours and a half, when the St. Esprit was
compelled to bear away for Cadiz, where she was repaired and refitted
for sea. At the close of Sir Charles Hardy's term of service in 1747,
the Jersey was laid up, evidently unfit for active service; and in
October, 1748, she was reported among the "hulks" in port.

On the renewal of hostilities with France in 1756 the Jersey was
refitted for service, and the command given to Captain John Barker,
and in May, 1757, she was sent to the Mediterranean, where, under the
orders of Admiral Henry Osbourne, she continued upwards of two years,
having been present, on the 28th of February, 1758, when M. du Quesne
made his ineffectual attempt to reinforce M. De la Clue, who was then
closely confined, with the fleet under his command, in the harbor of

On the 18th of August, 1759, while commanded by Captain Barker, the
Jersey, with the Culloden and the Conqueror, were ordered by Admiral
Boscowan, the commander of the fleet, to proceed to the mouth of the
harbor of Toulon, for the purpose of cutting out or destroying two
French ships which were moored there under cover of the batteries with
the hope of forcing the French Admiral, De la Clue, to an
engagement. The three ships approached the harbour, as directed, with
great firmness; but they were assailed by so heavy a fire, not only
from the enemy's ships and fortifications, but from several masked
batteries, that, after an unequal but desperate contest of upwards of
three hours, they were compelled to retire without having succeeded in
their object; and to repair to Gibraltar to be refitted.

In the course of the year 1759 Captain Barker was succeeded in the
command of the Jersey by Captain Andrew Wilkinson, under whom, forming
one of the Mediterranean fleet, commanded by Sir Charles Saunders, she
continued in active service until 1763.

In 1763 peace was established, and the Jersey returned to England and
was laid up; but in May, 1766, she was again commissioned, and under
the command of Captain William Dickson, and bearing the flag of
Admiral Spry, she was ordered to her former station in the
Mediterranean, where she remained three years.

In the spring of 1769, bearing the flag of Commodore Sir John Byron,
the Jersey sailed for America. She seems to have returned home at the
close of the summer, and her active duties appear to have been brought
to an end.

She remained out of commission until 1776, when, without armament, and
under the command of Captain Anthony Halstead, she was ordered to New
York as a hospital ship.

Captain Halstead died on the 17th of May, 1778, and, in July
following, he was succeeded by Commander David Laird, under whom,
either as a hospital, or a prison ship, she remained in Wallabout bay,
until she was abandoned at the close of the war, to her fate, which
was to rot in the mud at her moorings, until, at last, she sank, and
for many years her wretched worm-eaten old hulk could be seen at low
tide, shunned by all, a sorry spectacle, the ghost of what had once
been a gallant man-of-war.

This short history of the Jersey has been condensed from the account
written in 1865 by Mr. Henry B. Dawson and published at Morrisania,
New York, in that year.

In an oration delivered by Mr. Jonathan Russel, in Providence, R. I.,
on the 4th of July 1800, he thus speaks of this ill-fated vessel and
of her victims: "But it was not in the ardent conflicts of the field
only, that our countrymen fell; it was not the ordinary chances of war
alone which they had to encounter. Happy indeed, thrice happy were
Warren, Montgomery, and Mercer; happy those other gallant spirits who
fell with glory in the heat of the battle, distinguished by their
country and covered with her applause. Every soul sensible to honor,
envies rather than compassionates their fate. It was in the dungeons
of our inhuman invaders; it was in the loathsome and pestiferous
prisons, that the wretchedness of our countrymen still makes the heart
bleed. It was there that hunger, and thirst, and disease, and all the
contumely that cold-hearted cruelty could bestow, sharpened every pang
of death. Misery there wrung every fibre that could feel, before she
gave the Blow of Grace which sent the sufferer to eternity. It is said
that poison was employed. No, there was no such mercy there. There,
nothing was employed which could blunt the susceptibility to anguish,
or which, by hastening death, could rob its agonies of a single
pang. On board one only of these Prison ships above 11,000 of our
brave countrymen are said to have perished. She was called the
Jersey. Her wreck still remains, and at low ebb, presents to the world
its accursed and blighted fragments. Twice in twenty-four hours the
winds of Heaven sigh through it, and repeat the groans of our expiring
countrymen; and twice the ocean hides in her bosom those deadly and
polluted ruins, which all her waters cannot purify. Every rain that
descends washes from the unconsecrated bank the bones of those
intrepid sufferers. They lie, naked on the shore, accusing the
neglect of their countrymen. How long shall gratitude, and even piety
deny them burial? They ought to be collected in one vast ossory, which
shall stand a monument to future ages, of the two extremes of human
character: of that depravity which, trampling on the rights of
misfortune, perpetrated cold and calculating murder on a wretched and
defenceless prisoner; and that virtue which animated this prisoner to
die a willing martyr to his country. Or rather, were it possible,
there ought to be raised a Colossal Column whose base sinking to Hell,
should let the murderers read their infamy inscribed upon it; and
whose capital of Corinthian laurel ascending to Heaven, should show
the sainted Patriots that they have triumphed.

"Deep and dreadful as the coloring of this picture may appear, it is
but a taint and imperfect sketch of the original. You must remember a
thousand unutterable calamities; a thousand instances of domestic as
well as national anxiety and distress; which mock description. You
ought to remember them; you ought to hand them down in tradition to
your posterity, that they may know the awful price their fathers paid
for freedom."






O Sea! in whose unfathomable gloom
A world forlorn of wreck and ruin lies,
In thy avenging majesty arise,
And with a sound as of the trump of doom
Whelm from all eyes for aye yon living tomb,
Wherein the martyr patriots groaned for years,
A prey to hunger and the bitter jeers
Of foes in whose relentless breasts no room
Was ever found for pity or remorse;
But haunting anger and a savage hate,
That spared not e'en their victim's very corse,
But left it, outcast, to its carrion fate
Wherefore, arise, O Sea! and sternly sweep
This floating dungeon to thy lowest deep

It was stated in the portion of the eloquent oration given in our last
chapter that more than 11,000 prisoners perished on board the Jersey
alone, during the space of three years and a half that she was moored
in the waters of Wallabout Bay. This statement has never been
contradicted, as far as we know, by British authority. Yet we trust
that it is exaggerated. It would give an average of more than three
thousand deaths a year. The whole number of names copied from the
English War Records of prisoners on board the Jersey is about
8,000. This, however, is an incomplete list. You will in vain search
through its pages to find the recorded names of many prisoners who
have left well attested accounts of their captivity on board that
fatal vessel. All that we can say now is that the number who perished
there is very great.

As late as 1841 the bones of many of these victims were still to be
found on the shores of Walabout Bay, in and around the Navy Yard. On
the 4th of February of that year some workmen, while engaged in
digging away an embankment in Jackson Street, Brooklyn, near the Navy
Yard, accidentally uncovered a quantity of human bones, among which
was a skeleton having a pair of iron manacles still upon the
wrists. (See Thompson's History of Long Island, Vol. 1, page 247.)

In a paper published at Fishkill on the 18th of May, 1783, is the
following card: "To All Printers, of Public Newspapers:--Tell it to
the world, and let it be published in every Newspaper throughout
America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, to the everlasting disgrace and
infamy of the British King's commanders at New York: That during the
late war it is said that 11,644 American prisoners have suffered death
by their inhuman, cruel, savage, and barbarous usage on board the
filthy and malignant British prison ship called the Jersey, lying at
New York. Britons tremble, lest the vengeance of Heaven fall on your
isle, for the blood of these unfortunate victims!

"An American"

"They died, the young, the loved, the brave,
The death barge came for them,
And where the seas yon black rocks lave
Is heard their requiem
They buried them and threw the sand
Unhallowed o'er that patriot band

The black ship like a demon sate
Upon the prowling deep,
From her came fearful sounds of hate,
Till pain stilled all in sleep
It was the sleep that victims take,
Tied, tortured, dying, at the stake.

Yet some the deep has now updug,
Their bones are in the sun,
Whether by sword or deadly drug
They perished, one by one,
Was it not dread for mortal eye
To see them all so strangely die?

Are there those murdered men who died
For freedom and for me?
They seem to point, in martyred pride
To that spot upon the sea
From whence came once the frenzied yell,
From out that wreck, that prison hell"

This rough but strong old poem was written many years ago by a
Mr. Whitman We have taken the liberty of retouching it to a slight

It is well known that _twenty hogsheads_ of bones were collected
in 1808 from the shores of the Wallabout, and buried under the
auspices of the Tammany Society in a vault prepared for the
purpose. These were but a small part of the remains of the victims of
the prison ships. Many were, as we have seen, washed into the sea, and
many more were interred on the shores of New York Harbor, before the
prison ships were removed to the Wallabout. It will be better that we
should give the accounts left to us by eye witnesses of the sufferings
on board these prison ships, and we will therefore quote from the
narrative of John Van Dyke, who was confined on board the Jersey
before her removal to the Wallabout.

Captain John Van Dyke was taken prisoner in May, 1780, at which time
he says: "We were put on board the prison ship Jersey, anchored off
Fly Market. (New York City) This ship had been a hospital ship. When I
came on board her stench was so great, and my breathing this putrid
air--I thought it would kill me, but after being on board some days I
got used to it, and as though all was a common smell. * * *

"On board the Jersey prison ship it was short allowance, so short a
person would think it was not possible for a man to live on. They
starved the American prisoners to make them enlist in their service. I
will now relate a fact. Every man in a mess of six took his daily turn
to get the mess's provisions. One day I went to the galley and drew a
piece of salt, boiled pork. I went to our mess to divide it. * * * I
cut each one his share, and each one eat our day's allowance in one
mouthful of this salt pork and nothing else. One day called peaday I
took the drawer of our doctor's chest (Dr. Hodges of Philadelphia) and
went to the galley, which was the cooking place, with my drawer for a
soup dish. I held it under a large brass cock, the cook turned it. I
received the allowance of my mess, and behold! Brown water, and
fifteen floating peas--no peas on the bottom of my drawer, and this
for six men's allowance for 24 hours. The peas were all in the bottom
of the kettle. Those left would be taken to New York and, I suppose,

"One day in the week, called pudding day, we would receive three
pounds of damaged flour, in it would be green lumps such as their men
would not eat, and one pound of very bad raisins, one third raisin
sticks. We would pick out the sticks, mash the lumps of flour, put
all with some water into our drawer, mix our pudding and put it into a
bag and boil it with a tally tied to it with the number of our
mess. This was a day's allowance. We, for some time, drew a half pint
of rum for each man. One day Captain Lard (Laird) who commanded the
ship Jersey, came on board. As soon as he was on the main deck of the
ship he cried out for the boatswain. The boatswain arrived and in a
very quick motion, took off his hat. There being on deck two half
hogshead tubs where our allowance of rum was mixed into grog, Captain
L., said, 'Have the prisoners had their allowance of rum today?' 'No,
sir' answered the boatswain. Captain L. replied, 'Damn your soul, you
rascal, heave it overboard.'

"The boatswain, with help, upset the tubs of rum on the middle
deck. The grog rum run out of the scuppers of the ship into the
river. I saw no more grog on board. * * * Every fair day a number of
British officers and sergeants would come on board, form in two ranks
on the quarter deck, facing inwards, the prisoners in the after part
of the quarter deck. As the boatswain would call a name, the word
would be 'Pass!' As the prisoners passed between the ranks officers
and sergeants stared them in the face. This was done to catch
deserters, and if they caught nothing the sergeants would come on the
middle deck and cry out 'Five guineas bounty to any man that will
enter his Majesty's service!'

"Shortly after this party left the ship a Hessian party would come on
board, and the prisoners had to go through the same routine of duty

"From the Jersey prison ship eighty of us were taken to the pink stern
sloop-of-war Hunter, Captain Thomas Henderson, Commander. We were
taken there in a large ship's long boat, towed by a ten-oar barge, and
one other barge with a guard of soldiers in the rear.

"On board the ship Hunter we drew one third allowance, and every
Monday we received a loaf of wet bread, weighing seven pounds for each
mess. This loaf was from Mr. John Pintard's father, of New York, the
American Commissary, and this bread, with the allowance of provisions,
we found sufficient to live on.

"After we had been on board some time Mr. David Sproat, the British
Commissary of prisoners, came on board; all the prisoners were ordered
aft; the roll was called and as each man passed him Mr. Sproat would
ask, 'Are you a seaman?' The answer was 'Landsman, landsman.' There
were ten landsmen to one answer of half seaman. When the roll was
finished Mr. Sproat said to our sea officers, 'Gentlemen, how do you
make out at sea, for the most part of you are landsmen?'

"Our officers answered: 'You hear often how we make out. When we meet
our force, or rather more than our force we give a good account of

"Mr. Sproat asked, 'And are not your vessels better manned than
these. Our officers replied, 'Mr Sproat, we are the best manned out of
the port of Philadelphia.' Mr. Sproat shrugged his shoulders saying,
'I cannot see how you do it.'"

We do not understand what John Van Dyke meant by his expression "half
seaman." It is probable that the sailors among the prisoners pretended
to be soldiers in order to be exchanged. There was much more
difficulty in exchanging sailors than soldiers, as we shall see. David
Sproat was the British Commissary for Naval Prisoners alone. In a
paper published in New York in April 28th, 1780, appears the following
notice:--"I do hereby direct all Captains, Commanders, Masters, and
Prize Masters of ships and other vessels, who bring naval prisoners
into this port, immediately to send a list of their names to this
office, No. 33 Maiden Lane, where they will receive an order how to
dispose of them.

"(Signed) David Sproat."

The Jersey and some of the other prison ships often had landsmen among
their prisoners, at least until the last years of the war, when they
were so overcrowded with sailors, that there must have been scant room
for any one else.

The next prisoner whose recollections we will consider is Captain
Silas Talbot, who was confined on board the Jersey in the fall of
1780. He says: "All her port holes were closed. * * * There were about
1,100 prisoners on board. There were no berths or seats, to lie down
on, not a bench to sit on. Many were almost without cloaths. The
dysentery, fever, phrenzy and despair prevailed among them, and filled
the place with filth, disgust and horror. The scantiness of the
allowance, the bad quality of the provisions, the brutality of the
guards, and the sick, pining for comforts they could not obtain,
altogether furnished continually one of the greatest scenes of human
distress and misery ever beheld. It was now the middle of October, the
weather was cool and clear, with frosty nights, so that the number of
deaths per day was _reduced to an average of ten_, and this
number was considered by the survivors a small one, when compared with
the terrible mortality that had prevailed for three months before. The
human bones and skulls, yet bleaching on the shore of Long Island, and
daily exposed, by the falling down of the high bank on which the
prisoners were buried, is a shocking sight, and manifestly
demonstrates that the Jersey prison ship had been as destructive as a
field of battle."



Ebenezer Fox, a prisoner on board the Jersey, wrote a little book
about his dreadful experiences when he was a very old man. The book
was written in 1838, and published by Charles Fox in Boston in
1848. Ebenezer Fox was born in the East Parish of Roxbury, Mass., in
1763. In the spring of 1775 he and another boy named Kelly ran away to
sea. Fox shipped as a cabin boy in a vessel commanded by Captain
Joseph Manchester.

He made several cruises and returned home. In 1779 he enlisted, going
as a substitute for the barber to whom he was apprenticed. His company
was commanded by Captain William Bird of Boston in a regiment under
Colonel Proctor. Afterwards he signed ship's papers and entered the
naval service on a twenty gun ship called the Protector, Captain John
F. Williams of Massachusetts. On the lst of April, 1780, they sailed
for a six months cruise, and on the ninth of June, 1780, fought the
Admiral Duff until she took fire and blew up. A short time afterwards
the Protector was captured by two English ships called the Roebuck and

Fox concealed fifteen dollars in the crown of his hat, and fifteen
more in the soles of his shoes.

All the prisoners were sent into the hold. One third of the crew of
the Protector were pressed into the British service. The others were
sent to the Jersey. Evidently this prison ship had already become
notorious, for Fox writes: "The idea of being incarcerated in this
floating pandemonium filled us with horror, but the ideas we had
formed of its horror fell far short of the reality. * * * The Jersey
was removed from the East River, and moored with chain cables at the
Wallabout in consequence of the fears entertained that the sickness
which prevailed among the prisoners might spread to the shore. * * * I
now found myself in a loathsome prison, among a collection of the most
wretched and disgusting looking objects that I ever beheld in human

"Here was a motley crew, covered with rags and filth; visages pallid
with disease; emaciated with hunger and anxiety; and hardly retaining
a trace of their original appearance. Here were men, who had once
enjoyed life while riding over the mountain wave or roaming through
pleasant fields, full of health and vigor, now shrivelled by a scanty
and unwholesome diet, ghastly with inhaling an impure atmosphere,
exposed to contagion; in contact with disease, and surrounded with the
horrors of sickness, and death. Here, thought I, must I linger out
the morning of my life" (he was seventeen) "in tedious days and
sleepless nights, enduring a weary and degrading captivity, till death
should terminate my sufferings, and no friend will know of my

"A prisoner on board the 'Old Jersey!' The very thought was
appalling. I could hardly realize my situation.

"The first thing we found it necessary to do after our capture was to
form ourselves into small parties called messes, consisting of six in
each, as previous to doing this, we could obtain no food. All the
prisoners were obliged to fast on the first day of their arrival, and
seldom on the second could they obtain any food in season for cooking
it. * * * All the prisoners fared alike; officers and sailors received
the same treatment on board of this old hulk. * * * We were all
'rebels.' The only distinction known among us was made by the
prisoners themselves, which was shown in allowing those who had been
officers previous to their captivity, to congregate in the extreme
afterpart of the ship, and to keep it exclusively to themselves as
their place of abode. * * * The prisoners were confined in the two
main decks below. The lowest dungeon was inhabited by those prisoners
who were foreigners, and whose treatment was more severe than that of
the Americans.

"The inhabitants of this lower region were the most miserable and
disgusting looking objects that can be conceived. Daily washing in
salt water, together with their extreme emaciation, caused the skin to
appear like dried parchment. Many of them remained unwashed for weeks;
their hair long, and matted, and filled with vermin; their beards
never cut except occasionally with a pair of shears, which did not
improve their comeliness, though it might add to their comfort. Their
clothes were mere rags, secured to their bodies in every way that
ingenuity could devise.

"Many of these men had been in this lamentable condition for two
years, part of the time on board other prison ships; and having given
up all hope of ever being exchanged, had become resigned to their
situation. These men were foreigners whose whole lives had been one
continual scene of toil, hardship, and suffering. Their feelings were
blunted; their dispositions soured; they had no sympathies for the
world; no home to mourn for; no friends to lament for their fate. But
far different was the condition of the most numerous class of
prisoners, composed mostly of young men from New England, fresh from

"They had reason to deplore the sudden change in their condition. * *
* The thoughts of home, of parents, brothers, sisters, and friends,
would crowd upon their minds, and brooding on what they had been, and
what they were, their desire for home became a madness. The dismal and
disgusting scene around; the wretched objects continually in sight;
and 'hope deferred which maketh the heart sick', produced a state of
melancholy that often ended in death,--the death of a broken heart."

Fox describes the food and drink, the prison regulations, deaths, and
burials, just as they were described by Captain Dring, who wrote the
fullest account of the Jersey, and from whose memoirs we shall quote
further on. He says of their shallow graves in the sand of the
Wallabout: "This was the last resting place of many a son and a
brother,--young and noble-spirited men, who had left their happy
homes and kind friends to offer their lives in the service of their
country. * * * Poor fellows! They suffered more than their older
companions in misery. They could not endure their hopeless and
wearisome captivity:--to live on from day to day, denied the power of
doing anything; condemned to that most irksome and heart-sickening of
all situations, utter inactivity; their restless and impetuous
spirits, like caged lions, panted to be free, and the conflict was too
much for endurance, enfeebled and worn out as they were with suffering
and confinement. * * * The fate of many of these unhappy victims must
have remained forever unknown to their friends; for in so large a
number, no exact account could be kept of those who died, and they
rested in a nameless grave; while those who performed the last sad
rites were hurried away before their task was half completed, and
forbid to express their horror and indignation at this insulting
negligence towards the dead. * * *

"The regular crew of the Jersey consisted of a Captain, two Mates, a
steward, a cook, and about twelve sailors. There was likewise on board
a guard of about thirty soldiers, from the different regiments
quartered on Long Island, who were relieved by a fresh party every

"The physical force of the prisoners was sufficient at any time to
take possession of the ship, but the difficulty was to dispose of
themselves after a successful attempt. Long Island was in possession
of the British, and the inhabitants were favorable to the British
cause. To leave the ship and land on the island, would be followed by
almost certain detection; and the miseries of our captivity would be
increased by additional cruelties heaped upon us from the vindictive
feelings of our oppressors.

"Yet, small as was the chance for succeeding in the undertaking, the
attempt to escape was often made, and in not a few instances with

"Our sufferings were so intolerable, that we felt it to be our duty to
expose ourselves to almost any risk to obtain our liberty. To remain
on board of the prison ship seemed to be certain death, and in its
most horrid form; to be killed, while endeavoring to get away, could
be no worse.

"American prisoners are proverbial for their ingenuity in devising
ways and means to accomplish their plans, whether they be devised for
their own comfort and benefit, or for the purpose of annoying and
tormenting their keepers.

"Although we were guarded with vigilance yet there did not appear much
system in the management of the prisoners; for we frequently missed a
whole mess from our number, while their disappearance was not noticed
by our keepers. Occasionally a few would be brought back who had been
found in the woods upon Long Island, and taken up by the Tories.

"Our mess one day noticed that the mess that occupied the place next
to them were among the missing. This circumstance led to much
conjecture and inquiry respecting the manner in which they had
effected their escape. By watching the movements of our neighbors we
soon found out the process necessary to be adopted.

"Any plan which a mess had formed they kept a secret among their
number, in order to insure a greater prospect of success. * * * For
the convenience of the officers of the ship a closet, called the
"round house", had been constructed under the forecastle, the door of
which was kept locked. This room was seldom used, there being other
conveniences in the ship preferable to it.

"Some of the prisoners had contrived to pick the lock of the door; and
as it was not discovered the door remained unfastened.

"After we had missed our neighbor prisoners, and had ascertained to
our satisfaction their mode of operation, the members of our mess
determined to seize the first opportunity that offered to attempt our
escape. We selected a day, about the 15th of August, and made all the
preparations in our power for ensuring us success in our
undertaking. At sunset, when the usual cry from the officer of the
guard, 'Down, rebels, down!' was heard, instead of following the
multitude down the hatchways, our mess, consisting of six, all
Americans, succeeded in getting into the 'round house', except
one. The round house was found too small to contain more than five;
and the sixth man, whose name, I think, was Putnam of Boston,
concealed himself under a large tub, which happened to be lying near
the place of our confinement. The situation of the five, as closely
packed in the round house as we could stand and breathe, was so
uncomfortable as to make us very desirous of vacating it as soon as

"We remained thus cooped up, hardly daring to breathe, for fear we
should be heard by the guard. The prisoners were all below, and no
noise was heard above, saving the tramp of the guard as he paced the
deck. It was customary, after the prisoners were secured below, for
the ship's mate every night to search above; this, however, was
considered a mere formality, and the duty was very imperfectly
executed. While we were anxiously awaiting the completion of this
service, an event transpired, that we little anticipated, and which
led to our detection.

"One of the prisoners, an Irishman, had made his arrangements to
escape the same evening, and had not communicated with any one on the
subject except a countryman of his, whom he persuaded to bury him up
in the coal hole, near the forecastle.

"Whether his friend covered him faithfully or not, or whether the
Irishman thought that if he could not see anybody, nobody could see
him, or whether, feeling uncomfortable in his position, he turned over
to relieve himself, I know not; but when the mate looked in the coal
hole he espied something rather whiter than the coal, which he soon
ascertained to be the Irishman's shoulder. This discovery made the
officer suspicious, and induced him to make a more thorough search
than usual.

"We heard the uproar that followed the discovery, and the threats of
the mate that he would search every damned corner. He soon arrived at
the round house, and we heard him ask a soldier for the key. Our hopes
and expectations were a little raised when we heard the soldier reply,
'There is no need of searching this place, for the door is kept
constantly locked.'

"But the mate was not to be diverted from his purpose, and ordered the
soldier to get the key.

"During the absence of the soldier, we had a little time to reflect
upon the dangers of our situation; crowded together in a space so
small as not to admit of motion; with no other protection than the
thickness of a board; guarded on the outside by about twelve soldiers,
armed with cutlasses, and the mate, considerably drunk, with a pistol
in each hand, threatening every moment to fire through;--our feelings
may be more easily conceived than described. There was but little time
for deliberation; something must be immediately done. * * * In a
whispered consultation of some moments, we conceived that the safest
course we could pursue would be to break out with all the violence we
could exercise, overcome every obstacle, and reach the quarter-deck.
By this time the soldier had arrived with the key, and upon applying
it, the door was found to be unlocked. We now heard our last summons
from the mate, with imprecations too horrible to be repeated, and
threatening us with instant destruction if we did not immediately come

"To remain any longer where we were would have been certain death to
some of us; we therefore carried our hastily formed plan into
execution. The door opened outwards, and forming ourselves into a
solid body, we burst open the door, rushed out pellmell, and making a
brisk use of our fists, knocked the guard heels over head in all
directions, at the same time running with all possible speed for the
quarter-deck. As I rushed out, being in the rear, I received a wound
from a cutlass on my side, the scar of which remains to this day.

"As nearly all the guards were prostrated by our unexpected sally, we
arrived at our destined place, without being pursued by anything but
curses and threats.

"The mate exercised his authority to protect us from the rage of the
soldiers, who were in pursuit of us, as soon as they had recovered
from the prostration into which they had been thrown; and, with the
assistance of the Captain's mistress, whom the noise had brought upon
deck, and whose sympathy was excited when she saw we were about to be
murdered: she placed herself between us and the enraged guard, and
made such an outcry as to bring the Captain" (Laird) "up, who ordered
the guard to take their station at a little distance and to watch us
narrowly. We were all put in irons, our feet being fastened to a long
bar, a guard placed over us, and in this situation we were left to
pass the night.

"During the time of the transactions related, our fellow prisoner,
Putnam, remained quietly under the tub, and heard the noise from his
hiding place. He was not suffered to remain long in suspense. A
soldier lifted up the tub, and seeing the poor prisoner, thrust his
bayonet into his body, just above his hip, and then drove him to the
quarter-deck, to take his place in irons among us. The blood flowed
profusely from his wound, and he was soon after sent on board the
hospital ship, and we never heard anything respecting him afterwards.

"With disappointed expectations we passed a dreary night. A cold fog,
followed by rain, came on; to which we were exposed, without any
blankets or covering to protect us from the inclemency of the
weather. Our sufferings of mind and body during that horrible night,
exceeded any that I have ever experienced.

"We were chilled almost to death, and the only way we could preserve
heat enough in our bodies to prevent our perishing, was to lie upon
each other by turns.

"Morning at last came, and we were released from our fetters. Our
limbs were so stiff that we could hardly stand. Our fellow prisoners
assisted us below, and wrapping us in blankets, we were at last
restored to a state of comparative comfort.

"For attempting to escape we were punished by having our miserable
allowance reduced one third in quantity for a month; and we had found
the whole of it hardly sufficient to sustain life. * * *

"One day a boat came alongside containing about sixty firkins of
grease, which they called butter. The prisoners were always ready to
assist in the performance of any labor necessary to be done on board
of the ship, as it afforded some little relief to the tedious monotony
of their lives. On this occasion they were ready to assist in hoisting
the butter on board. The firkins were first deposited upon the deck,
and then lowered down the main hatchway. Some of the prisoners, who
were the most officious in giving their assistance, contrived to
secrete a firkin, by rolling it forward under the forecastle, and
afterwards carrying it below in their bedding.

"This was considered as quite a windfall; and being divided among a
few of us, proved a considerable luxury. It helped to fill up the
pores in our mouldy bread, when the worms were dislodged, and gave to
the crumbling particles a little more consistency.

"Several weeks after our unsuccessful attempt to escape, another one
attended with better success, was made by a number of the
prisoners. At sunset the prisoners were driven below, and the main
hatchway was closed. In this there was a trap-door, large enough for a
man to pass through, and a sentinel was placed over it with orders to
permit one prisoner at a time to come up during the night.

"The plan that had been formed was this:--one of the prisoners should
ascend, and dispose of the sentinel in such a manner that he should be
no obstacle in the way of those who were to follow.

"Among the soldiers was an Irishman who, in consequence of having a
head of hair remarkable for its curly appearance, and withal a very
crabbed disposition, had been nicknamed 'Billy the Ram'. He was the
sentinel on duty this night, for one was deemed sufficient, as the
prisoners were considered secure when they were below, having no other
place of egress saving the trap-door, over which the sentinel was

"Late in the night one of the prisoners, a bold, athletic fellow,
ascended upon deck, and in an artful manner engaged the attention of
Billy the Ram, in conversation respecting the war; lamenting that he
had engaged in so unnatural a contest, expressing his intention of
enlisting in the British service, and requesting Billy's advice
respecting the course necessary to be pursued to obtain the confidence
of the officers.

"Billy happened to be in a mood to take some interest in his views,
and showed an inclination, quite uncommon for him, to prolong the
conversation. Unsuspicious of any evil design on the part of the
prisoner, and while leaning carelessly on his gun, Billy received a
tremendous blow from the fist of his entertainer on the back of his
head, which brought him to the deck in a state of insensibility.

"As soon as he was heard to fall by those below, who were anxiously
awaiting the result of the friendly conversation of their pioneer with
Billy, and were satisfied that the final knock-out argument had been
given, they began to ascend, and, one after another, to jump
overboard, to the number of about thirty.

"The noise aroused the guard, who came upon deck, where they found
Billy not sufficiently recovered from the stunning effects of the blow
he had received to give any account of the transaction. A noise was
heard in the water; but it was so dark that no object could be
distinguished. The attention of the guard, however, was directed to
certain spots which exhibited a luminous appearance, which salt water
is known to assume in the night when it is agitated, and to these
appearances they directed their fire, and getting out the boats,
picked out about half the number that attempted to escape, many of
whom were wounded, though not one was killed. The rest escaped.

"During the uproar overhead the prisoners below encouraged the
fugitives, and expressed their approbation of their proceedings in
three hearty cheers; for which gratification we suffered our usual
punishment--a short allowance of our already short and miserable fare.

"For about a fortnight after this transaction it would have been a
hazardous experiment to approach near to 'Billy the Ram', and it was a
long time before we ventured to speak to him, and finally to obtain
from him an account of the events of the evening.

"Not long after this another successful attempt to escape was made,
which for its boldness is perhaps unparalleled in the history of such

"One pleasant morning about ten o'clock a boat came alongside,
containing a number of gentlemen from New York, who came for the
purpose of gratifying themselves with a sight of the miserable tenants
of the prison-ship, influenced by the same kind of curiosity that
induces some people to travel a great distance to witness an

"The boat, which was a beautiful yawl, and sat like a swan upon the
water, was manned by four oarsmen, with a man at the helm.
Considerable attention and respect was shown the visitors, the ship's
side being manned when they showed their intention of coming on board,
and the usual naval courtesies extended. The gentlemen were soon on
board; and the crew of the yawl, having secured her to the forechains
on the larboard side of the ship, were permitted to ascend the deck.

"A soldier as usual was pacing with a slow and measured tread the
whole length of the deck, wheeling round with measured precision, when
he arrived at the end of his walk; and whether upon this occasion, any
one interested in his movements had secretly slipped a guinea into his
hand, not to quicken but to retard his progress, was never known; but
it was evident to the prisoners that he had never occupied so much
time before in measuring the distance with his back to the place where
the yawl was fastened.

"At this time there were sitting in the forecastle, apparently
admiring the beautiful appearance of the yawl, four mates and a
captain, who had been brought on board as prisoners a few days
previous, taken in some vessel from a southern port.

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