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American Prisoners of the Revolution by Danske Dandridge

Part 6 out of 11

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wormy bread."

Oil had been dealt out to the prisoners on the Good Hope, but there it
was hoarded carefully, for they were allowed lights until nine P.M.,
so they used it in their lamps. But on the Jersey, Dring declares that
neither light nor fire was ever allowed.

Often their provisions were not dealt out in time to be cooked that
day, and then they had to fast or eat them raw. The cooking was done
in the "Great Copper" under the forecastle. This was a boiler enclosed
in brick-work about eight feet square. It was large enough to contain
two or three hogsheads of water. It was square, and divided into two
portions. In one side peas and oatmeal were boiled in fresh water. On
the other side the meat was boiled in salt water, and as we have
already stated the food was poisoned by copperas. This was the cause,
it is believed, of many deaths, especially as the water was obtained
from alongside the ship, and was extremely unwholesome.

The portion of each mess was designated by a tally fastened to it by a
string. Hundreds of tallies were to be seen hanging over the sides of
the brick-work by their strings, each eagerly watched by some member
of the mess, who waited to receive it.

The meat was suffered to remain in the boiler a certain time, then the
cook's bell was rung, and the pittance of food must be immediately
removed, whether sufficiently cooked or not. The proportion of peas
and oatmeal belonging to each mess was measured out of the copper
after it was boiled.

The cook alone seemed to have much flesh on his bones. He had been a
prisoner, but seeing no prospect of ever being liberated he had
offered his services, and his mates and scullions were also prisoners
who had followed his example. The cook was not ill-natured, and
although often cursed by the prisoners when out of hearing, he really
displayed fortitude and forbearance far beyond what most men would
have been capable of showing. "At times, when his patience was
exhausted, he did, indeed, make the hot water fly among us, but a
reconciliation was usually effected with little difficulty.

"Many of the different messes had obtained leave from His Majesty the
Cook to prepare their own rations, separate from the general mess in
the great boiler. For this purpose a great many spikes and hooks had
been driven into the brick-work by which the boiler was enclosed, on
which to suspend their tin kettles. As soon as we were permitted to go
on deck in the morning, some one took the tin kettle belonging to the
mess, with as much water and as many splinters of wood as we had been
able to procure during the previous day, and carried them to the
Galley; and there having suspended his kettle on one of the hooks or
spikes stood ready to kindle his little fire as soon as the Cook or
his mates would permit. It required but little fire to boil our food
in these kettles, for their bottoms were made concave, and the fire
was applied directly in the centre, and let the remaining brands be
ever so small they were all carefully quenched; and having been
conveyed below were kept for use on a future occasion.

"Much contention often arose through our endeavors to obtain places
around the brick-work, but these disputes were always promptly decided
by the Cook, from whose mandate there was no appeal. No sooner had one
prisoner completed the cooking for his mess, than another supplicant
stood ready to take his place; and they thus continued to throng the
galley, during the whole time that the fire was allowed to remain
under the Great Copper, unless it happened to be the pleasure of the
Cook to drive them away. *[...] Each man in the mess procured and
saved as much water as possible during the previous day; as no person
was ever allowed to take more than a pint at a time from the
scuttle-cask in which it was kept. Every individual was therefor
obliged each day to save a little for the common use of the mess on
the next morning. By this arrangement the mess to which I belonged had
always a small quantity of fresh water in store, which we carefully
kept, with a few other necessaries, in a chest which we used in

"During the whole period of my confinement I never partook of any food
which had been prepared in the Great Copper. It is to this fact that I
have always attributed, under Divine Providence, the degree of health
which I preserved on board. I was thereby also, at times, enabled to
procure several necessary and comfortable things, such as tea, sugar,
etc. so that, wretchedly as I was situated, my condition was far
preferable to that of most of my fellow sufferers, which has ever been
to me a theme of sincere and lasting gratitude to Heaven.

"But terrible indeed was the condition of most of my fellow
captives. Memory still brings before me those emaciated beings, moving
from the Galley with their wretched pittance of meat; each creeping to
the spot where his mess was assembled, to divide it with a group of
haggard and sickly creatures, their garments hanging in tatters round
their meagre limbs, and the hue of death upon their careworn faces. By
these it was consumed with the scanty remnants of bread, which was
often mouldy and filled with worms. And even from this vile fare they
would rise up in torments from the cravings of unsatisfied hunger and

"No vegetables of any description were ever afforded us by our inhuman
keepers. Good Heaven! what a luxury to us would then have been even a
few potatoes!--if but the very leavings of swine. * * *

"Oh my heart sinks, my pitying eyes o'erflow,
When memory paints the picture of their woe
Where my poor countrymen in bondage wait
The slow enfranchisement of lingering fate,
Greeting with groans the unwelcome night's return,
While rage and shame their gloomy bosoms burn,
And chiding, every hour, the slow-paced sun,
Endure their woes till all his race was run
No one to mark the sufferers with a tear
No friend to comfort, and no hope to cheer,
And like the dull, unpitied brutes repair
To stalls as wretched, and as coarse a fare;
Thank Heaven one day of misery was o'er,
And sink to sleep, and wish to wake no more."



"The quarter-deck of the Jersey covered about one-fourth of the upper
deck, and the forecastle extended from the stern, about one-eighth
part of the length of the upper deck. Sentinels were stationed on the
gangways on each side of the upper deck, leading from the quarter-deck
to the forecastle. These gangways were about five feet wide; and here
the prisoners were allowed to pass and repass. The intermediate space
from the bulkhead of the quarter-deck to the forecastle was filled
with long spars and booms, and called the spar-deck. The temporary
covering afforded by the spar-deck was of the greatest benefit to the
prisoners, as it served to shield us from the rain and the scorching
rays of the sun. It was here, therefore, that our movables were placed
when we were engaged in cleaning the lower decks. The spar-deck was
also the only place where we were allowed to walk, and was crowded
through the day by the prisoners on deck. Owing to the great number of
prisoners, and the small space allowed us by the spar-deck, it was
our custom to walk in platoons, each facing the same way, and turning
at the same time. The Derrick for taking in wood, water, etc., stood
on the starboard side of the spar-deck. On the larboard side of the
ship was placed the accommodation ladder, leading from the gangway to
the water. At the head of the ladder a sentinel was also stationed.

"The head of the accommodation ladder was near the door of the
barricade, which extended across the front of the quarter-deck, and
projected a few feet beyond the sides of the ship. The barricade was
about ten feet high, and was pierced with loop-holes for musketry in
order that the prisoners might be fired on from behind it, if occasion
should require.

"The regular crew of the ship consisted of a Captain, two Mates, a
Steward, a Corporal, and about 12 sailors. The crew of the ship had no
communication whatever with the prisoners. No person was ever
permitted to pass through the barricade door, except when it was
required that the messes should be examined and regulated, in which
case each man had to pass through, and go between decks, and there
remain until the examination was completed. None of the guard or of
the ship's crew ever came among the prisoners while I was on board. I
never saw one of her officers or men except when there were passengers
going in the boat, to or from the stern-ladder.

"On the two decks below, where we were confined at night, our chests,
boxes, and bags were arranged in two lines along the decks, about ten
feet distant from the sides of the ship; thus leaving as wide a space
unencumbered in the middle of each deck, fore and aft, as our crowded
situation would admit. Between these tiers of chests, etc., and the
sides of the ship, was the place where the different messes assembled;
and some of the messes were also separated from their neighbors by a
temporary partition of chests, etc. Some individuals of the different
messes usually slept on the chests, in order to preserve their
contents from being plundered in the night.

"At night the spaces in the middle of the decks were much encumbered
with hammocks, but these were always removed in the morning. * * * My
usual place of abode being in the Gunroom, I was never under the
necessity of descending to the lower dungeon; and during my
confinement I had no disposition to visit it. It was inhabited by the
most wretched in appearance of all our miserable company. From the
disgusting and squalid appearance of the groups which I saw ascending
the stairs which led to it, it must have been more dismal, if
possible, than that part of the hulk where I resided. Its occupants
appeared to be mostly foreigners, who had seen and survived every
variety of human suffering. The faces of many of them were covered
with dirt and filth; their long hair and beards matted and foul;
clothed in rags, and with scarcely a sufficient supply of these to
cover their disgusting bodies. Many among them possessed no clothing
except the remnant of those garments which they wore when first
brought on board; and were unable to procure even any material for
patching these together, when they had been worn to tatters by
constant use. * * * Some, and indeed many of them, had not the means
of procuring a razor, or an ounce of soap.

"Their beards were occasionally reduced by each other with a pair of
shears or scissors. * * * Their skins were discoloured by continual
washing in salt water, added to the circumstance that it was
impossible for them to wash their linen in any other manner than by
laying it on the deck and stamping on it with their feet, after it had
been immersed in salt water, their bodies remaining naked during the

"To men in this situation everything like ordinary cleanliness was
impossible. Much that was disgusting in their appearance undoubtedly
originated from neglect, which long confinement had rendered habitual,
until it created a confirmed indifference to personal appearance.

"As soon as the gratings had been fastened over the hatchways for the
night, we usually went to our sleeping places. It was, of course,
always desirable to obtain a station as near as possible to the side
of the ship, and, if practicable, in the immediate vicinity of one of
the air-ports, as this not only afforded us a better air, but also
rendered us less liable to be trodden upon by those who were moving
about the decks during the night.

"But silence was a stranger to our dark abode. There were continual
noises during the night. The groans of the sick and the dying; the
curses poured out by the weary and exhausted upon our inhuman keepers;
the restlessness caused by the suffocating heat, and the confined and
poisonous air, mingled with the wild and incoherent ravings of
delirium, were the sounds which every night were raised around us in
every direction. Such was our ordinary situation, but at times the
consequences of our crowded condition were still more terrible, and
proved fatal to many of our number in a single night.

"But, strange as it may appear, notwithstanding all the * * *
suffering which was there endured I knew many who had been inmates of
that abode for two years, who were apparently perfectly well. They
had, as they expressed it, 'been through the furnace and become
seasoned.' Most of these, however, were foreigners, who appeared to
have abandoned all hope of ever being exchanged, and had become quite
indifferent with regard to the place of their abode.

"But far different was the condition of that portion of our number who
were natives of the United States. These formed by far the most
numerous class of the prisoners. Most of these were young men, * * *
who had been captured soon after leaving their homes, and during their
first voyage. After they had been here immured the sudden change in
their situation was like a sentence of death. Many a one was crushed
down beneath the sickness of the heart, so well described by the

"'Night and day,
Brooding on what he had been, what he was,
'Twas more than he could bear, his longing fits
Thickened upon him. _His desire for Home
Became a madness_'

"These poor creatures had, in many instances, been plundered of their
wearing apparel by their captors, and here, the dismal and disgusting
objects by which they were surrounded, the vermin which infested them,
the vile and loathsome food, and what with _them_ was far from
being the lightest of their trials, their ceaseless longing after
their _homes_, * * * all combined, had a wonderful effect on
them. Dejection and anguish were soon visible on their countenances.
They became dismayed and terror-stricken; and many of them absolutely
died that most awful of all human deaths, the effects of a _broken

"A custom had long been established that certain labor which it was
necessary should be performed daily, should be done by a company,
usually called the 'Working party.' This consisted of about twenty
able-bodied men chosen from among the prisoners, and was commanded,
in daily rotation, by those of our number who had formerly been
officers of vessels. The commander of the party for the day bore the
title of Boatswain. The members of the Working-party received, as a
compensation for their services, a full allowance of provisions, and
half a pint of rum each, with the privilege of going on deck early in
the morning, to breathe the pure air.

"This privilege alone was a sufficient compensation for all the duty
which was required of them.

"Their routine of service was to wash down that part of the upper deck
and gangways where the prisoners were permitted to walk; to spread the
awning, or to hoist on board the wood, water, and other supplies, from
the boats in which the same were brought alongside the ship.

"When the prisoners ascended to the upper deck in the morning, if the
day was fair, each carried up his hammock and bedding, which were all
placed upon the spar-deck, or booms. The Working-party then took the
sick and disabled who remained below, and placed them in the bunks
prepared for them upon the centre-deck; they then, if any of the
prisoners had died during the night, carried up the dead bodies, and
laid them upon the booms; after which it was their duty to wash down
the main decks below; during which operation the prisoners remained on
the upper deck, except such as chose to go below and volunteer their
services in the performance of this duty.

"Around the railing of the hatchway leading from the centre to the
lower decks, were placed a number of large tubs for the occasional use
of the prisoners during the night, and as general receptacles of
filth. Although these were indispensably necessary to us, yet they
were highly offensive. It was a part of the duty of the Working-party
to carry these on deck, at the time when the prisoners ascended in the
morning, and to return them between decks in the afternoon.

"Our beds and clothing were kept on deck until nearly the hour when we
were to be ordered below for the night. During this interval * * * the
decks washed and cleared of all incumbrance, except the poor wretches
who lay in the bunks, it was quite refreshing after the suffocating
heat and foul vapors of the night to walk between decks. There was
then some circulation of air through the ship, and, for a few hours,
our existence was, in some degree, tolerable.

"About two hours before sunset the order was usually issued for the
prisoners to carry their hammocks, etc., below. After this had been
done we were all either to retire between decks, or to remain above
until sunset according to our own pleasure. Everything which we could
do conducive to cleanliness having then been performed, if we ever
felt anything like enjoyment in this wretched abode, it was during
this brief interval, when we breathed the cool air of the approaching
night, and felt the luxury of our evening pipe. But short indeed was
this interval of repose. The Working-party was soon ordered to carry
the tubs below, and we prepared to descend to our gloomy and crowded
dungeons. This was no sooner done than the gratings were closed over
the hatchways, the sentinels stationed, and we left to sicken and pine
beneath our accumulated torments; with our guards above crying aloud,
through the long night, 'All's well!"'

Captain Dring says that at that time the Jersey was used for seamen
alone. The average number on board was one thousand. It consisted of
the crews of vessels of all the nations with which the English were at
war. But the greater number had been captured on board American

There were three hospital ships in the Wallabout; the Stromboli, the
Hunter, and the Scorpion. [Footnote: At one time as we have seen, the
Scorpion was a prison ship, from which Freneau was sent to the Hunter
hospital ship.] There was not room enough on board these ships for
all the sick, and a part of the upper deck of the Jersey was therefore
prepared for their accommodation. These were on the after part of the
upper deck, on the larboard side, where those who felt the symptoms of
approaching sickness could lie down, in order to be found by the
nurses as soon as possible.

Few ever returned from the hospital ships to the Jersey. Dring knew
but three such instances during his imprisonment. He says that "the
outward appearance of these hospitals was disgusting in the highest
degree. The sight of them was terrible to us. Their appearance was
even more shocking than that of our own miserable hulk.

"On board the Jersey among the prisoners were about half a dozen men
known by the appellation of nurses. I never learned by whom they were
appointed, or whether they had any regular appointment at all. But
one fact I knew well; they were all thieves. They were, however,
sometimes useful in assisting the sick to ascend from below to the
gangway on the upper deck, to be examined by the visiting Surgeon who
attended from the Hunter every day, when the weather was good. If a
sick man was pronounced by the Surgeon to be a proper subject for one
of the hospital ships, he was put into the boat waiting alongside; but
not without the loss or detention of his effects, if he had any, as
these were at once taken by the nurses, as their own property. * * * I
had found Mr. Robert Carver, our Gunner while on board the Chance,
sick in one of the bunks where those retired who wished to be
removed. He was without a bed or pillow, and had put on all the
wearing apparel which he possessed, wishing to preserve it, and being
sensible of his situation. I found him sitting upright in the bunk,
with his great-coat on over the rest of his garments, and his hat
between his knees. The weather was excessively hot, and, in the place
where he lay, the heat was overpowering. I at once saw that he was
delirious, a sure presage that the end was near. I took off his
great-coat, and having folded and placed it under his head for a
pillow, I laid him upon it, and went immediately to prepare him some
tea. I was absent but a few minutes, and, on returning, met one of the
thievish Nurses with Carver's great-coat in his hand. On ordering him
to return it his reply was that it was a perquisite of the Nurses, and
the only one they had; that the man was dying, and the great-coat
could be of no further use to him. I however, took possession of the
coat, and on my liberation, returned it to the family of the owner. Mr
Carver soon after expired where he lay. We procured a blanket in which
to wrap his body, which was thus prepared for interment. Others of
the crew of the Chance had died before that time. Mr Carver was a man
of strong and robust constitution. Such men were subject to the most
violent attacks of the fever, and were also its most certain victims."



Captain Dring continues his narrative by describing the manner in
which the dead were interred in the sand of the Wallabout. Every
morning, he says, the dead bodies were carried to the upper deck and
there laid upon the gratings. Any person who could procure, and chose
to furnish, a blanket, was allowed to sew it around the remains of his
departed companion.

"The signal being made, a boat was soon seen approaching from the
Hunter, and if there were any dead on board the other ships, the boat
received them, on her way to the Jersey.

"The corpse was laid upon a board, to which some ropes were attached
as straps; as it was often the case that bodies were sent on shore for
interment before they had become sufficiently stiff to be lowered into
the boat by a single strap. Thus prepared a tackle was attached to the
board, and the remains * * * were hoisted over the side of the ship
into the boat, without further ceremony. If several bodies were
waiting for interment, but one of them was lowered into the boat at a
time, for the sake of decency. The prisoners were always very anxious
to be engaged in the duty of interment, not so much from a feeling of
humanity, or from a wish to pay respect to the remains of the dead,
for to these feelings they had almost become strangers, as from the
desire of once more placing their feet on the land, if but for a few
minutes. A sufficient number of prisoners having received permission
to assist in this duty, they entered the boat accompanied by a guard
of soldiers, and put off from the ship.

"I obtained leave to assist in the burial of the body of Mr. Carver, *
* * and after landing at a low wharf which had been built from the
shore, we first went to a small hut, which stood near the wharf, and
was used as a place of deposit for the handbarrows and shovels
provided for these occasions. Having placed the corpses on the
barrows, and received our hoes and shovels, we proceeded to the side
of the bank near the Waleboght. Here a vacant space having been
selected, we were directed to dig a trench in the sand, of a proper
length for the reception of the bodies. We continued our labor until
the guards considered that a sufficient space had been excavated. The
corpses were then laid in the trench without ceremony, and we threw
the sand over them. The whole appeared to produce no more effect upon
our guards than if they were burying the bodies of dead animals,
instead of men. They scarcely allowed us time to look about us; for no
sooner had we heaped the earth upon the trench, than we were ordered
to march. But a single glance was sufficient to show us parts of many
bodies which were exposed to view, although they had probably been
placed there with the same mockery of interment but a few days before.

"Having thus performed, as well as we were permitted to do it, the
last duty to the dead, and the guards having stationed themselves on
each side of us, we began reluctantly to retrace our steps to the
boat. We had enjoyed the pleasure of breathing for a few minutes the
air of our native soil; and the thought of return to the crowded
prison-ship was terrible in the extreme. As we passed by the waterside
we implored our guards to allow us to bathe, or even to wash ourselves
for a few minutes, but this was refused us.

"I was the only person of our party who wore a pair of shoes, and well
recollect that I took them off for the pleasure of feeling the earth,
or rather the sand, as we went along. * * * We went by a small patch
of turf, some pieces of which we tore up from the earth, and obtained
permission to carry them on board for our comrades to smell
them. Circumstances like these may appear trifling to the careless
reader; but let him be assured that they were far from being trifles
to men situated as we had been. The inflictions which we had endured;
the duty which we had just performed; the feeling that we must, in a
few minutes, re-enter the place of suffering, from which, in all
probability, we should never return alive; all tended to render
everything connected with the firm land beneath, and the sweet air
above us, objects of deep and thrilling interest.

"Having arrived at the hut we there deposited our implements, and
walked to the landing-place, where we prevailed on our guards, who
were Hessians, to allow us the gratification of remaining nearly half
an hour before we returned to the boat.

"Near us stood a house occupied by a miller, and we had been told that
a tide-mill which he attended was in the immediate vicinity, as a
landing-place for which the wharf where we stood had been erected. *
* * It was designated by the prisoners by the appellation of the 'Old
Dutchman's,' and its very walls were viewed by us with feelings of
veneration, as we had been told that the amiable daughter of its owner
had kept an accurate account of the number of bodies that had been
brought on shore for interment from the Jersey and hospital
ships. This could easily be done in the house, as its windows
commanded a fair view of the landing place. We were not, however,
gratified by a sight of herself, or of any other inmate of the house.

"Sadly did we approach and re-enter our foul and disgusting place of
confinement. The pieces of turf which we carried on board were sought
for by our fellow prisoners, with the greatest avidity, every fragment
being passed by them from hand to hand, and its smell inhaled as if it
had been a fragrant rose. * * * The first of the crew of the Chance
to die was a lad named Palmer, about twelve years of age, and the
youngest of our crew. When on board the Chance he was a waiter to the
officers, and he continued in this duty after we were placed on board
the Jersey. He had, with many others of our crew, been inoculated for
the small-pox, immediately after our arrival on board. The usual
symptoms appeared at the proper time, and we supposed the appearance
of his disorder favorable, but these soon changed, and the yellow hue
of his features declared the approach of death. * * * The night he
died was truly a wretched one for me. I spent most of it in total
darkness, holding him during his convulsions. * * * I had done
everything in my power for this poor boy, during his sickness, and
could render him but one more kind office (after his death). I
assisted to sew a blanket around his body, which was, with others who
had died, during the night, conveyed upon deck in the morning, to be
at the usual hour hurried to the bank at the Walebocht. I regretted
that I could not assist at his interment, as I was then suffering with
the small-pox myself, neither am I certain that permission would have
been granted me, if I had sought it. Our keepers appeared to have no
idea that the prisoners could feel any regard for each other, but
appeared to think us as cold-hearted as themselves. If anything like
sympathy was ever shown us by any of them it was done by the
Hessians. * * * The next deaths among our company were those of Thomas
Mitchell and his son-in-law, Thomas Sturmey. It is a singular fact
that both of these men died at the same time."


"In addition to the regular officers and seamen of the Jersey, there
were stationed on board about a dozen old invalid Marines, but our
actual guard was composed of soldiers from the different regiments
quartered on Long Island. The number usually on duty on board was
about thirty. Each week they were relieved by a fresh party. They were
English, Hessian, and Refugees. We always preferred the Hessians, from
whom we received better treatment than from the others. As to the
English, we did not complain, being aware that they merely obeyed
their orders, in regard to us; but the Refugees * * * were viewed by
us with scorn and hatred. I do not recollect, however, that a guard of
these miscreants was placed over us more than three times, during
which their presence occasioned much tumult and confusion; for the
prisoners could not endure the sight of these men, and occasionally
assailed them with abusive language, while they, in turn, treated us
with all the severity in their power. We dared not approach near them,
for fear of their bayonets, and of course could not pass along the
gangways where they were stationed; but were obliged to crawl along
upon the booms, in order to get fore and aft, or to go up and down the
hatchways. They never answered any of our remarks respecting them, but
would merely point to their uniforms, as much as to say, 'We are
clothed by our Sovereign, while you are naked.' They were as much
gratified by the idea of leaving us as we were at seeing them depart.

"Many provoking gestures were made by the prisoners as they left the
ship, and our curses followed them as far as we could make ourselves

"A regiment of Refugees, with a green uniform, were then quartered at
Brooklyn. We were invited to join this Royal band, and to partake of
his Majesty's pardon and bounty. But the prisoners, in the midst of
their unbounded sufferings, of their dreadful privations, and
consuming anguish, spurned the insulting offer. They preferred to
linger and to die rather than desert their country's cause. During the
whole period of my confinement I never knew a single instance of
enlistment among the prisoners of the Jersey.

"The only duty, to my knowledge, ever performed by the old Marines was
to guard the water-butt, near which one of them was stationed with a
drawn cutlass. They were ordered to allow no prisoner to carry away
more than one pint at once, but we were allowed to drink at the butt
as much as we pleased, for which purpose two or three copper ladles
were chained to the cask. Having been long on board and regular in
performance of this duty, they had become familiar with the faces of
the prisoners, and could, in many instances, detect the frauds which
we practiced upon them in order to obtain more fresh water for our
cooking than was allowed us by the regulations of the ship. Over the
water the sailors had no control. The daily consumption of water on
board was at least equal to 700 gallons. I know not whence it was
brought, but presume it was from Brooklyn. One large gondola, or boat,
was kept in constant employment to furnish the necessary supply.

"So much of the water as was not required on deck for immediate use
was conducted into butts, placed in the lower hold of the hulk,
through a leather hose, passing through her side, near the bends. To
this water we had recourse, when we could procure no other.

"When water in any degree fit for use was brought on board, it is
impossible to describe the struggle which ensued, in consequence of
our haste and exertions to procure a draught of it. The best which was
ever afforded us was very brackish, but that from the ship's hold was
nauseous in the highest degree. This must be evident when the fact is
stated that the butts for receiving it had never been cleaned since
they were put in the hold. The quantity of foul sediment which they
contained was therefore very great, and was disturbed and mixed with
the water as often as a new supply was poured into them, thereby
rendering their whole contents a substance of the most disgusting and
poisonous nature. I have not the least doubt that the use of this vile
compound caused the death of hundreds of the prisoners, when, to allay
their tormenting thirst, they were driven by desperation to drink this
liquid poison, and to abide the consequences."



"One indulgence was allowed us by our keepers, if indulgence it can be
called. They had given permission for a boat to come alongside the
ship, with a supply of a few necessary articles, to be sold to such of
the prisoners as possessed the means of paying for them. This trade
was carried on by a very corpulent old woman, known among us by the
name of Dame Grant. Her visits, which were made every other day, were
of much benefit to us, and, I presume, a source of profit to
herself. She brought us soft bread and fruit, with various other
articles, such as tea, sugar, etc., all of which she previously put up
into small paper parcels, from one ounce to a pound in weight, with
the price affixed to each, from which she would never deviate. The
bulk of the old lady completely filled the stern sheets of the boat,
where she sat, with her box of goods before her, from which she
supplied us very expeditiously. Her boat was rowed by two boys, who
delivered to us the articles we had purchased, the price of which we
were required first to put into their hands.

"When our guard was not composed of Refugees, we were usually
permitted to descend to the foot of the Accommodation-ladder, in order
to select from the boat such articles as we wished. While standing
there it was distressing to see the faces of hundreds of half-famished
wretches, looking over the side of the ship into the boat, without the
means of purchasing the most trifling article before their sight, not
even so much as a morsel of wholesome bread. None of us possessed the
means of generosity, nor had any power to afford them relief. Whenever
I bought any articles from the boat I never enjoyed them; for it was
impossible to do so in the presence of so many needy wretches, eagerly
gazing at my purchase, and almost dying for want of it.

"We frequently furnished Dame Grant with a memorandum of such articles
as we wished her to procure for us, such as pipes, tobacco, needles,
thread, and combs. These she always faithfully procured and brought to
us, never omitting the assurance that she afforded them exactly at

"Her arrival was always a subject of interest to us; but at length she
did not make her appearance for several days, and her appearance was
awaited in extreme anxiety. But, alas! we were no longer to enjoy this
little gratification. Her traffic was ended. She had taken the fever
from the hulk, and died * * * leaving a void which was never
afterwards filled up."



"After the death of Dame Grant, we were under the necessity of
puchasing from the Sutler such small supplies as we needed. This man
was one of the Mates of the ship, and occupied one of the apartments
under the quarter-deck, through the bulkhead of which an opening had
been cut, from which he delivered his goods. He here kept for sale a
variety of articles, among which was usually a supply of ardent
spirits, which was not allowed to be brought alongside the ship, for
sale. It could, therefore, only be procured from the Sutler, whose
price was two dollars per gallon. Except in relation to this article,
no regular price was fixed for what he sold us. We were first obliged
to hand him the money, and he then gave us such a quantity as he
pleased of the article which we needed; there was on our part no
bargain to be made, but to be supplied even in this manner was, to
those of us who had means of payment, a great convenience. * * *

"Our own people afforded us no relief. O my country! Why were we thus
neglected in this hour of our misery, why was not a little food and
raiment given to the dying martyrs of thy cause?

"Although the supplies which some of us were enabled to procure from
the Sutler were highly conducive to our comfort, yet one most
necessary article neither himself nor any other person could
furnish. This was wood for our daily cooking, to procure a sufficient
quantity of which was to us a source of continual trouble and
anxiety. The Cooks would indeed steal small quantities, and sell them
to us at the hazard of certain punishment if detected; but it was not
in their power to embezzle a sufficient quantity to meet our daily
necessities. As the disgust at swallowing any food which had been
cooked in the Great Copper was universal, each person used every
exertion to procure as much wood as possible, for the private cooking
of his own mess.

"During my excursion to the shore to assist in the interment of
Mr. Carver, it was my good fortune to find a hogshead stave floating
in the water. This was truly a prize I conveyed the treasure on board,
and in the economical manner in which it was used, it furnished the
mess to which I belonged with a supply of fuel for a considerable

"I was also truly fortunate on another occasion. I had, one day,
commanded the Working-party, which was then employed in taking on
board a sloop-load of wood for the sailors' use. This was carefully
conveyed below, under a guard, to prevent embezzlement. I
nevertheless found means, with the assistance of my associates, to
convey a cleft of it into the Gunroom, where it was immediately
secreted. Our mess was thereby supplied with a sufficient quantity for
a long time, and its members were considered by far the most wealthy
persons in all this republic of misery. We had enough for our own
use, and were enabled, occasionally, to supply our neighbors with a
few splinters.

"Our mode of preparing the wood was to cut it with a jack-knife into
pieces about four inches long. This labor occupied much of our time,
and was performed by the different members of our mess in rotation,
which employment was to us a source of no little pleasure.

"After a sufficient quantity had been thus prepared for the next day's
use, it was deposited in the chest. The main stock was guarded by day
and night, with the most scrupulous and anxious care. We kept it at
night within our enclosure, and by day it was always watched by some
one of its proprietors. So highly did we value it that we went into
mathematical calculation to ascertain how long it would supply us, if
a given quantity was each day consumed."


"Soon after the Jersey was first used as a place of confinement a code
of by-laws had been established by the prisoners, for their own
regulation and government; to which a willing submission was paid, so
far as circumstances would permit. I much regret my inability to give
these rules verbatim, but I cannot at this distant period of time
recollect them with a sufficient degree of distinctness. They were
chiefly directed to the preservation of personal cleanliness, and the
prevention of immorality. For a refusal to comply with any of them,
the refractory person was subjected to a stated punishment. It is an
astonishing fact that any rules, thus made, should have so long
existed and been enforced among a multitude of men situated as we
were, so numerous and composed of that class of human beings who are
not easily controlled, and usually not the most ardent supporters of
good order. There were many foreigners among our number, over whom we
had no control, except so far as they chose, voluntarily, to submit to
our regulations, which they cheerfully did, in almost every instance,
so far as their condition would allow. Among our rules were the
following. That personal cleanliness should be preserved, as far as
was practicable; that profane language should be avoided; that
drunkenness should not be allowed; that theft should be severely
punished, and that no smoking should be permitted between decks, by
day or night, on account of the annoyance which it caused the sick.

"A due observance of the Sabbath was also strongly enjoined; and it
was recommended to every individual to appear cleanly shaved on Sunday
morning, and to refrain from all recreation during the day.

"This rule was particularly recommended to the attention of the
officers, and the remainder of the prisoners were desired to follow
their example.

"Our By-laws were occasionally read to the assembled prisoners, and
always whenever any person was to be punished for their
violation. Theft or fraud upon the allowance of a fellow prisoner was
always punished, and the infliction was always approved by the whole
company. On these occasions the oldest officer among the prisoners
presided as Judge. It required much exertion for many of us to comply
with the law prohibiting smoking between decks. Being myself much
addicted to the habit of smoking, it would have been a great privilege
to have enjoyed the liberty of thus indulging it, particularly during
the night, while sitting by one of the air-ports; but as this was
inadmissible, I of course submitted to the prohibition. * * * We were
not allowed means of striking a fire, and were obliged to procure it
from the Cook employed for the ship's officers, through a small window
in the bulkhead, near the caboose. After one had thus procured fire
the rest were also soon supplied, and our pipes were all in full
operation in the course of a few minutes. The smoke which rose around
us appeared to purify the pestilent air by which we were surrounded;
and I attribute the preservation of my health, in a great degree, to
the exercise of this habit. Our greatest difficulty was to procure
tobacco. This, to some of the prisoners, was impossible, and it must
have been an aggravation to their sufferings to see us apparently
puffing away our sorrows, while they had no means of procuring the
enjoyment of a similar gratification.

"We dared not often apply at this Cook's caboose for fire, and the
surly wretch would not willingly repeat the supply. One morning I went
to the window of his den, and requested leave to light my pipe, and
the miscreant, without making any reply, threw a shovel full of
burning cinders in my face. I was almost blinded by the pain; and
several days elapsed before I fully regained my sight. My feelings on
this occasion may be imagined, but redress was impossible, as we were
allowed no means of even seeking it. I mention this occurrence to show
to what a wretched condition we were reduced."


"During the period of my confinement the Jersey was never visited by
any regular clergyman, nor was Divine service ever performed on board,
and among the whole multitude of prisoners there was but one
individual who ever attempted to deliver a set speech, or to exhort
his fellow sufferers. This individual was a young man named Cooper,
whose station in life was apparently that of a common sailor. He
evidently possessed talents of a very high order. His manners were
pleasing, and he had every appearance of having received an excellent
education. He was a Virginian; but I never learned the exact place of
his nativity. He told us that he had been a very unmanageable youth,
and that he had left his family, contrary to their wishes and advice;
that he had been often assured by them that the Old Jersey would bring
him up at last, and the Waleboght be his place of burial. 'The first
of these predictions,' said he, 'has been verified; and I care not how
soon the second proves equally true, for I am prepared for the
event. Death, for me, has lost its terrors, for with them I have been
too long familiar.'

"On several Sunday mornings Cooper harangued the prisoners in a very
forcible yet pleasing manner, which, together with his language, made
a lasting impression upon my memory. On one of these occasions, having
mounted upon a temporary elevation upon the Spar-deck, he, in an
audible voice, requested the attention of the prisoners, who having
immediately gathered around him in silence, he commenced his

"He began by saying that he hoped no one would suppose he had taken
that station by way of derision or mockery of the holy day, for that
such was not his object; on the contrary he was pleased to find that
the good regulations established by the former prisoners, obliged us
to refrain even from recreation on the Sabbath; that his object,
however, was not to preach to us, nor to discourse upon any sacred
subject; he wished to read us our By-laws, a copy of which he held in
his hand, the framers of which were then, in all probability, sleeping
in death, beneath the sand of the shore before our eyes. That these
laws had been framed in wisdom, and were well fitted to preserve order
and decorum in a community like ours: that his present object was to
impress upon our minds the absolute necessity of a strict adherence to
those wholesome regulations; that he should briefly comment upon each
article, which might be thus considered as the particular text of that
part of his discourse.

"He proceeded to point out the extreme necessity of a full observance
of these Rules of Conduct, and portrayed the evil consequences which
would inevitably result to us if we neglected or suffered them to fall
into disuse. He enforced the necessity of our unremitting attention to
personal cleanliness, and to the duties of morality; he dwelt upon the
degradation and sin of drunkeness; described the meanness and atrocity
of theft; and the high degree of caution against temptation necessary
for men who were perhaps standing on the very brink of the grave; and
added that, in his opinion, even sailors might as well refrain from
profane language, while they were actually suffering in Purgatory.

"He said that our present torments, in that abode of misery, were a
proper retribution for our former sins and transgressions; that Satan
had been permitted to send out his messengers and inferior demons in
every direction to collect us together, and that among the most active
of these infernal agents was David Sproat, Commissary of Prisoners.

"He then made some just and suitable observations on the fortitude
with which we had sustained the weight of our accumulated miseries; of
our firmness in refusing to accept the bribes of our invaders, and
desert the banners of our country. During this part of his discourse
the sentinels on the gangways occasionally stopped and listened
attentively. We much feared that by some imprudent remark, he might
expose himself to their resentment, and cautioned him not to proceed
too far. He replied our keepers could do nothing more, unless they
should put him to the torture, and that he should proceed.

"He touched on the fact that no clergyman had ever visited us; that
this was probably owing to the fear of contagion; but it was much to
be regretted that no one had ever come to afford a ray of hope, or to
administer the Word of Life in that terrific abode; that if any
Minister of the Gospel desired to do so, there could be no obstacles
in the way, for that even David Sproat himself, bad as he was, would
not dare to oppose it.

"He closed with a merited tribute to the memory of our
fellow-sufferers, who had already passed away. 'The time,' said he,
'will come when their bones will be collected, when their rites of
sepulchre will be performed, and a monument erected over the remains
of those who have here suffered, the victims of barbarity, and who
have died in vindication of the rights of man.'

"The remarks of our Orator were well adapted to our situation, and
produced much effect on the prisoners, who at length began to accost
him as Elder or Parson Cooper. But this he would not allow; and told
us, if we would insist on giving him a title, we might call him
Doctor, by which name he was ever afterwards saluted, so long as he
remained among us.

"He had been a prisoner for about the period of three months when one
day the Commissary of Prisoners came on board, accompanied by a
stranger, and inquired for Cooper, who having made his appearance, a
letter was put in his hand, which he perused, and immediately after
left the ship, without even going below for his clothing. While in the
boat he waived his hand, and bade us be of good cheer. We could only
return a mute farewell; and in a few minutes the boat had left the
ship, and was on its way to New York.

"Thus we lost our Orator, for whom I had a very high regard, at the
time, and whose character and manners have, ever since, been to me a
subject of pleasing recollection.

"Various were the conjectures which the sudden manner of his departure
caused on board. Some asserted that poor Cooper had drawn upon himself
the vengeance of old Sproat, and that he had been carried on shore to
be punished. No certain information was ever received respecting him,
but I have always thought that he was a member of some highly
influential and respectable family, and that his release had been
effected through the agency of his friends. This was often done by
the influence of the Royalists or Refugees of New York, who were
sometimes the connections or personal friends of those who applied for
their assistance in procuring the liberation of a son or a brother
from captivity. Such kind offices were thus frequently rendered to
those who had chosen opposite sides in the great revolutionary
contest, and to whom, though directly opposed to themselves in
political proceedings, they were willing to render every personal
service in their power."



A few days before the fourth of July we had made such preparations as
our circumstances would admit for an observance of the anniversary of
American Independence. We had procured some supplies with which to
make ourselves merry on the occasion, and intended to spend the day in
such innocent pastimes as our situation would afford, not dreaming
that our proceeding would give umbrage to our keepers, as it was far
from our intention to trouble or insult them. We thought that, though
prisoners, we had a right, on that day at least, to sing and be
merry. As soon as we were permitted to go on deck in the morning
thirteen little national flags were displayed in a row on the boom. We
were soon ordered by the guards to take them away; and as we neglected
to obey the command, they triumphantly demolished, and trampled them
under foot. Unfortunately for us our guards at that time were Scotch,
who, next to the Refugees, were the objects of our greatest hatred;
but their destruction of our flags was merely viewed in silence, with
the contempt which it merited.

"During the time we remained on deck several patriotic songs were
sung, and choruses repeated; but not a word was intentionally spoken
to give offence to our guards. They were, nevertheless, evidently
dissatisfied with our proceedings, as will soon appear. Their
moroseness was a prelude to what was to follow. We were, in a short
time, forbidden to pass along the common gangway, and every attempt to
do so was repelled by the bayonet. Although thus incommoded our mirth
still continued. Songs were still sung, accompanied by occasional
cheers. Things thus proceeded until about four o'clock; when the
guards were ordered out, and we received orders to descend between
decks, where we were immediately driven, at the point of the bayonet.

"After being thus sent below in the greatest confusion, at that early
and unusual hour, and having heard the gratings closed and fastened
above us, we supposed that the barbarous resentment of our guards was
fully satisfied; but we were mistaken, for they had further vengeance
in store, and merely waited for an opportunity to make us feel its

"The prisoners continued their singing between decks, and were, of
course, more noisy than usual, but forbore even under their existing
temptations, to utter any insulting or aggravating expressions. At
least, I heard nothing of the kind, unless our patriotic songs could
be thus constructed. In the course of the evening we were ordered to
desist from making any further noise. This order not being fully
complied with, at about nine o'clock the gratings were removed, and
the guards descended among us, with lanterns and drawn cutlasses in
their hands. The poor, helpless prisoners retreated from the
hatchways, as far as their crowded situation would permit, while their
cowardly assailants followed as far as they dared, cutting and
wounding every one within reach, and then ascended to the upper deck,
exulting in the gratification of their revenge.

"Many of the prisoners were wounded, but from the total darkness,
neither their number, nor their situation could be ascertained; and,
if this had been possible, it was not in the power of their
compatriots to afford them the least relief. During the whole of that
tragic night, their groans and lamentations were dreadful in the
extreme. Being in the Gun-room I was at some distance from the
immediate scene of this bloody outrage, but the distance was by no
means far enough to prevent my hearing their continual cries from the
extremity of pain, their appeals for assistance, and their curses upon
the heads of their brutal assailants.

"It had been the usual custom for each person to carry below, when he
descended at sunset, a pint of water, to quench his thirst during the
night. But, on this occasion, we had thus been driven to our dungeon
three hours before the setting of the sun, and without our usual
supply of water.

"Of this night I cannot describe the horror. The day had been sultry,
and the heat was extreme throughout the ship. The unusual number of
hours during which we had been crowded together between decks; the
foul atmosphere and sickening heat; the additional excitement and
restlessness caused by the unwonted wanton attack which had been made;
above all, the want of water, not a drop of which could be obtained
during the whole night, to cool our parched lips; the imprecations of
those who were half distracted with their burning thirst; the shrieks
and wails of the wounded; the struggles and groans of the dying;
together formed a combination of horrors which no pen can describe.

"In the agonies of their sufferings the prisoners invited, and even
challenged their inhuman guards to descend once more among them, but
this they were prudent enough not to attempt.

"Their cries and supplications for water were terrible, and were of
themselves sufficient to render sleep impossible. Oppressed with the
heat, I found my way to the grating of the main hatchway, where on
former nights I had frequently passed some time, for the benefit of
the little current of air which circulated through the bars. I
obtained a place on the larboard side of the hatchway, where I stood
facing the East, and endeavored, as much as possible, to withdraw my
attention from the terrible sounds below me, by watching, through the
grating, the progress of the stars. I there spent hour after hour, in
following with my eyes the motion of a particular star, as it rose and
ascended until it passed over beyond my sight.

"How I longed for the day to dawn! At length the morning light began
to appear, but still our torments were increasing every moment. As the
usual hour for us to ascend to the upper deck approached, the
Working-party were mustered near the hatchway, and we were all
anxiously waiting for the opportunity to cool our weary frames, to
breathe for awhile the pure air, and, above all, to procure water to
quench our intolerable thirst. The time arrived, but still the
gratings were not removed. Hour after hour passed on, and still we
were not released. Our minds were at length seized with horror,
suspicious that our tyrants had determined to make a finishing stroke
of their cruelty, and rid themselves of us altogether.

"It was not until ten o'clock in the forenoon that the gratings were
at last removed. We hurried on deck and thronged to the water cask,
which was completely exhausted before our thirst was allayed. So great
was the struggle around the cask that the guards were again turned out
to disperse the crowd.

"In a few hours, however, we received a new supply of water, but it
seemed impossible to allay our thirst, and the applications at the
cask were incessant until sunset. Our rations were delivered to us,
but of course long after the usual hour. During the whole day,
however, no fire was kindled for cooking in the galley. All the food
which we consumed that day we were obliged to swallow raw. Everything,
indeed, had been entirely deranged by the events of the past night,
and several days elapsed before order was restored. This was at last
obtained by a change of the guard, who, to our great joy, were
relieved by a party of Hessians. The average number who died during a
period of 24 hours on board the Jersey was about six, [Footnote: This
was in 1782. The mortality had been much greater in former years.]
but on the morning of the fifth of July eight or ten corpses were
found below. Many had been badly wounded, to whom, in the total
darkness of the night, it was impossible for their companions to
render any assistance; and even during the next day they received no
attention, except that which was afforded by their fellow prisoners,
who had nothing to administer to their companions, not even bandages
for their wounds. I was not personally acquainted with any of those
who died or were wounded on that night. No equal number had ever died
in the same period of time since my confinement. This unusual
mortality was of course caused by the increased sufferings of the
night. Since that time I have often, while standing on the deck of a
good ship under my command, and viewing the rising stars, thought upon
the horrors of that night, when I stood watching their progress
through the gratings of the Old Jersey, and when I now contrast my
former wretchedness with my present situation, in the full enjoyment
of liberty, health, and every earthly comfort, I cannot but muse upon
the contrast, and bless the good and great Being from whom my comforts
have been derived. I do not now regret my capture nor my sufferings,
for the recollection of them has ever taught me how to enjoy my after
life with a greater degree of contentment than I should, perhaps, have
otherwise ever experienced."



It had been for some time in contemplation among a few inmates of the
Gun-room to make a desperate attempt to escape, by cutting a hole
through the stern or counter of the ship. In order that their
operations might proceed with even the least probability of success,
it was absolutely necessary that but few of the prisoners should be
admitted to the secret. At the same time it was impossible for them to
make any progress in their labor unless they first confided their plan
to all the other occupants of the Gun-room, which was accordingly
done. In this part of the ship each mess was on terms of more or less
intimacy with those whose little sleeping enclosures were immediately
adjacent to their own, and the members of each mess frequently
interchanged good offices with those in their vicinity, and borrowed
or lent such little articles as they possessed, like the good
housewives of a sociable neighborhood. I never knew any contention in
this apartment, during the whole period of my confinement. Each
individual in the Gun-room therefore was willing to assist his
comrades, as far as he had the power to do so. When the proposed plan
for escape was laid before us, although it met the disapprobation of
by far the greater number, still we were all perfectly ready to assist
those who thought it practicable. We, however, described to them the
difficulties and dangers which must unavoidably attend their
undertaking; the prospect of detection while making the aperture in
the immediate vicinity of such a multitude of idle men, crowded
together, a large proportion of whom were always kept awake by their
restlessness and sufferings during the night; the little probability
that they would be able to travel, undiscovered, on Long Island, even
should they succeed in reaching the shore in safety; and above all,
the almost absolute impossibility of obtaining food for their
subsistence, as an application for that to our keepers would certainly
lead to detection. But, notwithstanding all our arguments, a few of
them remained determined to make the attempt. Their only reply to our
reasoning was, that they must die if they remained, and that nothing
worse could befall them if they failed in their undertaking.

"One of the most sanguine among the adventurers was a young man named
Lawrence, the mate of a ship from Philadelphia. He was a member of the
mess next to my own, and I had formed with him a very intimate
acquaintance. He frequently explained his plans to me; and dwelt much
on his hopes. But ardently as I desired to obtain my liberty, and
great as were the exertions I could have made, had I seen any
probability of gaining it, yet it was not my intention to join in this
attempt. I nevertheless agreed to assist in the labor of cutting
through the planks, and heartily wished, although I had no hope, that
the enterprise might prove successful.

"The work was accordingly commenced, and the laborers concealed, by
placing a blanket between them and the prisoners without. The counter
of the ship was covered with hard oak plank, four inches thick; and
through this we undertook to cut an opening sufficiently large for a
man to descend; and to do this with no other tools than our jack
knives and a single gimlet. All the occupants of the Gun-room assisted
in this labor in rotation; some in confidence that the plan was
practicable, and the rest for amusement, or for the sake of being
employed. Some one of our number was constantly at work, and we thus
continued, wearing a hole through the hard planks, from seam to seam,
until at length the solid oak was worn away piecemeal, and nothing
remained but a thin sheathing on the outside which could be cut away
at any time in a few minutes, whenever a suitable opportunity should
occur for making the bold attempt to leave the ship.

"It had been previously agreed that those who should descend through
the aperture should drop into the water, and there remain until all
those among the inmates of the Gun-room who chose to make the attempt
could join them; and that the whole band of adventurers should then
swim together to the shore, which was about a quarter of a mile from
the ship.

"A proper time at length arrived. On a very dark and rainy night, the
exterior sheathing was cut away; and at midnight four of our number
having disencumbered themselves of their clothes and tied them across
their shoulders, were assisted through the opening, and dropped one
after another into the water.

"Ill-fated men! Our guards had long been acquainted with the
enterprise. But instead of taking any measures to prevent it, they had
permitted us to go on with our labor, keeping a vigilant watch for the
moment of our projected escape, in order to gratify their bloodthirsty
wishes. No other motive than this could have prompted them to the
course which they pursued. A boat was in waiting under the ship's
quarter, manned with rowers and a party of the guards. They maintained
a profound silence after hearing the prisoners drop from the opening,
until having ascertained that no more would probably descend, they
pursued the swimmers, whose course they could easily follow by the
sparkling of the water,--an effect always produced by the agitation of
the waves in a stormy night.

"We were all profoundly silent in the Gun-room, after the departure of
our companions, and in anxious suspense as to the issue of the
adventure. In a few minutes we were startled by the report of a gun,
which was instantly succeeded by a quick and scattering fire of
musketry. In the darkness of the night, we could not see the
unfortunate victims, but could distinctly hear their shrieks and cries
for mercy.

"The noise of the firing had alarmed the prisoners generally, and the
report of the attempted escape and its defeat ran like wildfire
through the gloomy and crowded dungeons of the hulk, and produced much
commotion among the whole body of prisoners. In a few moments, the
gratings were raised, and the guards descended, bearing a naked and
bleeding man, whom they placed in one of the bunks, and having left a
piece of burning candle by his side, they again ascended to the deck,
and secured the gratings.

"Information of this circumstance soon reached the Gun-room; and
myself, with several others of our number, succeeded in making our way
through the crowd to the bunks. The wounded man was my friend,
Lawrence. He was severely injured in many places, and one of his arms
had been nearly severed from his body by the stroke of a
cutlass. This, he said, was done in wanton barbarity, while he was
crying for mercy, with his hand on the gunwale of the boat. He was too
much exhausted to answer any of our questions; and uttered nothing
further, except a single inquiry respecting the fate of Nelson, one of
his fellow adventurers. This we could not answer. Indeed, what became
of the rest we never knew. They were probably all murdered in the
water. This was the first time that I had ever seen a light between
decks. The piece of candle had been left by the side of the bunk, in
order to produce an additional effect upon the prisoners. Many had
been suddenly awakened from their slumbers, and had crowded round the
bunk where the sufferer lay. The effect of the partial light upon his
bleeding and naked limbs, and upon the pale and haggard countenances,
and tattered garments of the wild and crowded groups by whom he was
surrounded, was horrid beyond description. We could render the
sufferer but little assistance, being only able to furnish him with a
few articles of apparel, and to bind a handkerchief around his
head. His body was completely covered, and his hair filled with
clotted blood; we had not the means of washing the gore from his
wounds during the night. We had seen many die, but to view this
wretched man expire in that situation, where he had been placed beyond
the reach of surgical aid, merely to strike us with terror, was

"The gratings were not removed at the usual hour in the morning, but
we were all kept below until ten o'clock. This mode of punishment had
now become habitual with our keepers, and we were all frequently
detained between decks until a late hour in the day, in revenge for
the most trifling occasion. This cruelty never failed to produce the
torments arising from heat and thirst, with all their attendant

"The immediate purpose of our tyrants having been answered by leaving
Mr. Lawrence below in that situation they promised in the morning that
he should have the assistance of a surgeon, but that promise was not
fulfilled. The prisoners rendered him every attention in their power,
but in vain. Mortification soon commenced; he became delirious and

"No inquiry was made by our keepers respecting his situation. They
evidently left him thus to suffer, in order that the sight of his
agonies might deter the rest of the prisoners from following his

"We received not the least reprimand for this transaction. The
aperture was again filled up with plank and made perfectly secure, and
no similar attempt to escape was made,--at least so long as I remained
on board.

"It was always in our power to knock down the guards and throw them
overboard, but this would have been of no avail. If we had done so,
and had effected our escape to Long Island, it would have been next to
impossible for us to have proceeded any further among the number of
troops there quartered. Of these there were several regiments, and
among them the regiment of Refugees before mentioned, who were
vigilant in the highest degree, and would have been delighted at the
opportunity of apprehending and returning us to our dungeons.

"There were, however, several instances of individuals making their
escape. One in particular, I well recollect,--James Pitcher, one of
the crew of the Chance, was placed on the sick list and conveyed to
Blackwell's Island. He effected his escape from thence to Long Island;
from whence, after having used the greatest precaution, he contrived
to cross the Sound, and arrived safe at home. He is now one of the
three survivors of the crew of the Chance."



"The body maddened by the spirit's pain;
The wild, wild working of the breast and brain;
The haggard eye, that, horror widened, sees
Death take the start of hunger and disease.
Here, such were seen and heard;--so close at hand,
A cable's length had reached them from the land;
Yet farther off than ocean ever bore;--
Eternity between them and the shore!"
--W. Read.

"Notwithstanding the destroying pestilence which was now raging to a
degree hitherto unknown on board, new companies of victims were
continually arriving; so that, although the mortality was very great,
our numbers were increasing daily. Thus situated, and seeing no
prospect of our liberty by exchange, we began to despair, and to
believe that our certain fate was rapidly approaching.

"One expedient was at length proposed among us and adopted. We
petitioned General Clinton, who was then in command of the British
forces at New York, for leave to transmit a Memorial to General
Washington, describing our deplorable situation, and requesting his
interference in our behalf. We further desired that our Memorial might
be examined by the British General, and, if approved by him, that it
might be carried by one of our own number to General Washington. Our
petition was laid before the British commander and was granted by the
Commissary of Prisoners. We received permission to choose three from
our number, to whom was promised a pass-port, with leave to proceed
immediately on their embassy.

"Our choice was accordingly made, and I had the satisfaction to find
that two of those elected were from among the former officers of the
Chance, Captain Aborn and our Surgeon, Mr. Joseph Bowen.

"The Memorial was soon completed and signed in the name of all the
prisoners, by a Committee appointed for that purpose. It contained an
account of the extreme wretchedness of our condition, and stated that
although we were sensible that the subject was one over which General
Washington had no direct control, as it was not usual for soldiers to
be exchanged for seamen, and his authority not extending to the Marine
Department of the American service; yet still, although it might not
be in his power to effect an exchange, we hoped he would be able to
devise some means to lighten or relieve our sufferings.

"Our messengers were further charged with a verbal commission to
General Washington, which, for obvious reasons, was not included in
the written Memorial. They were directed to state, in a manner more
circumstantial than we had dared to write, the peculiar horrors of our
situation; to discover the miserable food and putrid water on which we
were doomed to subsist; and finally to assure the General that in case
he could effect our release, we would agree to enter the American
service as soldiers, and remain during the war. Thus instructed our
messengers departed.

"We waited in alternate hope and fear, the event of their
mission. Most of our number, who were natives of the Eastern States,
were strongly impressed with the idea that some means would be devised
for our relief, after such a representation of our condition should be
made. This class of the prisoners, indeed, felt most interested in the
success of the application; for many of the sufferers appeared to give
themselves but little trouble respecting it, and some among the
foreigners did not commonly know that such an appeal had been made, or
that it had even been in contemplation. The long endurance of their
privations had rendered them almost indifferent to their fate, and
they appeared to look forward to death as the only probable
termination of their captivity.

"In a few days our messengers returned to New York, with a letter from
General Washington, addressed to the Committee of Prisoners who had
signed the Memorial. The prisoners were all summoned to the Spar-deck
where this letter was read. Its purport was as follows:--That he had
perused our communication, and had received, with due consideration,
the account which our messengers had laid before him; that he viewed
our situation with a high degree of interest, and that although our
application, as we had stated, was made in relation to a subject over
which he had no direct control, yet that it was his intention to lay
our Memorial before Congress; and that, in the mean time, we might be
assured that no exertions on his part should be spared which could
tend to a mitigation of our sufferings.

"He observed to our messengers, during their interview, that our long
detention in confinement was owing to a combination of circumstances,
against which it was very difficult, if not impossible, to provide.
That, in the first place, but little exertion was made on the part of
our countrymen to secure and detain their British prisoners for the
sake of exchange, many of the British seamen being captured by
privateers, on board which, he understood, it was a common practice
for them to enter as seamen; and that when this was not the case, they
were usually set at liberty as soon as the privateers arrived in port;
as neither the owners, nor the town or State where they were landed,
would be at the expense of their confinement and maintenance; and that
the officers of the General Government only took charge of those
seamen who were captured by the vessels in public service. All which
circumstances combined to render the number of prisoners, at all
times, by far too small for a regular and equal exchange.

"General Washington also transmitted to our Committee copies of
letters which he had sent to General Clinton and to the Commissary of
Prisoners, which were also read to us. He therein expressed an ardent
desire that a general exchange of prisoners might be effected; and if
this could not be accomplished, he wished that something might be done
to lessen the weight of our sufferings, that, if it was absolutely
necessary that we should be confined on the water, he desired that we
might at least be removed to clean ships. He added if the Americans
should be driven to the necessity of placing the British prisoners in
situations similar to our own, similar effects must be the inevitable
results; and that he therefore hoped they would afford us better
treatment from motives of humanity. He concluded by saying, that as a
correspondence on the subject had thus begun between them, he ardently
wished it might eventually result in the liberation of the unfortunate
men whose situation had called for its commencement.

"Our three messengers did not return on board as prisoners, but were
all to remain on parole at Flatbush, on Long Island.

"We soon found an improvement in our fare. The bread which we received
was of a better quality, and we were furnished with butter, instead of
rancid oil. An awning was provided, and a wind-sail furnished to
conduct fresh air between the decks during the day. But of this we
were always deprived at night, when we most needed it, as the gratings
must always be fastened over the hatchway and I presume that our
keepers were fearful if it was allowed to run, we might use it as a
means of escape.

"We were, however, obliged to submit to all our privations, consoling
ourselves only with the faint hope that the favorable change in our
situation, which we had observed for the last few days, might lead to
something still more beneficial, although we saw little prospect of
escape from the raging pestilence, except through the immediate
interposition of divine Providence, or by a removal from the scene of

_Note_. From the _New Jersey Gazette_, July 24th, 1782. "New
London. July 21st. We are informed that Sir Guy Carleton has visited
all the prison ships at New York, minutely examined into the situation
of the prisoners, and expressed his intention of having them better
provided for. That they were to be landed on Blackwell's Island, in
New York harbour, in the daytime, during the hot season."



"Soon after Captain Aborn had been permitted to go to Long Island on
his parole, he sent a message on board the Jersey, informing us that
his parole had been extended so far as to allow him to return home,
but that he should visit us previous to his departure. He requested
our First Lieutenant, Mr. John Tillinghast, to provide a list of the
names of those captured in the Chance who had died, and also a list of
the survivors, noting where each survivor was then confined, whether
on board the Jersey, or one of the Hospital ships.

"He also requested that those of our number who wished to write to
their friends at home, would have their letters ready for delivery to
him, whenever he should come on board. The occupants of the Gun-room,
and such of the other prisoners as could procure the necessary
materials were, therefore, soon busily engaged in writing as
particular descriptions of our situation as they thought it prudent to
do, without the risk of the destruction of the letters; as we were
always obliged to submit our writing for inspection previous to its
being allowed to pass from the ship. We, however, afterwards
regretted that on this occasion our descriptions were not more minute,
as these letters were not examined.

"The next day Captain Aborn came on board, accompanied by several
other persons, who had also been liberated on parole; but they came no
nearer to the prisoners than the head of the gangway-ladder, and
passed through the door of the barricade to the Quarter-deck. This was
perhaps a necessary precaution against the contagion, as they were
more liable to be affected by it than if they had always remained on
board; but we were much disappointed at not having an opportunity to
speak to them. Our letters were delivered to Captain Aborn by our
Lieutenant, through whom he sent us assurances of his determination to
do everything in his power for our relief, and that if a sufficient
number of British prisoners could be procured, every survivor of his
vessel's crew should be exchanged; and if this could not be effected
we might depend upon receiving clothing and such other necessary
articles as could be sent for our use.

"About this time some of the sick were sent on shore on Blackwell's
Island. This was considered a great indulgence. I endeavored to obtain
leave to join them by feigning sickness, but did not succeed.

"The removal of the sick was a great relief to us, as the air was less
foul between decks, and we had more room for motion. Some of the bunks
were removed, and the sick were carried on shore as soon as their
condition was known. Still, however, the pestilence did not abate on
board, as the weather was extremely warm. In the daytime the heat was
excessive, but at night it was intolerable.

"But we lived on hope, knowing that, in all probability, our friends
at home had ere then been apprised of our condition, and that some
relief might perhaps be soon afforded us.

"Such was our situation when, one day, a short time before sunset, we
described a sloop approaching us, with a white flag at her mast-head,
and knew, by that signal, that she was a Cartel, and from the
direction in which she came supposed her to be from some of the
Eastern States. She did not approach near enough to satisfy our
curiosity, until we were ordered below for the night.

"Long were the hours of the night to the survivors of our crew. Slight
as was the foundation on which our hopes had been raised, we had clung
to them as our last resource. No sooner were the gratings removed in
the morning than we were all upon deck, gazing at the Cartel. Her deck
was crowded with men, whom we supposed to be British prisoners. In a
few moments they began to enter the Commissary's boats, and proceeded
to New York.

"In the afternoon a boat from the Cartel came alongside the hulk,
having on board the Commissary of Prisoners, and by his side sat our
townsman, Captain William Corey, who came on board with the joyful
information that the sloop was from Providence with English prisoners
to be exchanged for the crew of the Chance. The number which she had
brought was forty, being more than sufficient to redeem every survivor
of our crew then on board the Jersey.

"I immediately began to prepare for my departure. Having placed the
few articles of clothing which I possessed in a bag (for, by one of
our By-laws, no prisoner, when liberated, could remove his chest) I
proceeded to dispose of my other property on board, and after having
made sundry small donations of less value, I concluded by giving my
tin kettle to one of my friends, and to another the remnant of my
cleft of firewood.

"I then hurried to the upper deck, in order to be ready to answer to
my name, well knowing that I should hear no second call, and that no
delay would be allowed.

"The Commissary and Captain Corey were standing together on the
Quarter-deck; and as the list of names was read, our Lieutenant,
Mr. Tillinghast, was directed to say whether the person called was one
of the crew of the Chance. As soon as this assurance was given, the
individual was ordered to pass down the Accommodation ladder into the
boat. Cheerfully was the word 'Here!' responded by each survivor as
his name was called. My own turn at length came, and the Commissary
pointed to the boat. I never moved with a lighter step, for that
moment was the happiest of my life. In the excess and overflowing of
my joy, I even forgot, for awhile, the detestable character of the
Commissary himself, and even, Heaven forgive me! bestowed a bow upon
him as I passed.

"We took our stations in the boat in silence. No congratulations were
heard among us. Our feelings were too deep for utterance. For my own
part, I could not refrain from bursting into tears of joy.

"Still there were moments when it seemed impossible that we were in
reality without the limits of the Old Jersey. We dreaded the idea that
some unforeseen event might still detain us; and shuddered with the
apprehension that we might yet be returned to our dungeons.

"When the Cartel arrived the surviving number of our crew on board the
Old Jersey was but thirty-five. This fact being well known to
Mr. Tillinghast, and finding that the Cartel had brought forty
prisoners, he allowed five of our comrades in the Gun-room to answer
to the names of the same number of our crew who had died; and having
disguised them in the garb of common seamen, they passed unsuspected.

"It was nearly sunset when we had all arrived on board the Cartel. No
sooner had the exchange been completed than the Commissary left us,
with our prayers that we might never behold him more. I then cast my
eyes towards the hulk, as the horizontal rays of the sunset glanced on
her polluted sides, where, from the bend upwards, filth of every
description had been permitted to accumulate for years; and the
feeling of disgust which the sight occasioned was indescribable. The
multitude on her Spar-deck and Fore-castle were in motion, and in the
act of descending for the night; presenting the same appearance that
met my sight when, nearly five months before, I had, at the same hour,
approached her as a prisoner."

It appears that many other seamen on board the Jersey and the Hospital
ships were exchanged as a good result of the Memorial addressed to
General Washington. An issue of the _Royal Gazette_ of New York,
published on the 17th of July, 1782, contains the following statement:

"The following is a Statement of the Navy Prisoners who have, within
the last few days, been exchanged and brought to this city, viz:

"From Boston, 102 British Seamen.
"From Rhode Island, 40 British Seamen.
"From New London, Conn., 84 British Seamen.
"From Baltimore, Md, 23 British Seamen.
"Total 249.

"The exertions of those American Captains who published to the world
in this _Gazette_, dated July 3rd, the real state and condition
of their countrymen, prisoners here, and the true cause of their
durance and sufferings, we are informed was greatly conducive to the
bringing this exchange into a happy effect. We have only to lament
that the endeavors of those who went, for the same laudable purpose,
to Philadelphia, have not hitherto been so fortunate."

This was published before the release of Captain Dring and the crew of
the Chance, and shows that they were not the only prisoners who were
so happy as to be exchanged that summer. It is possible that the crew
of the Chance is referred to in this extract from the _Pennsylvania
Packet_, Philadelphia, Thursday, August 15th, 1782: "Providence,
July 27th. Sunday last a flag of truce returned here from New York,
and brought 39 prisoners."



"On his arrival in Providence Captain Aborn had lost no time in making
the details of our sufferings publicly known; and a feeling of deep
commiseration was excited among our fellow citizens. Messrs. Clarke
and Nightingale, the former owners of the Chance, in conjunction with
other gentlemen, expressed their determination to spare no exertion or
expense necessary to procure our liberty. It was found that forty
British prisoners were at that time in Boston. These were immediately
procured, and marched to Providence, where a sloop owned and commanded
by a Captain Gladding of Bristol was chartered, to proceed with the
prisoners forthwith to New York, that they might be exchanged for an
equal number of our crew. Captain Corey was appointed as an Agent to
effect the exchange, and to receive us from the Jersey; and having
taken on board a supply of good provisions and water, he hastened to
our relief. He received much assistance in effecting his object from
our townsman, Mr. John Creed, at that time Deputy Commissary of
Prisoners. I do not recollect the exact day of our deliverance, but
think it was early in the month of October * * * We were obliged to
pass near the shore of Blackwell's Island, where were several of our
crew, who had been sent on shore among the sick. They had learned that
the Cartel had arrived from Providence for the purpose of redeeming
the crew of the Chance, and expected to be taken on board. Seeing us
approaching they had, in order to cause no delay, prepared for their
departure, and stood together on the shore, with their bundles in
their hands; but, to their unutterable disappointment and dismay, they
saw us pass by. We knew them and bitterly did we lament the necessity
of leaving them behind. We could only wave our hands as we passed; but
they could not return the salutation, and stood as if petrified with
horror, like statues fixed immovably to the earth, until we had
vanished from their sight.

"I have since seen and conversed with one of these unfortunate men,
who afterwards made his escape. He informed me that their removal
from the Jersey to the Island was productive of the most beneficial
effects upon their health, and that they had been exulting at the
improvement of their condition; but their terrible disappointment
overwhelmed them with despair. They then considered their fate
inevitable, believing that in a few days they must again be conveyed
on board the hulk; there to undergo all the agonies of a second
death. * * * Several of our crew were sick when we entered the Cartel,
and the sudden change of air and diet caused some new cases of
fever. One of our number, thus seized by the fever, was a young man
named Bicknell of Barrington, R. I. He was unwell when we left the
Jersey, and his symptoms indicated the approaching fever; and when we
entered Narragansett Bay, he was apparently dying. Being informed that
we were in the Bay he begged to be taken on deck, or at least to the
hatchway, that he might look once more upon his native land. He said
that he was sensible of his condition; that the hand of death was upon
him; but that he was consoled by the thought that he should be
decently interred, and be suffered to rest among his friends and
kindred. I was astonished at the degree of resignation and composure
with which he spoke. He pointed to his father's house, as we
approached it, and said it contained all that was dear to him upon
earth. He requested to be put on shore.

"Our Captain was intimately acquainted with the family of the
sufferer; and as the wind was light we dropped our anchor, and
complied with his request. He was placed in the boat, where I took a
seat by his side; in order to support him; and, with two boys at the
oars, we left the sloop. In a few minutes his strength began rapidly
to fail. He laid his fainting head upon my shoulder, and said he was
going to the shore to be buried with his ancestors; that this had long
been his ardent desire, and that God had heard his prayers. No sooner
had we touched the shore than one of the boys was sent to inform his
family of the event. They hastened to the boat to receive their long
lost son and brother, but we could only give them his yet warm and
lifeless corpse."


"After remaining a few moments with the friends of our deceased
comrade we returned to the sloop and proceeded up the river. It was
about eight o'clock in the evening when we reached Providence. There
were no quarantine regulations to detain us; but, as the yellow fever
was raging among us, we took the precaution to anchor in the middle of
the stream. It was a beautiful moonlit evening, and the intelligence
of our arrival having spread through the town, the nearest wharf was
in a short time crowded with people drawn together by curiosity, and a
desire for information relative to the fate of their friends and

"Continual inquiries were made from the anxious crowd on the land
respecting the condition of several different individuals on board. At
length the information was given that some of our number were below,
sick with the yellow fever. No sooner was this fact announced than the
wharf was totally deserted, and in a few moments not a human being
remained in sight. The Old Jersey fever as it was called, was well
known throughout the whole country. All were acquainted with its
terrible effects; and it was shunned as if its presence were certain

"After the departure of the crowd, the sloop was brought alongside the
wharf, and every one who could walk immediately sprang on shore. So
great was the dread of the pestilence, and so squalid and emaciated
were the figures which we presented, that those among us whose
families did not reside in Providence found it almost impossible to
gain admittance into any dwelling. There being at that time no
hospital in or near the town, and no preparations having been made for
the reception of the sick, they were abandoned for that night. They
were, however, supplied in a few hours with many small articles
necessary for their immediate comfort, by the humane people in the
vicinity of the wharf. The friends of the sick who belonged in the
vicinity of the town were immediately informed of our arrival, and in
the course of the following day these were removed from the
vessel. For the remainder of the sufferers ample provision was made
through the generous exertions of Messrs. Clarke and Nightingale.

"Solemn indeed are the reflections which crowd upon my mind as I
review the events which are here recorded. Forty-two years have passed
away since this remnant of our ill-fated crew were thus liberated from
their wasting captivity. In that time what changes have taken place!
Of their whole number but three are now alive. James Pitcher,
Dr. Joseph Bowen, and myself, are the sole survivors. Of the officers
I alone remain."



General Washington cannot with justice be blamed for any part of the
sufferings inflicted upon the naval prisoners on board the prison
ships. Although he had nothing whatever to do with the American Navy,
or the crews of privateers captured by the British, yet he exerted
himself in every way open to him to endeavor to obtain their exchange,
or, at least, a mitigation of their sufferings, and this in spite of
the immense weight of cares and anxieties that devolved upon him in
his conduct of the war. Much of his correspondence on the subject of
these unfortunate prisoners has been given to the world. We deem it
necessary, in a work of this character, to reproduce some of it here,
not only because this correspondence is his most perfect vindication
from the charge of neglect that has been brought against him, but also
because it has much to do with the proper understanding of this

One of the first of the letters from which we shall quote was written
by Washington from his headquarters to Admiral Arbuthnot, then
stationed at New York, on the 25th of January 1781.


Through a variety of channels, representations of too serious a nature
to be disregarded have come to us, that the American naval prisoners
in the harbor of New York are suffering all the extremity of distress,
from a too crowded and in all respects disagreeable and unwholesome
situation, on board the Prison-ships, and from the want of food and
other necessaries. The picture given us of their sufferings is truly
calamitous and deplorable. If just, it is the obvious interest of both
parties, omitting the plea of humanity, that the causes should be
without delay inquired into and removed; and if false, it is equally
desirable that effectual measures should be taken to obviate
misapprehensions. This can only be done by permitting an officer, of
confidence on both sides, to visit the prisoners in their respective
confinements, and to examine into their true condition. This will
either at once satisfy you that by some abuse of trust in the persons
immediately charged with the care of the prisoners, their treatment is
really such as has been described to us and requires a change; or it
will convince us that the clamors are ill-grounded. A disposition to
aggravate the miseries of captivity is too illiberal to be imputed to
any but those subordinate characters, who, in every service, are too
often remiss and unprincipled. This reflection assures me that you
will acquiesce in the mode proposed for ascertaining the truth and
detecting delinquency on one side, or falsehood on the other. The
discussions and asperities which have had too much place on the
subject of prisoners are so irksome in themselves, and have had so
many ill consequences, that it is infinitely to be wished that there
may be no room given for reviving them. The mode I have suggested
appears to me calculated to bring the present case to a fair, direct,
and satisfactory issue. I am not sensible of any inconvenience it can
be attended with, and I therefore hope for your concurrence.

I should be glad, as soon as possible, to hear from you on the

I have the honor to be, etc.,
George Washington.

To this letter, written in January, Admiral Arbuthnot did not reply
until the latter part of April. He then wrote:

Royal Oak Office
April 2lst. 1781.


If I had not been very busy when I received your letter dated the 25
of Jan. last, complaining of the treatment of the naval prisoners at
this place, I certainly should have answered it before this time; and,
notwithstanding that I then thought, as I now do, that my own
testimony would have been sufficient to put the truth past a doubt, I
ordered the strictest scrutiny to be made into the condition of all
parties concerned in the victualling and treatment of those
unfortunate people. Their several testimonies you must have seen, and
I give you my honor that the transaction was conducted with such
strict care and impartiality that you may rely on its validity.

Permit me now, Sir, to request that you will take the proper steps to
cause Mr. Bradford, your Commissary, and the Jailor at Philadelphia,
to abate the inhumanity which they exercise indiscriminately upon all
people who are so unfortunate as to be carried into that place.

I will not trouble you, Sir, with a catalogue of grievances, further
than to request that the unfortunate may feel as little of the
severities of war as the circumstances of the time will permit, that
in future they may not be fed in winter with salted clams, and that
they may be afforded a sufficiency of fuel.

I am, Sir,
your most obdt and hble srvt
M. Arbuthnot.

Probably the American prisoners would have been glad to eat salted
clams, rather than diseased pork, and, as has been shown, they were
sometimes frozen to death on board the prison ships, where no fire
except for cooking purposes seems ever to have been allowed.

In August, 1781, a committee appointed by Congress to examine into the
condition of naval prisoners reported among other things as follows:
"The Committee consisting of Mr. Boudinot, Mr. Sharpe, Mr. Clymer,
appointed to take into consideration the state of the American
prisoners in the power of the enemy report:

"That they have collected together and cursorily looked into various
evidences of the treatment our unhappy fellow-citizens, prisoners with
the enemy, have heretofore and do still meet with, and find the
subject of so important and serious a nature as to demand much greater
attention, and fuller consideration than the present distant situation
of those confined on board the Prison-ships at New York will now admit
of, wherefor they beg leave to make a partial representation, and
desire leave to sit again. * * *"


"A very large number of marine prisoners and citizens of these United
States taken by the enemy, are now closely confined on board
Prison-ships in the harbor of New York.

"That the said Prison-ships are so unequal in size to the number of
prisoners, as not to admit of a possibility of preserving life in this
warm season of the year, they being crowded together in such a manner
as to be in danger of suffocation, as well as exposed to every kind of
putrid, pestilential disorder:

"That no circumstances of the enemy's particular situation can justify
this outrage on humanity, it being contrary to the usage and customs
of civilizations, thus deliberately to murder their captives in cold
blood, as the enemy will not assert that Prison-ships, equal to the
number of prisoners, cannot be obtained so as to afford room
sufficient for the necessary purposes of life:

"That the enemy do daily improve these distresses to enlist and compel
many of our citizens to enter on board their ships of war, and thus to
fight against their fellow citizens, and dearest connections.

"That the said Marine prisoners, until they can be exchanged should be
supplied with such necessaries of clothing and provisions as can be
obtained to mitigate their present sufferings.

"That, therefor, the Commander-in-chief be and he is hereby instructed
to remonstrate to the proper officer within the enemy's lines, on the
said unjustifiable treatment of our Marine prisoners, and demand, in
the most express terms, to know the reasons of this unnecessary
severity towards them; and that the Commander-in-chief transmit such
answer as may be received thereon to Congress, that decided measures
for due retaliation may be adopted, if a redress of these evils be not
immediately given.

"That the Commander-in-chief be and he is hereby also instructed to
direct to supply the said prisoners with such provisions and light
clothing for their present more comfortable subsistence as may be in
his power to obtain, and in such manner as he may judge most
advantageous for the United States."

Accordingly Washington wrote to the officer then commanding at New
York, Commodore Affleck, as follows:

Headquarters, August 21 1781


The almost daily complaints of the severities exercised towards the
American marine prisoners in New York have induced the Hon. the
Congress of the United States to direct me to remonstrate to the
commanding officer of his British Majesty's ships of war in the harbor
upon the subject; and to report to them his answer. The principal
complaint now is, the inadequacy of the room in the Prison-ships to
the number of prisoners, confined on board of them, which causes the
death of many, and is the occasion of most intolerable inconvenience
and distresses to those who survive. This line of conduct is the more
aggravating, as the want of a greater number of Prison-ships, or of
sufficient room on shore, can hardly be pleaded in excuse.

As a bare denial of what has been asserted by so many individuals who
have unfortunately experienced the miseries I have mentioned, will not
be satisfactory, I have to propose that our Commissary-general of
prisoners, or any other officer, who shall be agreed upon, shall have
liberty to visit the ships, inspect the situation of the prisoners,
and make a report, from an exact survey of the situation in which they
may be found, whether, in his opinion, there has been any just cause
of complaint.

I shall be glad to be favored with an answer as soon as convenient.

I have the honor to be
yr most obdt srvt
George Washington


New York 30 August 1781


I intend not either to deny or to assert, for it will neither
facilitate business, nor alleviate distress. The subject of your
letter seems to turn on two points, namely the inconvenience and
distresses which the American prisoners suffer from the inadequacy of
room in the Prison-ships, which occasions the death of many of them,
as you are told; and that a Commissary-general of prisoners from you
should have liberty to visit the ships, inspect the situation of the
prisoners, and make a report from an actual survey. I take leave to
assure you that I feel for the distresses of mankind as much as any
man; and since my commission to the naval command of the department,
one of my principal endeavors has been to regulate the Prison and
hospital ships.

The Government having made no other provision for naval prisoners than
shipping, it is impossible that the greater inconvenience which people
confined on board ships experience beyond those confined on shore can
be avoided, and a sudden accumulation of people often aggravates the

But I assure you that every attention is shown that is possible, and
that the Prison-ships are under the very same Regulations here that
have been constantly observed towards the prisoners of all nations in
Europe. Tables of diet are publicly affixed; officers visit every
week, redress and report grievances, and the numbers are thinned as
they can provide shipping, and no attention has been wanting.

The latter point cannot be admitted to its full extent; but if you
think fit to send an officer of character to the lines for that
purpose, he will be conducted to me, and he shall be accompanied by an
officer, and become a witness to the manner in which we treat the
prisoners, and I shall expect to have my officer visit the prisoners
detained in your jails and dungeons in like manner, as well as in the
mines, where I am informed many an unhappy victim languishes out his
days. I must remark, had Congress ever been inclined, they might have
contributed to relieve the distress of those whom we are under the
necessity of holding as prisoners, by sending in all in their
possession towards the payment of the large debt they owe us on that
head, which might have been an inducement towards liberating many now
in captivity. I have the honor to be, Sir, with due respect, etc,

Edmund Affleck

Much correspondence passed between the English and American
Commissaries of Prisoners, as well as between Washington and the
commanding officer at New York on the subject of the naval prisoners,
but little good seems to have been effected thereby until late in the
war, when negotiations for peace had almost progressed to a finish. We
have seen that, in the summer of 1782, the hard conditions on board
the prison ships were in some measure mitigated, and that the sick
were sent to Blackwell's Island, where they had a chance for life. We
might go on presenting much more of the correspondence on both sides,
and detail all the squabbles about the number of prisoners exchanged;
their treatment while in prison; and other subjects of dispute, but
the conclusion of the whole matter was eloquently written in the sands
of the Wallabout, where the corpses of thousands of victims to British
cruelty lay for so many years. We will therefore give only a few
further extracts from the correspondence and reports on the subject,
as so much of it was tedious and barren of any good result.

In December of the year 1781 Washington, on whom the duty devolved of
writing so many of the letters, and receiving so many insulting
replies, wrote to the President of Congress as follows:

"I have taken the liberty of enclosing the copies of two letters from
the Commissary-general of Prisoners setting forth the debt which is
due from us on account of naval prisoners; the number remaining in
captivity, their miserable situation, and the little probability there
is of procuring their release for the want of proper subjects in our

"Before we proceed into an inquiry into the measures that ought to be
adopted to enable us to pay our debt, and to affect the exchange of
those who still remain in captivity, a matter which it may take some
time to determine, humanity and policy point out the necessity of
administering to the pressing wants of a number of the most valuable
subjects of the republic.

"Had they been taken in the Continental service, I should have thought
myself authorized in conjunction with the Minister of War to apply a
remedy, but as the greater part of them were not thus taken, as
appears by Mr. Skinner's representation, I must await the decision of
Congress upon the subject.

"Had a system, some time ago planned by Congress and recommended to
the several States, been adopted and carried fully into execution, I
mean that of obliging all Captains of private vessels to deliver over
their prisoners to the Continental Commissioners upon certain
conditions, I am persuaded that the numbers taken and brought into the
many ports of the United States would have amounted to a sufficiency
to have exchanged those taken from us; but instead of that, it is to
be feared, that few in proportion were secured, and that the few who
are sent in, are so partially applied, that it creates great disgust
in those remaining. The consequence of which is, that conceiving
themselves neglected, and seeing no prospect of relief, many of them
entered into the enemy's service, to the very great loss of our
trading interest. Congress will, therefore, I hope, see the necessity
of renewing their former, or making some similar recommendation to the

"In addition to the motives above mentioned, for wishing that the
whole business of prisoners of war might be brought under one general
regulation, there is another of no small consideration, which is, that
it would probably put a stop to those mutual complaints of ill
treatment which are frequently urged on each part. For it is a fact
that, for above two years, we have had no occasion to complain of the
treatment of the Continental land prisoners in New York, neither have
we been charged with any improper conduct towards those in our
hands. I consider the sufferings of the seamen, for some time past, as
arising in great measure from the want of that general regulation
which has been spoken of, and without which there will constantly be a
great number remaining in the hands of the enemy. * * *"

Again in February of the year 1782 Washington wrote to Congress from
Philadelphia as follows:

Feb. 18, 1782.

* * * "Mr. Sproat's proposition of the exchange of British soldiers for
American seamen, if acceded to, will immediately give the enemy a very
considerable re-enforcement, and will be a constant draft hereafter
upon the prisoners of war in our hands. It ought also to be considered
that few or none of the Continental naval prisoners in New York or
elsewhere belong to the Continental service. I, however, feel for the
situation of these unfortunate people, and wish to see them relieved
by any mode, which will not materially affect the public good. In some
former letters upon this subject I have mentioned a plan, by which I
am certain they might be liberated nearly as fast as they are
captured. It is by obliging the Captains of all armed vessels, both
public and private, to throw their prisoners into common stock, under
the direction of the Commissary-general of prisoners. By this means
they would be taken care of, and regularly applied to the exchange of
those in the hands of the enemy. Now the greater part are dissipated,
and the few that remain are applied partially. * * *"

James Rivington edited a paper in New York during the Revolution, and,
in 1782, the American prisoners on board the Jersey addressed a letter
to him for publication, which is given below.

"On Board the Prison-ship Jersey, June 11, 1782.


Enclosed are five letters, which if you will give a place in your
newspaper will greatly oblige a number of poor prisoners who seem to
be deserted by our own countrymen, who has it in their power, and will
not exchange us. In behalf of the whole we beg leave to subscribe
ourselves, Sir, yr much obliged srvts,

"John Cooper
"John Sheffield
"William Chad
"Richard Eccleston
"John Baas"


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