“It appeared upon inquiry, that the American prisoners were allowed a half pound of bread less per day than the French and Spanish prisoners.” – British Annual Register
While we are on the subject of the treatment of American prisoners in England, which forms a most grateful contrast to that which they received in New York, Philadelphia, and other parts of America, we will give an abstract of the adventures of another young man who was confined in the Old Mill Prison at Plymouth, England. This young man was named Andrew Sherburne. He was born at Rye, New Hampshire, on the 30th of September, 1765.
He first served on the continental ship of war, Ranger, which shipped a crew at Portsmouth, N. H. His father consented that he should go with her, and his two half uncles, Timothy and James Weymouth, were on board. There were about forty boys in the crew. Andrew was then in his fourteenth year, and was employed as waiter to the boatswain. The vessel sailed in the month of June, 1779. She took ten prizes and sailed for home, where she arrived in August, 1779. Next year she sailed again on another cruise, but was taken prisoner by the British at Charleston, S. C., on the 12th of May, 1780.
“Our officers,” says Sherburne, “were paroled and allowed to retain their waiters. We were for several days entirely destitute of provisions except muscles, which we gathered from the muscle beds. I was at this time waiter to Captain Pierce Powers, master’s mate of the Ranger. He treated me with the kindness of a father.”
“At this time,” he continues, “Captain Simpson and the other officers procured a small vessel which was employed as a cartel, to transport the officers, their boys and baggage, agreeably to the terms of capitulation, to Newport, R. I. It being difficult to obtain suitable casks for water they procured such as they could. These proved to be foul, and after we got to sea our water became filthy and extremely noxious. Very few if any on board escaped an attack of the diarrhoea.”
After his return he next shipped under Captain Wilds on the Greyhound, from Portsmouth, N. H., and at last, after many adventures, was taken prisoner by Newfoundlanders, off Newfoundland. He was then put on board the Fairy, a British sloop of war, commanded by Captain Yeo, “a complete tyrant” “Wilds and myself,” he continues, “were called to the quarter deck, and after having been asked a few questions by Captain Yeo, he turned to his officers and said: ‘They are a couple of fine lads for his Majesty’s service. Mr. Gray, see that they do their duty.’”
When the sloop arrived in England the boys complained that they were prisoners of war, in consequence of which they were sent to the Old Mill Prison at Plymouth, accused of “rebellion, piracy, and high treason.”
Here they found acquaintances from Portsmouth, N. H. The other prisoners were very kind to young Sherburne, gave him clothing and sent him to a school which was kept in the prison. Ship building and other arts were carried on in this place, and he learned navigation, which was of great service to him in after life.
The fare, he declared, was tolerably good, but there was not enough of it. He amused himself by making little toy ships. He became ill and delirious, but recovered in time to be sent to America when a general exchange of prisoners was effected in 1781. The rest of his adventures has nothing to do with prisons, in England, and shall not now be detailed.
Although the accounts of the English prisons left by Herbert, Sherburne and others are so favorable, yet it seems that, after the year 1780, there was some cause of complaint even there. We will quote a passage from the British Annual Register to prove this statement. This passage we take from the Register for 1781, page 152.
“A petition was presented to the House the same day (June 20th) by Mr. Fox, from the American prisoners in Mill Prison, Plymouth, setting forth that they were treated with less humanity than the French and Spanish, though by reason that they had no Agent established in this country for their protection, they were entitled to expect a larger share of indulgence than others. They had not a sufficient allowance of “bread”, and were very scantily furnished with clothing.
“A similar petition was presented to the House of Peers by the Duke of Richmond, and these petitions occasioned considerable debate in both Houses. Several motions were grounded on these petitions, but to those proposed by the Lords and gentlemen in the opposition, were determined in the negative, and others to “exculpate” the Government in this business were resolved in the affirmative. It appeared upon inquiry, that the American prisoners were allowed a half pound of bread less per day than the French and Spanish prisoners. But the petitions of the Americans produced no alterations in their favor, and the conduct of the Administration was equally unpolitic and illiberal. The additional allowance, which was solicited on behalf of the prisoners, could be no object, either to Government or to the Nation, and it was certainly unwise, by treating American prisoners worse than those of France or Spain, to increase the fatal animosity which had unhappily taken place between the mother country and the Colonies, and this, too, at a period when the subjugation of the latter had become hopeless.”