The Case Of John Blatchford

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“But one American prisoner escaped from the Island of Sumatra, where he had been employed in the pepperfields belonging to the East India Company.”

In our attempt to describe the sufferings of American prisoners taken during the Revolution, we have, for the most part, confined ourselves to New York, only because we have been unable to make extensive research into the records of the British prisons in other places. But what little we have been able to gather on the subject of the prisoners sent out of America we will also lay before our readers.

We have already stated the fact that some of our prisoners were sent to India and some to Africa. They seem to have been sold into slavery, and purchased by the East India Company, and the African Company as well.

It is doubtful if any of the poor prisoners sent to the unwholesome climate of Africa ever returned to tell the story of British cruelties inflicted upon them there,–where hard work in the burning sun,–scanty fare,–and jungle fever soon ended their miseries. But one American prisoner escaped from the Island of Sumatra, where he had been employed in the pepperfields belonging to the East India Company. His story is eventful, and we will give the reader an abridgement of it, as it was told by himself, in his narrative, first published in a New England newspaper.

John Blatchford was born at Cape Ann, Mass., in the year 1762. In June, 1777, he went as a cabin boy on board the Hancock, a continental ship commanded by Capt. John Manly. On the 8th of July the Hancock was captured by the Rainbow, under Sir George Collier, and her crew was taken to Halifax.

John Blatchford was, at this time, in his sixteenth year. He was of medium height, with broad shoulders, full chest, and well proportioned figure. His complexion was sallow, his eyes dark, and his hair black and curly. He united great strength with remarkable endurance, else he could not have survived the rough treatment he experienced at the hands of fate. It is said that as a man he was temperate, grave, and dignified, and although his strength was so great, and his courage most undaunted, yet he was peaceable and slow to anger. His narrative appears to have been dictated by himself to some better educated person. It was first published in New London, Conn., in the year 1788. In the year 1797 an abstract of it appeared in Philip Freneau’s _Time Piece_, a paper published in New York. In July, 1860, the entire production was published in the _Cape Ann Gazette_. We will now continue the narrative in Blatchford’s own words:

“On our arrival at Halifax we were taken on shore and confined in a prison which had formerly been a sugar-house.

“The large number of prisoners confined in this house, near 300, together with a scanty allowance of provisions, occasioned it to be very sickly. * * * George Barnard, who had been a midshipman on the Hancock, and who was confined in the same room as myself, concerted a plan to release us, which was to be effected by digging a small passage under ground, to extend to a garden that was behind the prison, and without the prison wall, where we might make a breach in the night with safety, and probably all obtain our liberty. This plan greatly elated our spirits, and we were anxious to proceed immediately in executing it.

“Our cabins were built one above another, from the floor to the height of a man’s head; and mine was pitched upon to be taken up; and six of us agreed to do the work, whose names were George Barnard, William Atkins, late midshipmen in the Hancock; Lemuel Towle of Cape Ann, Isaiah Churchill of Plymouth; Asa Cole of Weathersfield, and myself.

“We took up the cabin and cut a hole in the plank underneath. The sugar house stood on a foundation of stone which raised the floor four feet above the ground, and gave us sufficient room to work, and to convey away the dirt that we dug up.

“The instruments that we had to work with were one scraper, one long spike, and some sharp sticks; with these we proceeded in our difficult undertaking. As the hole was too small to admit of more than one person to work at a time we dug by turns during ten or twelve days, and carried the dirt in our bosoms to another part of the cellar. By this time we supposed we had dug far enough, and word was given out among the prisoners to prepare themselves for flight.

“But while we were in the midst of our gayety, congratulating ourselves upon our prospects, we were basely betrayed by one of our own countrymen, whose name was Knowles. He had been a midshipman on board the Boston frigate, and was put on board the Fox when she was taken by the Hancock and Boston. What could have induced him to commit so vile an action cannot be conceived, as no advantage could accrue to him from our detection, and death was the certain consequence to many of his miserable countrymen. That it was so is all that I can say. A few hours before we were to have attempted our escape Knowles informed the Sergeant of the guard of our design, and by his treachery cost his country the lives of more than one hundred valuable citizens,–fathers, and husbands, whose return would have rejoiced the hearts of now weeping, fatherless children, and called forth tears of joy from wives, now helpless and disconsolate widows.

“When we were discovered the whole guard were ordered into the room and being informed by Knowles who it was that performed the work we were all six confined in irons; the hole was filled up and a sentinel constantly placed in the room, to prevent any further attempt.

“We were all placed in close confinement, until two of my fellow-sufferers, Barnard and Cole, died; one of which was put into the ground with his irons on his hands.

“I was afterwards permitted to walk the yard. But as my irons were too small, and caused my hands to swell, and made them very sore, I asked the Sergeant to take them off and give me larger ones. He being a person of humanity, and compassionating my sufferings, changed my irons for others that were larger, and more easy to my hands.

“Knowles, who was also permitted to walk the yard, for his perfidy, would take every opportunity to insult and mortify me, by asking me whether I wanted to run away again, and when I was going home, etc?

“His daily affronts, together with his conduct in betraying, his countrymen, so exasperated me that I wished for nothing more than an opportunity to convince him that I did not love him.

“One day as he was tantalizing over me as usual, I suddenly drew my one hand out of my irons, flew at him and struck him in the face, knocked out two or three of his teeth, and bruised his mouth very much. He cried out that the prisoner had got loose, but before any assistance came, I had put my hand again into the hand-cuff, and was walking about the yard as usual. When the guard came they demanded of me in what manner I struck him. I replied with both my hands.

“They then tried to pull my hands out, but could not, and concluded it must be as I said. Some laughed and some were angry, but in the end I was ordered again into prison.

“The next day I was sent on board the Greyhound, frigate, Capt. Dickson, bound on a cruise in Boston Bay.

“After being out a few days we met with a severe gale of wind, in which we sprung our main-mast, and received considerable other damage. We were then obliged to bear away for the West Indies, and on our passage fell in with and took a brig from Norwich, laden with stock.

“The Captain and hands were put on board a Danish vessel the same day. We carried the brig into Antigua, where we immediately repaired, and were ordered in company of the Vulture, sloop of war, to convoy a sloop of merchantmen into New York.

“We left the fleet off Sandy Hook, and sailed for Philadelphia, where we lay until we were made a packet, and ordered for Halifax with dispatches. We had a quick passage, and arrived safe.

“While we lay in the road Admiral Byron arrived, in the Princess Royal from England, who, being short of men, and we having a surplusage for a packet, many of our men were ordered on board the Princess Royal, and among them most of our boat’s crew.

“Soon after, some of the officers going on shore, I was ordered into the boat. We landed at the Governor’s slip–it being then near night. This was the first time since I had been on board the Greyhound that I had had an opportunity to escape from her, as they were before this particularly careful of me; therefore I was determined to get away if possible, and to effect it I waded round a wharf and went up a byway, fearing I should meet the officers. I soon got into the street, and made the best of my way towards Irishtown (the southern suburbs of Halifax) where I expected to be safe, but unfortunately while running I was met and stopped by an emissary, who demanded of me my business, and where I was going? I tried to deceive him, that he might let me pass, but it was in vain, he ordered me to follow him.

“I offered him what money I had, about seven shillings, sixpence, to let me go, this too was in vain. I then told him I was an American, making my escape, from a long confinement, and was determined to pass, and took up a stone. He immediately drew his bayonet, and ordered me to go back with him. I refused and told him to keep his distance. He then run upon me and pushed his bayonet into my side. It come out near my navel; but the wound was not very deep; he then made a second pass at me, and stabbed me through my arm; he was about to stab me a third time, when I struck him with the stone and knocked him down. I then run, but the guard who had been alarmed, immediately took me and carried me before the Governor, where I understood the man was dead.

“I was threatened with every kind of death, and ordered out of the Governor’s presence. * * * Next day I was sent on board the Greyhound, the ship I had run from, and we sailed for England. Our captain being a humane man ordered my irons off, a few days after we sailed, and permitted me to do duty as formerly. Being out thirteen days we spoke the Hazard sloop of war, who informed that the French fleet was then cruising in the English Channel. For this reason we put into Cork, and the dispatches were forwarded to England.

“While we lay in the Cove of Cork I jumped overboard with the intention of getting away; unfortunately I was discovered and fired at by the marines; the boat was immediately sent after me, took me up, and carried me on board again. At this time almost all the officers were on shore, and the ship was left in charge of the sailing-master, one Drummond, who beat me most cruelly. To get out of his way I run forward, he followed me, and as I was running back he came up with me and threw me down the main-hold. The fall, together with the beating was so severe that I was deprived of my senses for a considerable time. When I recovered them I found myself in the carpenter’s berth, placed upon some old canvas between two chests, having my right thigh, leg and arm broken, and several parts of my body severely bruised. In this situation I lay eighteen days till our officers, who had been on business to Dublin, came on board. The captain inquired for the prisoners, and on being informed of my situation came down with the doctor to set my bones, but finding them callussed they concluded not to meddle with me.

“The ship lay at Cork until the French fleet left the Channel, and then sailed for Spithead. On our arrival there I was sent in irons on board the Princess Amelia, and the next day was carried on board the Brittania, in Portsmouth Harbor, to be tried before Sir Thomas Pye, lord high admiral of England, and President of the court martial.

“Before the officers had collected I was put under the care of a sentinel, and the seamen and women who came on board compassionated my sufferings, which rather heightened than diminished my distress.

“I was sitting under the awning, almost overpowered by the reflection of my unhappy situation, every morning expecting to be summoned for my trial, when I heard somebody enquire for the prisoner, and supposing it to be an officer I rose up and answered that I was there.

“The gentleman came to me, told me to be of good chear, and taking out a bottle of cordial, bade me drink, which I did. He then enquired where I belonged. I informed him. He asked me if I had parents living, and if I had any friends in England? I answered I had neither. He then assured me he was my friend, and would render me all the assistance in his power. He then enquired of me every circumstance relative to my fray with the man at Halifax, for whose death I was now to be tried and instructed me what to say on my trial, etc.”

Whether this man was a philanthropist, or an agent for the East India Company, we do not know. He instructed Blatchford to plead guilty, and then defended him from the charge of murder, no doubt on the plea of self-defence. Blatchford was therefore acquitted of murder, but apparently sold to the East India Company as a slave. How this was condoned we do not know, but will let the poor sailor continue his narrative in his own words.

“I was carried on board an Indiaman, and immediately put down into the run, where I was confined ten days. * * * On the seventh day I heard the boatswain pipe all hands, and about noon I was called up on board, where I found myself on board the Princess Royal, Captain Robert Kerr, bound to the East Indies, with six others, all large ships belonging to the East India Company.” He had been told that he was to be sent back to America to be exchanged, and his disappointment amounted almost to despair.

“Our captain told me if I behaved well and did my duty I should receive as good usage as any man on board; this gave me great encouragement. I now found my destiny fixed, that whatever I could do would not in the least alter my situation, and therefor was determined to do the best I could, and make myself as contented as my unfortunate situation would admit.

“After being on board seven days I found there were in the Princess Royal 82 Americans, all destined to the East Indies, for being what they called ‘Rebels.’

“We had a passage of seventeen weeks to St Helena, where we put in and landed part of our cargo, which consisted wholly of provisions. * * * The ship lay here about three weeks. We then sailed for Batavia, and on the passage touched at the Cape of Good Hope, where we found the whole of the fleet that sailed with us from England. We took in some provisions and necessaries, and set sail for Batavia, where we arrived in ten weeks. Here we purchased a large quantity of arrack, and remained a considerable time.

“We then sailed for Bencoulen in the Island of Sumatria, and after a passage of about six weeks arrived there. This was in June, 1780.

“At this place the Americans were all carried on shore, and I found that I was no longer to remain on board the ship, but condemned to serve as a soldier for five years. I offered to bind myself to the captain for five years, or any longer term if I might serve on board the ship. He told me it was impossible for me to be released from acting as a soldier, unless I could pay £50, sterling. As I was unable to do this I was obliged to go through the manual exercise with the other prisoners; among whom was Wm. Randall of Boston, and Josiah Folgier of Nantucket, both young men, and one of them an old ship-mate of mine.

“These two and myself agreed to behave as ignorant and awkward as possible, and what motions we learned one day we were to forget the next. We pursued this conduct nearly a fortnight, and were beaten every day by the drill-sergeant who exercised us, and when he found we were determined, in our obstinacy, and that it was not possible for him to learn us anything, we were all three sent into the pepper gardens belonging to the East India Company; and continued picking peppers from morning till night, and allowed but two scanty meals a day. This, together with the amazing heat of the sun, the island lying under the equator, was too much for an American constitution, unused to a hot climate, and we expected that we should soon end our misery and our lives; but Providence still preserved us for greater hardships.

“The Americans died daily with heat and hard fare, which determined my two comrades and myself in an endeavor to make our escape. We had been in the pepper-gardens four months when an opportunity offered, and we resolved upon trying our fortune. Folgier, Randall and myself sat out with an intention of reaching Croy (a small harbor where the Dutch often touched at to water, on the opposite side of the island). Folgier had by some means got a bayonet, which he fixed in the end of a stick. Randall and myself had nothing but staves, which were all the weapons we carried with us. We provided ourselves with fireworks [he means flints to strike fire] for our journey, which we pursued unmolested till the fourth day just at night, when we heard a rustle in the bushes and discovered nine sepoys, who rushed out upon us.

“Folgier being the most resolute of us run at one of them, and pushed his bayonet through his body into a tree. Randall knocked down another; but they overpowered us, bound us, and carried us back to the fort, which we reached in a day and a half, though we had been four days travelling from it, owing to the circle we made by going round the shore, and they came across the woods being acquainted with the way.

“Immediately on our arrival at the fort the Governor called a court martial, to have us tried. We were soon all condemned to be shot next morning at seven o’clock, and ordered to be sent into the dungeon and confined in irons, where we were attended by an adjutant who brought a priest with him to pray and converse with us, but Folgier, who hated the sight of an Englishman, desired that we might be left alone. * * * the clergyman reprimanded him, and told him he made very light of his situation on the supposition that he would be reprieved; but if he expected it he deceived himself. Folgier still persisted in the clergyman’s leaving us, if he would have us make our peace with God, ‘for,’ said he, ‘the sight of Englishmen, from whom we have received such treatment, is more disagreeable than the evil spirits of which you have spoken;’ that, if he could have his choice, he would choose death in preference to life, if he must have it on the condition of such barbarous usage as he had received from their hands; and the thoughts of death did not seem so hideous to him as his past sufferings.

“He visited us again about midnight, but finding his company was not acceptable, he soon left us to our melancholy reflections.

“Before sunrise we heard the drums beat, and soon after heard the direful noise of the door grating on its iron hinges. We were all taken out, our irons taken off, and we conducted by a strong guard of soldiers to the parade, surrounded by a circle of armed men, and led into the midst of them, where three white officers were placed by our side;–silence was then commanded, and the adjutant taking a paper out of his pocket read our sentence;–and now I cannot describe my feelings upon this occasion, nor can it be felt by any one but those who have experienced some remarkable deliverance from the grim hand of death, when surrounded on all sides, and nothing but death expected from every quarter, and by Divine Providence there is some way found out for escape–so it seemed to me when the adjutant pulled out another paper from his pocket and read: ‘That the Governor and Council, in consideration of the youth of Randall and myself, supposing us to be led on by Folgier, who was the oldest, thought proper to pardon us from death, and that instead we were to receive 800 lashes each.’

“Although this last sentence seemed terrible to me, yet in comparison with death, it seemed to be light. Poor Folgier was shot in our presence,–previous to which we were told we might go and converse with him. Randall went and talked with him first, and after him I went up to take my leave, but my feelings were such at the time I had not power to utter a single word to my departing friend, who seemed as undaunted and seemingly as willing to die as I was to be released, and told me not to forget the promises we had formerly made to each other, which was to embrace the first opportunity to escape.

“We parted, and he was immediately after shot dead. We were next taken and tied, and the adjutant brought a small whip made of cotton, which consisted of a number of strands and knotted at the ends; but these knots were all cut off by the adjutant before the drummer took it, which made it not worse than to have been whipped with cotton yarn.

“After being whipped 800 lashes we were sent to the Company’s hospital, where we had been about three weeks when Randall told me he intended very soon to make his escape:–This somewhat surprised me, as I had lost all hopes of regaining my liberty, and supposed he had. I told him I had hoped he would never mention it again; but however, if that was his design, I would accompany him. He advised me, if I was fearful, to tarry behind; but finding he was determined on going, I resolved to run the risque once more; and as we were then in a hospital we were not suspected of such a design.

“Having provided ourselves with fire-works, and knives, about the first of December, 1780, we sat out, with the intent to reach the Dutch settlement of Croy, which is about two or three hundred miles distance upon a direct line, but as we were obliged to travel along the coast (fearing to risque the nearest way), it was a journey of 800 miles.

“We took each a stick and hung it around our neck, and every day cut a notch, which was the method we took to keep time.

“In this manner we travelled, living upon fruit, turtle eggs, and sometimes turtle, which we cooked every night with the fire we built to secure us from wild beasts, they being in great plenty,–such as buffaloes, tigers, jackanapes, leopards, lions, and baboons and monkies.

“On the 30th day of our traveling we met with nothing we could eat and found no water. At night we found some fruit which appeared to the eyes to be very delicious, different from any we had seen in our travels. It resembled a fruit which grows in the West Indies, called a Jack, about the size of an orange. We being very dry and hungry immediately gathered some of this fruit, but finding it of a sweet, sickish taste, I eat but two. Randall eat freely. In the evening we found we were poisoned: I was sick and puked considerably, Randall was sick and began to swell all round his body. He grew worse all night, but continued to have his senses till the next day, when he died, and left me to mourn my greater wretchedness,–more than 400 miles from any settlement, no companion, the wide ocean on one side, and a prowling wilderness on the other, liable to many kinds of death, more terrible than being shot.

“I laid down by Randall’s body, wishing, if possible, that he might return and tell me what course to take. My thoughts almost distracted me, so that I was unable to do anything untill the next day, during all which time I continued by the side of Randall. I then got up and made a hole in the sand and buried him.

“I now continued my journey as well as the weak state of my body would permit,–the weather being at the time extremely hot and rainy. I frequently lay down and would wish that I might never rise again;–despair had almost wholly possessed me; and sometimes in a kind of delirium I would fancy I heard my mother’s voice, and my father calling me, and I would answer them. At other times my wild imagination would paint to my view scenes which I was acquainted with. Then supposing myself near home I would run as fast as my legs could carry me. Frequently I fancied that I heard dogs bark, men cutting wood, and every noise which I have heard in my native country.

“One day as I was travelling a small dog, as I thought it to be, came fawning round me and followed me, but I soon discovered it to be a young lion. I supposed that its dam must be nigh, and therefore run. It followed me some time and then left me. I proceeded on, but had not got far from it before it began to cry. I looked round and saw a lioness making towards it. She yelled most frightfully, which greatly terrified me; but she laid down something from her mouth for her young one, and then with another yell turned and went off from me.

“Some days after I was travelling by the edge of a woods, which from its appearance had felt severely the effects of a tornado or hurricane, the trees being all torn up by the roots, and I heard a crackling noise in the bushes. Looking about I saw a monstrous large tiger making slowly towards me, which frightened me exceedingly. When he had approached within a few rods of me, in my surprise I lifted up my hands and hollowed very loud. The sudden noise frightened him, seemingly as much as I had been, and he immediately turned and run into the woods, and I saw him no more.

“After this I continued to travel on without molestation, only from the monkies who were here so plentiful that oftentimes I saw them in large droves; sometimes I run from them, as if afraid of them, they would then follow, grin, and chatter at me, and when they got near I would turn, and they would run from me back into the woods, and climb the trees to get out of my way.

“It was now 15 weeks since I had left the hospital. I had travelled most all of the day without any water and began to be very thirsty, when I heard the sound of running water, as it were down a fall of rocks. I had heard it a considerable time and at last began to suspect it was nothing, but imaginary, as many other noises I had before thought to have heard. I however went on as fast as I could, and at length discovered a brook. On approaching it I was not a little surprised and rejoiced by the sight of a Female Indian, who was fishing at the brook. She had no other dress on than that which mother nature affords impartially to all her children, except a small cloth which she wore round her waist.

“I knew not how to address myself to her. I was afraid if I spoke she would run, and therefore I made a small noise; upon which she looked round, and seeing me, run across the brook, seemingly much frightened, leaving her fishing line. I went up to her basket which contained five or six fish which looked much like our trout. I took up the basket and attempted to wade across where she had passed, but was too weak to wade across in that place, and went further up the stream, where I passed over, and then looking for the Indian woman I saw her at some distance behind a large cocoa-nut tree. I walked towards her but dared not keep my eyes steadily upon her lest she would run as she did before. I called to her in English, and she answered in her own tongue, which I could not understand. I then called to her in the Malaysian, which I understood a little of; she answered me in a kind of surprise and asked me in the name of Okrum Footee (the name of their God) from whence I came, and where I was going. I answered her as well as I could in the Melais, that I was from Fort Marlborough, and going to Croy–that I was making my escape from the English, by whom I had been taken in war. She told me that she had been taken by the Malays some years before, for that the two nations were always at war, and that she had been kept as a slave among them three years and was then retaken by her countrymen. While we were talking together she appeared to be very shy, and I durst not come nearer than a rod to her, lest she should run from me. She said that Croy, the place I was bound to, was about three miles distant: That if I would follow her she would conduct me to her countrymen, who were but a small distance off. I begged her to plead with her countrymen to spare my life. She said she would, and assured me that if I behaved well I should not be hurt. She then conducted me to a small village, consisting of huts or wigwams. When we arrived at the village the children that saw me were frightened and run away from me, and the women exhibited a great deal of fear and kept at a distance. But my guide called to them and told them not to be afraid, for that I was not come to hurt them, and then informed them from whence I came, and that I was going to Croy.

“I told my guide I was very hungry, and she sent the children for something for me to eat. They came and brought me little round balls of rice, and they, not daring to come nigh, threw them at me. These I picked up and eat. Afterwards a woman brought some rice and goat’s milk in a copper bason, and setting it on the ground made signs for me to take it up and eat it, which I did, and then put the bason down again. They then poked away the bason with a stick, battered it with stones, and making a hole in the ground, buried it.

“After that they conducted me to a small hut, and told me to tarry there until the morning, when they would conduct me to the harbor. I had but little sleep that night, and was up several time to look out, and saw two or three Indians at a little distance from the hut, who I supposed were placed there to watch me.

“Early in the morning numbers came around the hut, and the female who was my guide asked me where my country was? I could not make her understand, only that it was at a great distance. She then asked me if my countrymen eat men? I told her, no, and seeing some goats pointed at them, and told her we eat such as them. She then asked me what made me white, and if it was not the white rain that come upon us when we were small * * * as I wished to please them I told her that I supposed it was, for it was only in certain seasons of the year that it fell, and in hot weather when it did not fall the people grew darker until it returned, and then the people all grew white again. This seemed to please them very much.

“My protectress then brought a young man to me who she said was her brother, and who would show me the way to the harbour. She then cut a stick about eight feet long, and he took hold of one end and gave me the other. She told me that she had instructed her brother what to say at the harbour. He then led off, and I followed. During our walk I put out my hand to him several times, and made signs of friendship, but he seemed to be afraid of me, and would look upwards and then fall flat on the ground and kiss it: this he repeated as often as I made any sign or token of friendship to him.

“When we had got near the harbor he made a sign for me to sit down upon a rock, which I did. He then left me and went, as I supposed, to talk to the people at the water concerning me; but I had not sat long before I saw a vessel coming round the point into the harbor.

“They soon came on shore in the boat. I went down to them and made my case known and when the boat returned on board they took me with them. It was a Dutch snow bound from China to Batavia. After they had wooded and watered they set sail for Batavia:–being out about three weeks we arrived there: I tarried on board her about three weeks longer, and then got on board a Spanish ship which was from Rio de la Plate bound to Spain, but by stress of weather was obliged to put into this port. After the vessel had repaired we sailed for Spain. When we made the Cape of Good Hope we fell in with two British cruisers of twenty guns each, who engaged us and did the vessel considerable damage, but at length we beat them off, and then run for the coast of Brazil, where we arrived safe, and began to work at repairing our ship, but upon examination she was found to be not fit to proceed on her voyage. She was therefore condemned. I then left her and got on board a Portuguese snow bound up to St. Helena, and we arrived safe at that place.

“I then went on shore and quitted her and engaged in the garrison there to do duty as a soldier for my provisions till some ship should arrive there bound for England. After serving there a month I entered on board a ship called the Stormont, but orders were soon after received that no Indiaman should sail without convoy; and we lay here six months, during which time the Captain died.

“While I was in St. Helena the vessel in which I came out from England arrived here, homeward bound; she being on the return from her second voyage since I came from England. And now I made known my case to Captain Kerr, who readily took me on board the Princess Royal, and used me
kindly and those of my old ship-mates on board were glad to see me again. Captain Kerr on first seeing me asked me if I was not afraid to let him know who I was, and endeavored to frighten me; yet his conduct towards me was humane and kind.

“It had been very sickly on board the Princess Royal, and the greater part of the hands who came out of England in her had died, and she was now manned chiefly with lascars. Among those who had died was the boatswain, and boatswain’s mate, and Captain Kerr made me boatswain of the ship, in which office I continued until we arrived in London, and it protected me from being impressed upon our arrival in England.

“We sailed from St. Helena about the first of November, 1781, under convoy of the Experiment of fifty guns, commanded by Captain Henry, and the Shark sloop of war of 18 guns, and we arrived in London about the first of March, 1782, it having been about two years and a half from the time I had left it.

“In about a fortnight after our arrival in London I entered on board the King George, a store-ship bound to Antigua, and after four weeks passage arrived there.

“The second night after we came to anchor in Antigua I took the ship’s boat and escaped in her to Montserrat (in the West Indies) which place had but just before been taken by the French.

“Here I did not meet with the treatment which I expected; for on my arrival at Montserrat I was immediately taken up and put in prison, where I continued twenty-four hours, and my boat taken from me. I was then sent to Guadaloupe, and examined by the Governor. I made known my case to him, by acquainting him with the misfortunes I had gone through in my captivity, and in making my escape. He seemed to commiserate me, gave me ten dollars for the boat that I escaped in, and provided a passage for me on board a French brigantine that was bound from Gaudaloupe to Philadelphia.

“The vessel sailed in a few days, and now my prospects were favorable, but my misfortunes were not to end here, for after being out twenty-one days we fell in with the Anphitrite and Amphene, two British cruizers, off the Capes of Delaware, by which we were taken, carried in to New York and put on board the Jersey prison ship. After being on board about a week a cartel was fitted out for France, and I was sent on board as a French prisoner. The cartel was ordered for St. Maloes, and after a passage of thirty-two days we arrived safe at that place.

“Finding no American vessel at St. Male’s, I went to the Commandant, and procured a pass to go by land to Port l’Orient. On my arrival there I found three American privateers belonging to Beverley in the Massachusetts. I was much elated at seeing so many of my countrymen, some of whom I was well acquainted with. I immediately entered on board the Buccaneer, Captain Pheirson. We sailed on a cruise, and after being out eighteen days we returned to L’Orient with six prizes. Three days after our arrival in port we heard the joyful news of peace; on which the privateer was dismantled, the people discharged, and Captain P sailed on a merchant voyage to Norway.

“I then entered on board a brig bound to Lisbon (Captain Ellenwood of Beverley) and arrived at Lisbon in eight days. We took in a cargo of salt, and sailed for Beverley, where we arrived the ninth of May, 1783. Being now only fifteen miles from home, I immediately set out for Cape Ann, went to my father’s house, and had an agreeable meeting with my friends, after an absence of almost six years.

“John Blatchford

“New London, May 10th, 1788.

“N. B. Those who are acquainted with the narrator will not scruple to give full credence to the foregoing account, and others may satisfy themselves by conversing with him. The scars he carries are a proof of his narrative, and a gentleman of New London who was several months with him, was acquainted with part of his sufferings, though it was out of his power to relieve him. He is a poor man with a wife and two children. His employment is fishing and coasting. _Editor_.”

Our readers may be interested to know what became of John Blatchford, who wrote, or dictated, the narrative we have given, in the year 1788. He was, at that time, a married man. He had married a young woman named Ann Grover. He entered the merchant marine, and died at Port au Prince about the year 1794, when nearly thirty-three years of age. Thus early closed the career of a brave man, who had experienced much hardship, and had suffered greatly from man’s inhumanity to man, and who is, as far as we know, the only American prisoner sent to the East Indies who ever returned to tell the story of the barbarities inflicted upon him.



MLA Source Citation:

Dandridge, Danske American Prisoners of the Revolution, Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, 1911, 1967. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 30 August 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/america/the-case-of-john-blatchford.htm - Last updated on Jul 15th, 2011


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