The Exchange

“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.”



MLA Source Citation:

Dandridge, Danske American Prisoners of the Revolution, Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, 1911, 1967. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 20 November 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/america/the-exchange.htm - Last updated on Jul 15th, 2011


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