The Prisons Of New York

“Out of over 2600 prisoners taken on that day, in two months & four days 1900 were killed in the infamous sugar houses and other prisons in the city.” – Benson J. LossingĀ  in his Pictorial Field Book Of The Revolution

We will now endeavor to describe the principal places of confinement used by the British in New York during the early years of the war. Lossing, in his Field Book of the Revolution, thus speaks of these dens of misery: “At the fight around Fort Washington,” he says, “only one hundred Americans were killed, while the British loss was one thousand, chiefly Hessians, But the British took a most cruel revenge. Out of over 2600 prisoners taken on that day, in two months & four days 1900 were killed in the infamous sugar houses and other prisons in the city.

“Association of intense horror are linked with the records of the prisons and prison ships of New York. Thousands of captives perished miserably of hunger, cold, infection, and in some cases, actual poison.

“All the prisoners taken in the battle near Brooklyn in August, 1776 and at Fort Washington in November of the same year, were confined in New York, nearly 4000 in all. The New Jail and the New Bridewell were the only prisons. The former is the present Hall of Records. Three sugar houses, some dissenting churches, Columbia College, and the Hospital were all used as prisons. The great fire in September; the scarcity of provisions; and the cruel conduct of the Provost Marshal all combined to produce intense sufferings among the men, most of whom entered into captivity, strong, healthy, young, able-bodied, the flower of the American youth of the day.

“Van Cortlandt’s Sugar House was a famous (or infamous) prison. It stood on the northwest corner of Trinity church-yard.

“Rhinelander’s Sugar House was on the corner of William and Duane Streets. Perhaps the worst of all the New York prisons was the third Sugar House, which occupied the space on Liberty Street where two buildings, numbers 34 and 36, now stand.

“The North Dutch Church on William Street contained 800 prisoners, and there were perhaps as many in the Middle Dutch Church. The Friends’ Meeting House on Liberty and several other buildings erected for the worship of a God of love were used as prisons.

“The New Jail was made a Provost Prison, and here officers and men of note were confined. At one time they were so crowded into this building, that when they lay down upon the floor to sleep all in the row were obliged to turn over at the same time at the call, ‘Turn over! Left! Right!’

“The sufferings of these brave men were largely due to the criminal indifference of Loring, Sproat, Lennox, and other Commissaries of the prisoners.

“Many of the captives were hanged in the gloom of night without trial and without a semblance of justice.

“Liberty Street Sugar House was a tall, narrow building five stories in height, and with dismal underground dungeons. In this gloomy abode jail fever was ever present. In the hot weather of July, 1777, companies of twenty at a time would be sent out for half an hour’s outing, in the court yard. Inside groups of six stood for ten minutes at a time at the windows for a breath of air.

“There were no seats; the filthy straw bedding was never changed. Every day at least a dozen corpses were dragged out and pitched like dead dogs into the ditches and morasses beyond the city. Escapes, deaths, and exchange at last thinned the ranks. Hundreds left names and records on the walls.”

“In 1778 the hulks of decaying ships were moored in the Wallabout. These prison ships were intended for sailors and seaman taken on the ocean, mostly the crews of privateersmen, but some soldiers were also sent to languish in their holds.

“The first vessels used were transports in which cattle and other stores had been brought over by the British in 1776. These lay in Gravesend Bay and there many of the prisoners taken in battle near Brooklyn in August, 1776, were confined, until the British took possession of New York, when they were moved to that city. In 1778 the hulks of ships were moored in the Wallabout, a sheltered bay on the Long Island shore, where the Navy Yard now is.”



MLA Source Citation:

Dandridge, Danske American Prisoners of the Revolution, Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, 1911, 1967. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 29 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/america/the-prisons-of-new-york.htm - Last updated on Jul 15th, 2011


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