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A Wonderful Deliverance

“I have since found that the whole world is but one great prison-house of guilty, sorrowful, and dying men, who live in pride, envy, and malice, hateful, and hating one another.” – Rev. Thomas Andros There are few records of religious feeling on board the “Jersey, vulgarly called ‘Hell.'” No clergyman was ever known to set foot on board of her, although a city of churches was so near. The fear of contagion may have kept ministers of the gospel away. Visitors came, as we have seen, but not to soothe the sufferings of the prisoners, or to comfort those who were dying. It is said that a young doctor, named George Vandewater attended the sick, until he took a fatal disease and died. He was a resident of Brooklyn, and seems to have been actuated by motives of humanity, and therefore his name deserves a place in this record. But although the rough seamen who left narratives of their experiences in that fearful place have told us little or nothing about the inner feelings of those poor sufferers, yet it must be presumed that many a silent prayer went up to the Judge and Father of all men, from the depths of that foul prison ship. There was one boy on board the Jersey, one at least, and we hope that there were many more, who trusted in God that He could deliver him, even “from the nethermost hell.” A large proportion of the prisoners were young men in their teens, who had been attracted by the mysterious fascination of the sea; many of them had run away...

The Narrative Of Captain Dring

“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.” – Captain Dring By far the most complete account of life on board the Old Jersey is contained in Captain Dring’s Recollections. His nature was hopeful, and his constitution strong and enduring. He attempted to make the best of his situation, and succeeded in leading as nearly a tolerable life on board the prison-ship as was possible. His book is too long for insertion in these pages, but we will endeavor to give the reader an abstract of it. This book was published in 1865, having been prepared for the press and annotated by Mr. Albert G. Greene, who speaks of Captain Dring as “a frank, outspoken, and honest seaman.” His original manuscript was first published in 1829. Dring describes the prison ships as leaky old hulks, condemned as unfit for hospitals or store ships, but considered good enough for prisoners doomed to speedy annihilation. He says: “There is little doubt that the superior officers of the Royal Navy under whose exclusive jurisdiction were these ships, intended to insure, as far as possible, the good health of those who were confined on board of them; there is just as little doubt, however, that the inferior officers, under whose control those prisoners were more immediately placed, too often frustrated the purposes of their...

Benjamin Franklin And Others On The Subject Of American Prisoners

“The King’s Ambassador recognizes no letters from Rebels, except when they come to ask mercy.” – Lord Stormont When Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane were in Paris they wrote the following letter to Lord Stormont, the English Ambassador to France. Paris, April 2nd, 1777. My Lord:– We did ourselves the honor of writing some time since to your Lordship on the subject of exchanging prisoners: you did not condescend to give us any answer, and therefore we expect none to this. We, however, take the liberty of sending you copies of certain depositions which we shall transmit to Congress, whereby it will be known to your Court, that the United States are not unacquainted with the barbarous treatment their people receive when they have the misfortune to be your prisoners here in Europe, and that if your conduct towards us is not altered, it is not unlikely that severe reprisals may be thought justifiable from a necessity of putting some check to such abominable practices. For the sake of humanity it is to be wished that men would endeavor to alleviate the unavoidable miseries attending a state of war. It has been said that among the civilized nations of Europe the ancient horrors of that state are much diminished; but the compelling men by chains, stripes, and famine to fight against their friends and relatives, is a new mode of barbarity, which your nation alone has the honor of inventing, and the sending American prisoners of war to Africa and Asia, remote from all probability of exchange, and where they can scarce hope ever to hear from their families,...

The Adventures Of Andrew Sherburne

“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.”...

Some Southern Naval Prisoners

“But of all the sufferings in these troublous times none endured such horrors as did those Americans who were so unfortunate as to become prisoners of war to the British. ” – Southern Literary Messenger Very little is known of the State navies of the south during the Revolution. Each State had her own small navy, and many were the interesting adventures, some successful, and others unfortunate, that the hardy sailors encountered. The story of each one of these little vessels would be as interesting as a romance, but we are here only concerned with the meagre accounts that have reached us of the sufferings of some of the crews of the privateers who were so unlucky as to fall into the hands of the enemy. In the infant navy of Virginia were many small, extremely fleet vessels. The names of some of the Virginia ships, built at Gosport, Fredericksburg, and other Virginia towns, were the Tartar, Oxford, Thetis, Virginia, Industry, Cormorant, Loyalist (which appears to have been captured from the British), Pocohontas, Dragon, Washington, Tempest, Defiance, Oliver Cromwell, Renown, Apollo, and the Marquis Lafayette. Virginia also owned a prisonship called the Gloucester. Brigs and brigantines owned by the State were called the Raleigh, Jefferson, Sallie Norton, Northampton, Hampton, Greyhound, Dolphin, Liberty, Mosquito, Rochester, Willing Lass, Wilkes, American Fabius, Morning Star, and Mars. Schooners were the Adventure, Hornet, Speedwell, Lewis, Nicholson, Experiment, Harrison, Mayflower, Revenge, Peace and Plenty, Patriot, Liberty, and the Betsy. Sloops were the Virginia, Rattlesnake, Scorpion, Congress, Liberty, Eminence, Game-Cock, and the American Congress. Some of the galleys were the Accomac, Diligence, Hero, Gloucester, Safeguard, Manly,...

Extracts From Newspapers Concerning Prison Ships

“This is the just punishment of your rebellion. Nay, you are treated too well for rebels; you have not received half you deserve or half you shall receive. But if you will enlist into his Majesty’s service, you shall have victuals and clothes enough.” At the risk of repetition of some facts that have already been given, we must again refer the reader to some extracts from the newspapers of the day. In this instance the truth can best be established by the mouths of many witnesses, and we do not hesitate to give the English side whenever we have been able to discover anything bearing on the subject in the so-called loyal periodicals of the time. From Freeman’s “Journal,” date of Jan. 19th, 1777, we take the following: “General Howe has discharged all the privates who were prisoners in New York. Half he sent to the world of spirits for want of food: the others he hath sent to warn their countrymen of the danger of falling into his hands, and to convince them by ocular demonstration, that it is infinitely better to be slain in battle, than to be taken prisoner by British brutes, whose tender mercies are cruelties.” In the “Connecticut Journal” of Jan. 30th, 1777, is the following: “This account of the sufferings of these unfortunate men was obtained from the prisoners themselves. As soon as they were taken they were robbed of all their baggage; of whatever money they had, though it were of paper; of their silver shoe buckles and knee buckles, etc.; and many were stripped almost of their clothes. Especially those...

William Cunningham, The Provost Marshal

“His hatred of the Americans found vent in torture by searing irons and secret scourges to those who fell under the ban of his displeasure. The prisoners were crowded together so closely that many fell ill from partial asphyxiation, and starved to death for want of the food which he sold to enrich himself.” – The Old Martyrs’ Prison pamphlet We will condense all that we have to say of this man, whose cruelty and wickedness are almost inconceivable, into one chapter, and have done with the dreadful subject. As far as we have been able to learn, the facts about his life are the following. William Cunningham was an Irishman, born in Dublin Barracks in 1738. His father was a trumpeter in the Blue Dragoons. When he was sixteen he became an assistant to the riding-master of the troop. In 1761 he was made a sergeant of dragoons, but peace having been proclaimed the following year, the company to which he belonged was disbanded. He afterwards commenced the business of a scaw-banker, which means that he went about the country enticing mechanics and rustics to ship to America, on promise of having their fortunes made in that country; and then by artful practices, produced their indentures as servants, in consequence of which on their arrival in America they were sold, or at least obliged to serve a term of years to pay for their passage. This business, no doubt, proved a fit apprenticeship for the career of villainy before him. About the year 1774 he appears to have embarked from Newry in the ship Needham for New York,...

The Journal Of Dr. Elias Cornelius

“Go to your dungeons in the prison ships, where you shall perish and rot, but first let me tell you that the rations which have been hitherto allowed for your wives and children shall, from this moment, cease forever; and you shall die assured that they are starving in the public streets, and that you are the authors of their fate.” – A British Officer Named Fraser We must now conduct our readers back to the Provost Prison in New York, where, for some time, Colonel Ethan Allen was incarcerated. Dr. Elias Cornelius, a surgeon’s mate, was taken prisoner by the British on the 22nd of August, 1777. On that day he had ridden to the enemy’s advanced post to make observations, voluntarily accompanying a scouting party. On his way back he was surprised, over-powered, and captured by a party of British soldiers. This was at East Chester. He seems to have lagged behind the rest of the party, and thus describes the occurrence: “On riding into town (East Chester) four men started from behind a shed and took me prisoner. They immediately began robbing me of everything I had, horse and harness, pistols, Great Coat, shoe-buckles, pocket book, which contained over thirty pounds, and other things. The leader of the guard abused me very much. * * * When we arrived at King’s Bridge I was put under the Provost Guard, with a man named Prichard and several other prisoners.” They were kept at the guard house there for some time, and regaled with mouldy bread, rum and water, and sour apples, which were thrown down for them...

The Case Of Jabez Fitch

One of the prisoners taken on Long Island in the summer of 1776 was Captain Jabez Fitch, who was captured on the 27th of August, of that year. While a prisoner he contracted a scorbutic affection which rendered miserable thirty years of his life.

A Poet On A Prison Ship

“Each day at least six carcases we bore – And scratched them graves along the sandy shore – By feeble hands the shallow graves were made, – No stone memorial o’er the corpses laid – In barren sands and far from home they lie, – No friend to shed a tear when passing by…” – Philip Freneau Philip Freneau, the poet of the Revolution, as he has been called, was of French Huguenot ancestry. The Freneaus came to New York in 1685. His mother was Agnes Watson, a resident of New York, and the poet was born on the second of January, 1752. In the year 1780 a vessel of which he was the owner, called the Aurora, was taken by the British. Freneau was on board, though he was not the captain of the ship. The British man-of-war, Iris, made the Aurora her prize, after a fight in which the sailing master and many of the crew were killed. This was in May, 1780. The survivors were brought to New York, and confined on board the prison ship, Scorpion. Freneau has left a poem describing the horrors of his captivity in very strong language, and it is easy to conceive that his suffering must have been intense to have aroused such bitter feelings. We give a part of his poem, as it contains the best description of the indignities inflicted upon the prisoners, and their mental and physical sufferings that we have found in any work on the subject. PART OF PHILIP FRENEAU’S POEM ON THE PRISON SHIPS Conveyed to York we found, at length, too late, That...
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