Memoir Of Eli Bickford
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“If a difficulty arose between two of them it was settled in the following manner. The prisoners formed a circle in the center of which the disputants took their stand, and exchanged a few rounds of well-directed blows, after which they shook hands, and were better friends than before.” – Eli Bickford
Eli Bickford, who was born on the 29th of September, 1754, in the town of Durham, N. H., and enlisted on a privateer, was taken prisoner by the British, confined at first on the Old Jersey, and afterwards sent to England with many others, in a vessel commanded by Captain Smallcorn, whom he called “a sample of the smallest corn he had ever met.” While on board this vessel he was taken down with the smallpox. No beds or bedding were provided for the prisoners and a plank on deck was his only pillow. He and his fellow sufferers were treated with great severity, and insulted at every turn. When they reached England they were sent to prison, where he remained in close confinement for four years and six months.
Finding a piece of a door hinge, he and some of the others endeavored to make their escape by digging a passage under the walls. A report of their proceedings reached the jailer, but, secure in the strength of the walls he did not believe it. This jailor would frequently jest with Bickford on the subject, asking him when he intended to make his escape. His answers were so truthful and accurate that they served to blind the jailor still further. One morning as this official entered the prison he said:
“Well, Bickford, how soon will you be ready to go out?”
“Tomorrow night!” answered Bickford.
“O, that’s only some of your nonsense,” he replied.
However, it was true.
After digging a passage for some days underground, the prisoners found themselves under an adjoining house. They proceeded to take up the brick floor, unlocked the door and passed out, without disturbing the inmates, who were all asleep. Unable to escape they concealed themselves for awhile, and then tamely gave themselves up. Such a vigilant watch was kept upon the house after they were missed from the prison, that they had no other choice. So they made a contract with a man who was to return them to the prison, and then give them half of the reward of forty shillings which was offered for their re-capture. So successful was this expedient that it was often put into operation when they needed money.
As a punishment for endeavoring to escape they were confined in the Black Hole for a week on bread and water.
Bickford describes the prison regulations for preserving order which were made and carried out by the prisoners themselves. If a difficulty arose between two of them it was settled in the following manner. The prisoners formed a circle in the center of which the disputants took their stand, and exchanged a few rounds of well-directed blows, after which they shook hands, and were better friends than before.
Bickford was not released until peace was declared. He then returned to his family, who had long thought him dead. It was on Sunday morning that he reached his native town. As he passed the meeting house he was recognized, and the whole congregation ran out to see and greet him.
He had but seven dollars as his whole capital when he married. He moved to Vermont, where he farmed a small place, and succeeded in making a comfortable livelihood. He attained the great age of 101, and was one of the last surviving prisoners of the Revolution.