Collection: American Prisoners Of The Revolution

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.

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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...

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Ethan Allen’s Account Of The Prisoners

“Those who had the misfortune to fall into the enemy’s hands at Fort Washington were reserved from immediate death to famish and die with hunger: in fine the word rebel was thought by the enemy sufficient to sanctify whatever cruelties they were pleased to inflict, death itself not excepted.” – Ethan Allen The doctor spoken of by Jabez Fitch as Dr. Dibuke is perhaps the notorious character described by Mr. Elias Boudinot in the Journal from which we have already quoted. On page 35 of this book he gives us the following: “When the British Army took possession of New York they found a Frenchman in Goal, under Condemnation for Burglery and Robbery. He was liberated. He was a very loos, ignorant man. Had been a Servant. This fellow was set over our Prisoners in the Hospital, as a Surgeon, though he knew not the least principle of the Art. Dr. McHenry, a Physician of note in the American Army, and then a Prisoner, finding the extreme ignorance of this man, and that he was really murdering our people, remonstrated to the British Director of the Hospital, and refused visiting our sick Prisoners if this man was not dismissed. A British Officer, convinced that he had killed several of our People, lodged a complaint against him, when he was ordered to be tryed by a Court Martial, but the...

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The Account Of Alexander Graydon

“The wretch came near enough to elbow us, and, half unsheathing his sword, with a countenance that bespoke a most vehement desire to use it against us, he grunted out in broken English, ‘Eh! you rebel! you damn rebel!’” – Alecander Graydon One of the most interesting and best memoirs of revolutionary times is that written by Alexander Graydon, and as he was taken prisoner at Fort Washington, and closely connected with the events in New York during the winter of 1776-7, we will quote here his account of his captivity. He describes the building of Fort Washington in July of 1776 by the men of Magaw’s and Hand’s regiments. General Putnam was the engineer. It was poorly built for defence, and not adapted for a siege. Graydon was a captain in Colonel Shee’s Regiment, but, for some reason or other, Shee went home just before the battle was fought, and his troops were commanded by Cadwallader in his stead. Graydon puts the number of privates taken prisoner at 2706 and the officers at about 210. Bedinger, as we have already seen, states that there were 2673 privates and 210 officers. He was a man of painstaking accuracy, and it is quite probable that his account is the most trustworthy. As one of the privates was Bedinger’s own young brother, a boy of fifteen, whom he undoubtedly visited as...

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A Foul Page Of English History

We will now follow Mr. Graydon to Long Island. It was then late in January, 1777. The survivors of the American prisoners were, many of them, exchanged for healthy British soldiers. The crime had been committed, one of the blackest which stains the annals of English history. By the most accurate computation at least two thousand helpless American prisoners had been slowly starved, frozen, or poisoned to death in the churches and other prisons in New York. No excuse for this monstrous crime can be found, even by those who are anxiously in search of an adequate one. We have endeavored to give some faint idea of the horrors of that hopeless captivity. As we have already said scarcely any one who endured imprisonment for any length of time in the churches lived to tell the tale. One of these churches was standing not many years ago, and the marks of bayonet thrusts might plainly be seen upon its pillars. What terrible deeds were enacted there we can only conjecture. We “know” that two thousand, healthy, high-spirited young men, many of them sons of gentlemen, and all patriotic, brave, and long enduring, even unto death, were foully murdered in these places of torment, compared to which ordinary captivity is described by one who endured it as paradise. We know, we say, that these young men perished awfully, rather than...

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A Boy In Prison

Captain Bedinger’s young brother Daniel, in his company, then but a little past fifteen, shot twenty-seven rounds, and was often heard to say, after discharging his piece, “There! take that, you —-!” In the winter of 1761 a boy was born in a German settlement near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the third son of Henry Bedinger and his wife, whose maiden name was Magdalene von Schlegel. These Germans, whom we have already mentioned, moved, in 1762, to the neighborhood of the little hamlet, then called Mecklenburg, Berkeley County, Virginia. Afterwards the name of the town was changed to Shepherdstown, in honor of its chief proprietor, Thomas Shepherd. Daniel was a boy of fourteen when the first company of riflemen was raised at Shepherdstown by the gallant young officer, Captain Hugh Stephenson, in 1775. The rendezvous of this company was the spring on his mother’s farm, then called Bedinger’s Spring, where the clear water gushes out of a great rock at the foot of an ancient oak. The son of Daniel Bedinger, Hon. Henry Bedinger, Minister to the Court of Denmark in 1853, left a short account of his father’s early history, which we will quote in this place. He says: “When the war of the Revolution commenced my father’s eldest brother Henry was about twenty-two years of age. His next brother, Michael, about nineteen, and he himself only in his fifteenth...

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The Newspapers Of The Revolution

“There are now 5,000 prisoners in town, many of them half naked. Congress deserts the poor wretches” – Published in Gaines “Mercury” a Tory Paper, 25 Nov. 1776 What we have been able to glean from the periodicals of the day about the state of the prisons in New York during the years 1776 and 1777 we will condense into one short chapter. We will also give an abstract taken from a note book written by General Jeremiah Johnson, who as a boy, lived near Wallabout Bay during the Revolution and who thus describes one of the first prison ships used by the British at New York. He says: “The subject of the naval prisoners, and of the British prisons-ships, stationed at the Wallabout during the Revolution, is one which cannot be passed by in silence. From printed journals, published in New York at the close of the war, it appeared that 11,500 American prisoners had died on board the prison ships. Although this number is very great, yet if the numbers who perished had been less, the Commissary of Naval Prisoners, David Sproat, Esq., and his Deputy, had it in their power, by an official Return, to give the true number taken, exchanged, escaped, and “dead”. Such a Return has never appeared in the United States. “David Sproat returned to America after the war, and resided in Philadelphia,...

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The Trumbull Papers And Other Sources Of Information

One Guinea Reward, ran away a black man named Richmond, being the common hangman, formerly the property of the rebel Colonel Patterson of Pa. – William Cunningham, published in Gaines “Mercury” on 4 Aug 1781. We will now quote from the Trumbull Papers and other productions, what is revealed to the public of the state of the prisoners in New York in 1776 and 1777. Some of our information we have obtained from a book published in 1866 called “Documents and Letters Intended to Illustrate the Revolutionary Incidents of Long Island, by Henry Onderdonk, Jr.” He gives an affecting account of the wounding of General Woodhull, after his surrender, and when he had given up his sword. The British ruffians who held him insisted that he should cry, “God save the King!” whereupon, taking off his hat, he replied, reverently, “God save all of us!” At this the cruel men ran him through, giving him wounds that proved mortal, though had they been properly dressed his life might have been spared. He was mounted behind a trooper and carried to Hinchman’s Tavern, Jamaica, where permission was refused to Dr. Ogden to dress his wounds. This was on the 28th of August, 1776. Next day he was taken westward and put on board an old vessel off New Utrecht. This had been a cattle ship. He was next removed to...

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A Journal Kept In The Provost

An old man named John Fell was taken up by the British, and confined for some months in the Provost prison. He managed to secrete writing materials and made notes of his treatment. He was imprisoned for being a Whig and one of the councilmen of Bergen, New Jersey. We will give his journal entire, as it is quoted by Mr. Onderdonk. April 23rd, 1777. Last night I was taken prisoner from my house by 25 armed men (he lived in Bergen) who brought me down to Colonel Buskirk’s at Bergen Point, and from him I was sent to Gen. Pigot, at N. Y., who sent me with Captain Van Allen to the Provost Jail. 24th. Received from Mrs. Curzon, by the hands of Mr. Amiel, $16, two shirts, two stocks, some tea, sugar, pepper, towels, tobacco, pipes, paper, and a bed and bedding. May 1st. Dr. Lewis Antle and Capt. Thomas Golden at the door, refused admittance. May 2nd. 6 10 P. M. died John Thomas, of smallpox, aged 70 & inoculated. 5th. Capt. Colden has brought from Mr. Curson $16.00. 11. Dr. Antle came to visit me. Nero at the door. (A dog?) 13. Cold weather. 20. Lewis Pintard came per order of Elias Boudinot to offer me money. Refused admittance. Capt. Colden came to visit me. 21. Capt and Mrs Corne came to visit me, and...

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Further Testimony Of Cruelties Endured By American Prisoners

“Neither pen, ink, or paper allowed (to prevent their treatment being made public) the consequence of which indeed, the prisoners themselves dread, knowing the malignant disposition of their keeper.” Mr. Fell’s notes on his imprisonment present the best picture we can find of the condition of the Provost Jail during the term of his captivity. We have already seen how Mr Elias Boudinot, American Commissary of Prisoners, came to that place of confinement, and what he found there. This was in February, 1778. Boudinot also describes the sufferings of the American prisoners in the early part of 1778 in Philadelphia, and Mr. Fell speaks of Cunningham’s return to New York. He had, it appears, been occupied in starving prisoners in Philadelphia during his absence from the Provost, to which General Howe sent him back, after he had murdered one of his victims in Philadelphia with the great key. It appears that the prisoners in the Provost sent an account of their treatment to General Jones, by Mr. Pintard, in September, 1777, several months before the visit of Mr. Elias Boudinot. They complained that they were closely confined in the jail without distinction of rank or character, amongst felons, a number of whom were under sentence of death: that their friends were not allowed to speak to them, even through the grates: that they were put on the scanty allowance...

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The Old Sugar House–Trinity Churchyard

“Old shoes were bought and eaten with as much relish as a pig or a turkey; a beef bone of four or five ounces, after it was picked clean, was sold by the British guard for as many coppers.” – Thomas Stone as published in Journal of American History We will now take our readers with us to the Sugar House on Liberty Street, long called the Old Sugar House, and the only one of the three Sugar Houses which appear to have been used as a place of confinement for American prisoners of war after the year 1777. We have already mentioned this dreary abode of wretchedness, but it deserves a more elaborate description. From Valentine’s Manual of the Common Council of New York for 1844 we will copy the following brief sketch of the British Prisons in New York during the Revolution. “The British took possession of New York Sep. 15, ’76, and the capture of Ft. Washington, Nov. 16, threw 2700 prisoners into their power. To these must be added 1000 taken at the battle of Brooklyn, and such private citizens as were arrested for their political principles, in New York City and on Long Island, and we may safely conclude that Sir William Howe had at least 5000 prisoners to provide for. “The sudden influx of so many prisoners; the recent capture of the city,...

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The Case Of John Blatchford

“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...

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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...

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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...

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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,...

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