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Collection: American Prisoners Of The Revolution

The Riflemen Of The Revolution

“Our poor Soldiers fared most wretchedly different. They were crowded into sugar houses and Jails without blankets or covering; had Very little given to them to eat, and that little of the Very worst quality. So that in two months and four days about 1900 of the Fort Washington troops had died.” – Major Bedinger We will first endeavor to give the reader some idea of the men who were imprisoned in New York in the fall and winter of 1776, It was in the summer of that year that Congress ordered a regiment of riflemen to be raised in Maryland and Virginia. These, with the so-called “Flying Camp” of Pennsylvania, made the bulk of the soldiers taken prisoners at Fort Washington on the fatal 16th of November. Washington had already proved to his own satisfaction the value of such soldiers; not only by his experience with them in the French and Indian wars, but also during the siege of Boston in 1775-6. These hardy young riflemen were at first called by the British “regulars,” “a rabble in calico petticoats,” as a term of contempt. Their uniform consisted of tow linen or homespun hunting shirts, buckskin breeches, leggings and moccasins. They wore round felt hats, looped on one side and ornamented with a buck tail. They carried long rifles, shot pouches, tomahawks, and scalping knives. They soon proved themselves...

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Names Of Some Of The Prisoners Of 1776

As we have seen, the officers fared well in comparison with the wretched privates. Paroled and allowed the freedom of the city, they had far better opportunities to obtain the necessities of life. “Our poor soldiers fared most wretchedly different,” says Major Bedinger. Before we begin, however, to speak of the treatment they received, we must make some attempt to tell the reader who they were. We wish it were possible to give the name of every private who died, or rather who was murdered, in the prisons of New York at this time. But that, we fear, is now an impossibility. As this account is designed as a memorial to those martyred privates, we have made many efforts to obtain their names. But if the muster rolls of the different companies who formed the Rifle Regiment, the Pennsylvania Flying Camp, and the other troops captured by the British in the summer and fall of 1776 are in existence, we have not been able to find them. The records of the Revolution kept in the War Department in England have been searched in vain by American historians. It is said that the Provost Marshal, William Cunningham, destroyed his books, in order to leave no written record of his crimes. The names of 8,000 prisoners, mostly seamen, who were confined on the prison ship Jersey, alone, have been obtained by...

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The Case of Jonathan Gillett of West Harford

This man with seven others was captured on Long Island on the 27th of August, 1776, before they could take to their boats. He was at first confined in a prison ship, but a Masonic brother named John Archer procured him the liberty of the city on parole. His rank, we believe, was that of a lieutenant. He was a prisoner two years, then was allowed to go home to die. He exhibited every symptom of poison as well as starvation.

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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...

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The Cartel

“Continual inquiries were made from the anxious crowd on the land respecting the condition of several different individuals on board. At length the information was given that some of our number were below, sick with the yellow fever. No sooner was this fact announced than the wharf was totally deserted, and in a few moments not a human being remained in sight.” – Captain Dring “On his arrival in Providence Captain Aborn had lost no time in making the details of our sufferings publicly known; and a feeling of deep commiseration was excited among our fellow citizens. Messrs. Clarke and Nightingale, the former owners of the Chance, in conjunction with other gentlemen, expressed their determination to spare no exertion or expense necessary to procure our liberty. It was found that forty British prisoners were at that time in Boston. These were immediately procured, and marched to Providence, where a sloop owned and commanded by a Captain Gladding of Bristol was chartered, to proceed with the prisoners forthwith to New York, that they might be exchanged for an equal number of our crew. Captain Corey was appointed as an Agent to effect the exchange, and to receive us from the Jersey; and having taken on board a supply of good provisions and water, he hastened to our relief. He received much assistance in effecting his object from our townsman, Mr....

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Correspondence Of Washington And Others

General Washington cannot with justice be blamed for any part of the sufferings inflicted upon the naval prisoners on board the prison ships. Although he had nothing whatever to do with the American Navy, or the crews of privateers captured by the British, yet he exerted himself in every way open to him to endeavor to obtain their exchange, or, at least, a mitigation of their sufferings, and this in spite of the immense weight of cares and anxieties that devolved upon him in his conduct of the war. Much of his correspondence on the subject of these unfortunate prisoners has been given to the world. We deem it necessary, in a work of this character, to reproduce some of it here, not only because this correspondence is his most perfect vindication from the charge of neglect that has been brought against him, but also because it has much to do with the proper understanding of this chronicle. One of the first of the letters from which we shall quote was written by Washington from his headquarters to Admiral Arbuthnot, then stationed at New York, on the 25th of January 1781. Sir: Through a variety of channels, representations of too serious a nature to be disregarded have come to us, that the American naval prisoners in the harbor of New York are suffering all the extremity of distress, from...

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General Washington And Rear Admiral Digby

Washington’s best vindication against the charge of undue neglect of American prisoners is found in the correspondence on the subject. We will therefore give his letter to Rear Admiral Digby, after his interview with the committee of three sent from the Jersey to complain of their treatment by the British, and to endeavor to negotiate an exchange. GENERAL WASHINGTON TO REAR ADMIRAL DIGBY Head-Quarters, June 5 1782 Sir: By a parole, granted to two gentlemen, Messrs. Aborn and Bowen, I perceive that your Excellency granted them permission to come to me with a representation of the sufferings of the American prisoners at New York. As I have no agency on Naval matters, this application to me is made on mistaken grounds. But curiosity leading me to enquire into the nature and cause of their sufferings, I am informed that the prime complaint is that of their being crowded, especially at this season, in great numbers on board of foul and infected prison ships, where disease and death are almost inevitable. This circumstance I am persuaded needs only to be mentioned to your Excellency to obtain that redress which is in your power “only” to afford, and which humanity so strongly prompts. If the fortune of war, Sir, has thrown a number of these miserable people into your hands, I am certain your Excellency’s feelings for fellowmen must induce you...

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Some Of The Prisoners On Board The Jersey

We have seen that the crew of the Chance was exchanged in the fall of 1782. A few of the men who composed this crew were ill at the time that the exchange was affected, and had been sent to Blackwell’s Island. Among these unfortunate sufferers was the sailing-master of the Chance, whose name was Sylvester Rhodes. This gentleman was born at Warwick, R. I., November 21, 1745. He married Mary Aborn, youngest sister of Captain Daniel Aborn, and entered the service of his country, in the early part of the war, sometimes on land, and sometimes as a seaman. He was with Commodore Whipple on his first cruise, and as prize-master carried into Boston the first prize captured by that officer. He also served in a Rhode Island regiment. When the crew of the Jersey was exchanged and he was not among the number, his brother-in-law, Captain Aborn, endeavored to obtain his release, but, as he had been an officer in the army as well as on the privateer, the British refused to release him as a seaman. His father, however, through the influence of some prominent Tories with whom he was connected, finally secured his parole, and Captain Aborn went to New York to bring him home. But it was too late. He had become greatly enfeebled by disease, and died on board the cartel, while on...

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The Prison Ship Martyrs Of The Revolution

The Prison Ship Martyrs Of The Revolution, And An Unpublished Diary Of One Of Them, William Slade, New Canaan, Conn., Later Of Cornwall, Vt. The following extremely interesting article on the prisoners and prison ships of the Revolution was written by Dr. Longworthy of the United States Department of agriculture for a patriotic society. Through his courtesy I am allowed to publish it here. I am sorry I did not receive it in time to embody it in the first part of this book. D D Doubtless all of us are more or less familiar with the prison ship chapter of Revolutionary history, as this is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, tragedies of the struggle for independence. At the beginning of the hostilities the British had in New York Harbor a number of transports on which cattle and stores had been brought over in 1776. These vessels lay in Gravesend Bay and later were taken up the East River and anchored in Wallabout Bay, and to their number were added from time to time vessels in such condition that they were of no use except as prisons for American troops The names of many of these infamous ships have been preserved, the Whitby, the Good Hope, the Hunter, Prince of Wales, and others, and worst of all, the Jersey. It was proposed to confine captured American...

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