Page images
PDF
EPUB

XIII. BRITISH PRISONS ON LAND AND WATER.

[ocr errors]

FAMILY QUARRELS are the most bitter of all con- were agreed to; and Clinton made a solemn protentions, and as a rule, the belligerents are the most mise that the property and persons of the citizens implacable of enemies for the time. Theological should be respected. Instead of giving the pro.. disputes in the Christian family are apt to be more | mised protection, he put no restraint on private acrimonious and uncompromising than any other rapine. Houses were pillagert of plate and other in communities; and civil war in a nation is apt valuables by his soldiers, and the value of the to be carried on with more asperity, with more spoil which was distributed by English and Hescruelty and less regard for justice, than any con- sian coramissioners of captures amounted to about flict between two nations, especially if one party one million five hundred thousand dollars. The has the position of rebels against the government share of a major general like Clinton and Cornwhich the other party supports. There are excep. wallis, exceerled twenty thousand dollars. The tions to these propositions; but such is generally officers swelled their prses with the proceeds of the rule.

the sale of slaves which they seized and sent to Although King George the Third and his min. the West India market, even those who had ned isters were the real revolutionists in our country a to the British armies and craved protection as hundred years ago (for they attempted to overturn fugitives from servitude. established governments here and deprive people Fearing the influence of the presence in the city of their natural and chartered rights), when the of paroled men like Christopher Gadsden, David colonists in arms resisted these revolutionists, and Ramsay, the historian, and other active Whigs, solemnly leagued for the defence of their common they preferred against them the false charge of and more than royal prerogatives, they were called contemplated murder and arson; and these men, by the monarch and his advisers “rebels," and with many others, faithfully keeping their paroles, were treated as such. In the moral and canon were seized in their beds, carried on board Britisha law, and in the civil code, rebels are regarded as vessels, and hurried to St. Augustine, in Florida, possessing few claims to merciful consideration, where the infamous Governor Tryon, whom the excepting those which common humanity de. North Carolinians (who suffered under his rule for mands. The British government and the British a while) called “The Wolf," was in command. people, as well as those of other enlightened na. They suffered imprisonment under peculiar hard. tions, recognized the status of a rebel; and, ships for many months.

ships for many months. There the prisoners were without being more cruel in their nature and offered paroles to enjoy liberty within the precincts practice and in their proclivities than any other of the town. Gausden, the fearless and sturdy Christian people under like circumstances, they patriot, refused acquiescence, for he disdained oftentimes treated the “rebels” in the Ameri- making further ternis with the power that did not can colonies, a century ago, with very great regard the sanction of a solemn treaty. He was severity. Sometimes they seemed to think an determined not to be deceived a second time. American “rebel" had no rights which a Bri- " Had the British commander," he said, “retish officer was bound to respect, and the latter garded the terms of capitulation at Charleston, I sometimes violated the most solemn covenants might now, although a prisoner, enjoy the smiles with them without an excuse, as in the case of the and consolations of my family under my own roof; prisoners on parole at Charleston, in 1780. Sir but even without a shadow of accusation preferred Henry Clinton and Admiral Arbuthnot had be- against me, for any act inconsistent with my sieged the town until General Lincoln, with a plighted faith, I am torn from them, and here, in seeble garrison, was compelled, in the face of a distant land, invited to enter into new engagethreatened destruction of property and lives, to ments. I will give no parole." “ Think better surrender the army and city. Clinton exacted the of it," said the brutal Tryon; "a second refusal most extraordinary terms, namely, the surrender of it will fix your destiny-a dungeon will be of the citizens as prisoners on parole, as well as your future habitation." "Prepare it, then,"

, the soldiers. By this means he was able to report replied the inflexible patriot. “I will give no that he had several thousand prisoners. The terms parole, so help me God." And the petty tyrant

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

1776 and 1781.

did prepare it; and for forty-twu weeks that and three spacious sugar-houses then in the city, patriot, almost threescore years of age, never saw some of the Dissenting Churches, King's (now the light of the blessed sun, but lay immured in Columbia) College building, and the New York the castle at St. Augustine. And Cornwallis, who Hospital, on Broadway between Duane and Ansucceeded Clinton in command in South Car ina, thony streets, then on the northern borders of the caused many a patriot in that State to be hanged city, were all used as places of confinement. The and his family to be made houseless and utterly disastrous effects of a great fire in the city, in Sepdesolate by fire and plunder, for no other reason tember, 1776, by which about five hundred buildthan because he preferred the service of his coun- ings were laid in ashes; the demands of the British try to that of his oppressors.

army for supplies; the indolent indifference of These acts were but counterparts of the general General Howe, the British chief, and the cruel feeling of the British in the North toward the conduct of the notorious Cunningham, the ProAmerican republicans during the cld War for Inde. vost-Marshal, combined to produce intense sufferpendence, especially towards prisoners taken in the ing among the prisoners. early stages of that war. Associations of intrinsic The most spacious buildings used for prisons horror are linked with the memory and the records were Van Cortlandt's sugar-house, at the northof the cruelties practiced and the sufferings en- west corner of Trinity churchyard (corner of dured in the prisons and prison-ships of New Thames and Lumber streets); Livingstone's (the York, in which thousands of captive patriots were, oldest in the city), on Liberty street, near the Midfrom time to time, incarcerated between the years dle Dutch Church (lately the City Post-office),

The captives made in battles on and Rhinelander's, corner of William and Duane the land were confined in foul jails in that city, streets, and running through to Kose street. The and those who were taken on the sea (and some- last-named structure was an immense edifice of times land soldiers, too) were kept for months in brick, and adjoining it was the spacious dwelling of floating dungeons near that city, under circum- Rhinelander, the proprietor, built of the same mastances of indefensible cruelty.

terials. These structures form the subject of the The American reader will remember that many illustrations at the head of this paper. Of the prisoners were taken by the British in the battle three sugar-houses then used for prisoners, Rhinenear Brooklyn at the close of August, 1776, and lander's was the last survivor. The latest business at the surrender of Fort Washington, toward the carried on in it was printer’s-ink making, by Mr. upper end of New York or Manhattan Island, at Lightbody. The others sooner gave way to more the middle of November following. The prison. modern structures. That of Livingstone was deers taken on these occasions were mostly confined molished in June, 1840, and its site occupied by in jails in New York provided for them. These stores Nos. 34 and 36 Liberty street; and Van captives numbered about four thousand. To these Cortlandt's went down in the summer of 1852. should be added full a thousand private citizens of The North Dutch Church in William street, beNew York, arrested by the British on suspicion or tween Fulton and Ann streets (demolished in positive proof that they were active Whigs. At 1874), was made to inclose eight hundred prisonthe close of 1776 at least five thousand republi- ers after taking out the pews and using them for cans were in captivity in and near the city of New fuel and placing a floor across from gallery to galYork. The only prisons proper in that city then lery. The handsome mahogany pulpit was carewere the

“New Jail," that stood in “ The fully removed, and sent to London, where it was Fields"—the present City Hall Park—which, in placed in a chapel. For about two months sevealtered form, is now the “Hall of Records," and ral hundred prisoners were huddled together in the the “ New Bridewell," which stood between the Middle Dutch Church, in Nassau street, between present City Hall and Broadway. The former was Liberty and Cedar streets; on their removal it was a small stone building, nearly square in form, converted into a riding-school after taking out the three stories in height, with dormer windows pierc- pews. The “ Brick Church," that occupied the ing the roof (making a half-story more), and a triangle at the junction of Beekman and Nassau cupola. These prisons were quite insufficient for streets and Park Row, was also used for a prison the demand when the captives were brought in, a short time; the Presbyterian church edifice in

[ocr errors]

Wall street ; that of the Scotch in Cedar street; and he would often kick over vessels of soup which and the Friends' Meeting house in Liberty street, benevolent persons had sent to the friendless priwere converted into hospitals. The Huguenot soners. For several months, gentlemen of educa(French) church edifice in Pine street, and a portion and fortune, who had lived in the enjoyment tion of Van Cortlandt's sugar. house were used as of the luxuries and refined pleasures of elegant magazines for ordnance; and the old City Hall, social life, were doomed to a miserable existence corner of Wall and Nassau streets, was used by the there, which was embittered by the coarsest insults main-guard of the city. All of these buildings of an ignorant, drunken master (who tortured have passed into history and disappeared, except them with threats of hanging), or to a death ing the Middle Dutch Church, until lately occu- caused by such treatment, the want of good food pied as the City Post-office.

and fresh air, and innumerable other sufferings, The “ New Jail," whose walls are those of the the fruits of the neglect or, possibly, the com“Hall of Records," was made a provost prison, mands of the British Commissary of Prisoners. where American officers and the most eminent | The northwest chamber on the second floor of the Whigs were confined. Here was the theatre of prison was devoted to captive officers and civilians Cunningham's brutal treatment of prisoners who of highest official rank, and was called, in derision, became victims of bis spite. He was a burly, red“Congress Hall.” headed Irishman, about forty years of age, son of Still greater cruelties were practiced upon the a trumpeter to the Blue Dragoons in the Dublin | less conspicuous prisoners, and many were hanged Barracks. His whole life had been spent in vicious in the gl om or night without trial or known practices. He came to New York in 1774, where cause for the foul murder. During the whole time the British officers found him breaking horses and of the occupation of the city by the British a galteaching young people how to ride them. He lows stood upon the brow of a hill not far from seemed to be a fitting tool of oppression, and was the provost prison, on the northern side of what is made Provost- Marshal of the royal army when it now Chambers street. The execution of Ameritook possession of New York in 1776. At the

At the can prisoners generally took place after midnight. provost prison he was an autocratic tyrant of the The victims were accompanied to the gallows by meanest sort. On the right of the main entrance Cunningham and O'Keefe, with a guard of eight to the prison was his office, and opposite was that

men.

This guard was previously sent to order the of Sergeant O'Keefe, another Irishman, who was people living in the neighborhood to close their his deputy in office and cruelty. The prisoners window shutters, and to put out their lights, forwere formally introduced to Cunningham, when bidding them, at the same time, to presume to their names, ages and sizes were recorded. They look out of their windows and doors on pain of were then confined in the gloomy cells or loath-death, after which the victims were gagged and some upper chambers, where the highest officials conducted to the gibbet, hanged without mercy, in captivity were so closely crowded together that and buried by a stout negro assistant of the execuwhen, at night, they lay down to sleep upon the tioner. Cunningham was restrained from hang. hard plank floor, they could change their positions ing several prisoners every night by women in the only by all turning over at one time at the utter. neighborhood who, pained by their cries for ance of the words, right-left.

mercy, made complaint to the commander-inCunningham would sit in his quarters drinking chief. After that Cunningham murdered his pripunch until his brain was on fire, when he would soners with poison sut in the flour given to the be ready for his devilish work. He called the captives, and for a long time after their deaths he prisoners his “ dogs," and would kick and drive would cheat his King by drawing rations for them them into their cells, which he called his “ken. and selling them. When flesli and blood for the nels.” He fed them on the coarsest food, which gallows were lacking, he would gratify his cruel he received in exchange, at a profit, for better food nature by suspending the effigies of patriots on the furnished the prisoners by their friends. He gibbet. For a long time a portrait of John Hanwould devour or destroy in their presence little cock was seen dangling from the horrid beam. The delicacies-tokens of affection-which ihe pri monster was finally hanged in the summer of 1791 soners received, to gratify his cruel propensities; for forgery, in England, and in his dying confes.

sion he said: "I shudder to think of the murders ties of six, alternately enjoyed the privilege of I have been accessory to, both with and without standing at the windows ten minutes at a time. orders from the government, especially while in They had no seats, and their beds of straw, reNew York, during which time there were more newed at long intervals, were filled with vermin. than two thousand prisoners starved in the different They were daily tempted with offers of liberty if churches by stopping their rations, which I sold. they would enter the military service of the King, There were also two hundred and seventy-five their oppressor, but to their honor it is known that American prisoners and obnoxious persons exe- very few yielded their principles even while endurcuted, out of all which number there were only ing the most exquisite sufferings. They preferred about one dozen public executions, which chiefly to leave their bodies among the dead carried out consisted of British and Hessian deserters.” With each day. Hundreds left there brief records upon a perfect knowledge of the cruelty of Cunningham the walls and beams of the prison, in the form of and the neglect (or something worse) of the the initials of their names. Many of these records British officials in charge of the American prisoners, remained until the building was demolished, more Hugh Gaine, a time-serving publisher, and pro- than sixty years afterwards, when many canes were fessedly a zealous patriot six months before, in-made from its timbers.

made from its timbers. David Birker, a merchant sulted truth and honesty by saying in his news- of New York, offered, through a city newspaper, paper: “There are now five thousand prisoners in in 1851, one of these canes to a proven survivor town, many of them half-naked. Congress, desert- of the sugar-house prisoners. Several applied for ing the poor wretches, has sent them neither pro

it. It was awarded to Levi Hanford, of Walton, visions nor clothing, nor paid attention to their Delaware County, who lived until November, 1854. distress, or that of their families. Their situation | He was confined in the sugar-house seventeen must have been doubly deplorable, but for the hu- months. manity of the King's officers. Every possible atten- The story of the sufferings of the prisoners in the tion has been given, considering their great num- other sugar-houses in New York is but a repetition ber and necessary confinement, to alleviate their of the tale of woe which the inmates of Livingdistress arising from guilt, sickness and poverty." stone's, in Liberty street, related. Equally great

The sugar-house in Liberty street was the theatre were the hardships endured in Van Cortlandt's and of greatest suffering next to the provost prison. It Rhinelander's sugar-houses; and still greater were was a dark stone building, five stories in height, ihe cruelties of British subordinates and the sufferwith small deep windows like port-holes. Each ings of the captives of the prison-ships moored at story was divided into two compartments.

A New York. These were prepared for the confinelarge barred door opened on Liberty street, and ment of captive seamen, yet some soldiers were imfrom another, on the southeast side, a stairway prisoned in them. The first vessels used for this purled to the cellars, which were used as dungeons. pose were transports in which cattle and stores had Around the whole building was a passage four feet been brought across the Atlantic Ocean in 1776. wide

, and there, day and night, British and Hes. These at first lay in Gravesend Bay, at the western sian sentinels patrolled. Into this jail the healthy end of Long Island, to which the prisoners taken and the sick, the black and the white, were indis- | in the battle on Long Island (near Brooklyn) were criminately thrust ; and there, during the summer confined. When the British took possession of of 1777, a great many died from want of fresh air, New York City these captives were transferred to exercise and cleanliness. William Dunlap, the the prisons there, and the transports were anchored artist, who was a lad at the time, and an eye-wit- in the Hudson and East Rivers. Afterwards the ness, wrote as follows: “In the suffocating heat hulks of decaying ships were moored in Wallabout of summer I saw every aperture of those strong Bay, where the Brooklyn Navy Yard now is, a walls filled with human heads, face above face, sheltered estuary on the Long Island shore. There seeking a portion of the external air." In July a in succession were the hulks of the Whitby, Good jail fever broke out, and great numbers died. Hope, Scorpion, Prince of Wales, Falmouth, While it prevailed, the prisoners were brought out Hunter, Stromboli, and half a dozen of less note, in companies of twenty to breathe the fresh air for and contained hundreds of American prisoners half an hour, while those within, divided into par- taken on the high seas. There the suffering of

a

[ocr errors]

the captives was intense, for cruelty exercised by soldiers drafted from British and Hessian regisubordinates held high festival. I have before me ments. These were the jailors of the American a picture by Robert Fulton, entitled “Cruelty captives, and were the instruments of great cruelty. Presiding over the Prison-Ships. The vice is Foulair, filth, unwholesome food and despondency represented by a muscular feminine figure with soon produced malignant diseases. Small-pox, dlyswings, with savage face and knit brow, leaning her entery and prison fever were the most prevalent chin upon a tightly-clenched fist, and with the maladies. Good nurses and skillful inedical at. other hand holding an open book resting upon her tendants were wanting, and the captives died by knee. She is nearly covered with a blood-red scores. The cheering voice of human sympathy garment, and is hovering upon a cloud that ob- seldom reached the ears of the victims, and despair scures the sunlight behind, over the prison-ship, was the handmaid of contagion in doing its horrid from the grated decks of which skinny hands and work. No systematic efforts were made for their arms, in the attitude of imploring mercy, are ob- relief; and as these diseases were contagious, no truding, and upturned faces expressive of despair one visited the hulks to bestow a cheering word or are dimly seen below. By the side of a brass can. smile upon the sufferers. The prison was called non lies a dead figure, while the face of Cruelty Hell, and upon it might have been appropriately remains inflexible in the horrid presence. This is written, “Whoever enters here must leave hope one of the pictures designed by the great inventor behind.” When the captured crews of American to illustrate Joel Barlow's "Columbiad," and was privateers were no longer considered prisoners of suggested by the following lines in that poem : war by the British, the number of victims in the " Cold-blooded Cruelty! first fiend of hell!

Jersey fearfully increased, and the Congress had Ah, think no more with savage hordes to dwell; no adequate supply of captives to offer in exchange. Quit the Caribbean tribes who eat their slain;

Policy, always heartless, forbade the exchange of Fly that grim gang, the Inquisitors of Spain;

healthy British prisoners for emaciated Americans, Boast not ihy deeds in Moloch's shrines of old,

and month after month hapless captives suffered Leave Barbary's pirate to their blood-bought gold; Let Holland steal her victims, force them o'er

and died. To toils and death on Java's morbid shore;

On the Jersey, the name and character of each Some cloak, some color, all these crimes may plead- prisoner were put on record, when he first came 'Tis avarice, passion, blind religion's deed;

on board. He was then placed in the hold, some. But Britons here, in this fraternal broil,

times with a thousand other captives, a large porGrave, cool, deliberate, in thy service toil.

tion of them covered with filthy rags which were Come then, curs'd goddess, where thy votries reign, Inhale their incense from the land and main;

often swarming with vermin. In messes of six, Come to New York, their conq'ring arms to greet;

they received their daily food every morning, Brood o'er their camp, and breathe along their fleet which generally consisted of mouldy biscuits filled See the black Prison-Shif's expanding womb)

with worms, damaged peas, condemned beef and Impacted thousands, quick and dead, entomb)."

pork, sour flour and meal, rancid butter, sometimes In the year 1780, the Jersey, originally a 64-gun a little filthy suet, but never any vegetables-a ship which, because of unfitness for sea service diet calculated to produce disease rather than to had been dismantled in 1776, was placed in Walla- sustain life. Their meat was boiled in a large copbout Bay, and used there as a prison-ship until the per kettle. Those who had a little money and close of the war. The name of that vessel became managed to escape robbery by the British under. infamous as a synonym of cruelty and savageism. lings, sometimes purchased bread, sugar and other Her companions were the Stromboli, Hunter and bits of good food from Dame Grenet, a corpulent Scorpion, then used as hospitals, and were anchored old woman who lived near the Wallabout and in the Hudson near Paulus's Hook, now Jersey came along side of the Jersey every morning, in a City. In the Jersey large numbers of captives boat rowed by two boys. At length the small-pox were confined at the same time-often more than killed the Dame, and her death was a great privaa thousand—and their sufferings were terrible. tion to the captives. Her crew consisted of a captain, two mates, cook, Every morning the prisoners were required to steward, and a dozen sailors. She had also a bring up their bedding to be aired, and, after guard of veteran invalid marines, and about thirty washing the decks, they were allowed to remain

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »