Tuesday, February 19, 2019


On December 1, 1777, James Lovell, a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress, informed fellow-New Englander John Adams, "Genl. Howe will not exchange prisoners till those murthered at New York are paid for with fresh and good Soldiers."

Robert J. Taylor, editor of that volume of the John Adams Papers, was puzzled by the reference to murdered prisoners.  "
The allusion here remains obscure," Taylor wrote.

The prisoners "murthered" in British-occupied New York City were prisoners of British commander military Sir William Howe in the winter of 1776-77.  

Howe's forces captured 4,114 Continental soldiers in the last half of 1776.  About 1,000 died in Howe's prisons and prison ships in New York.  Another 2,000 or so of the prisoners died in the first months of 1777, after Howe released them.  Please check the post, "2000 Corpses."

In the words of Continental Private William Darlington, his fellow-prisoners "began to die like rotten sheep" from "cold, hunger, and dirt."

The massive prisoner die-off at the end of 1776, and the prisoner exchange dispute that followed between Howe and George Washington, remains obscure to many researchers.  For more information, please consult my article for Journal of the American Revolution, "1776--The Horror Show."

Sunday, February 3, 2019

JAR: Journal of the American Revolution

The Journal of the American Revolution chose haunting artwork to accompany the article I wrote, "1776--The Horror Show." 

The art includes a heart-rending detail from a sketch of Continental personnel held prisoner on board the prison ship Jersey.  The illustration is by John Trumbull of Connecticut, a state deeply affected by prisoner abuse in nearby British-occupied New York City. 

The artist John Trumbull was the son of Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull Sr and the first cousin of poet John Trumbull.  Click these initials to visit the homepage of the JAR.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Coercive Treatment

The pattern was clear by 1778.  Henry Laurens remarked the British Navy exercised "every species of cruelty" against American maritime prisoners "to compel them to enter into their service."  After "thousands have died languishing miserable deaths," British naval officers "exchange the emaciated survivors" for "healthy, well fed fellows."  Only desperation to alleviate the suffering of American captives has compelled American revolutionaries to acquiesce to such inequitable exchanges.

Historian Philip Ranlet reminds readers that British forces, naval and army, were desperate for recruits. 

Ranlet traces this coercive method of prisoner recruitment to Lord George Germain's approval of the enlistment of the crew of the captured American ship The Washington, Sion Martindale, captain.  The crew enlisted while confined to a ship as smallpox spread among them.  Ranlet speculates that perhaps Martindale negotiated hospital care for the sick in exchange for the enlistment of his crew by the British. 

Henry Larens to Rawlins Lowndes, August 18, 1778, in Letters of Delegates to Congress, Volume 10, page 479.   Philip Ranlet, "The Fate of the Washington, 1775-1776: A Precedent for Future British Conduct," The American Neptune, Volume 54 (1994): pages 194-198.  See also, Philip Ranlet, "In the Hands of the British: The Treatment of American POWs During the War of Independence," The Historian, Volume 62, issue 4 (June 2000): 731-758. 

Henry Laurens was a South Carolina delegate to the Continental Congress, serving as President of Congress, November 1, 1777 to December 9, 1778.  Rawlins Lowndes was the president (governor) of South Carolina, March 6, 1778-January 9, 1779.  Lowndes was born on the Caribbean island of St Kitts.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, U. S. Army (ret.) was an adviser to candidate Donald J. Trump and remains an adviser to the President-Elect.  Interviewed Business Insider in July 2016, Flynn said, "Islam is a political ideology based on a religion."

In 2010, residents opposed to the construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee made a similar claim.  Joe Brandon Jr., an attorney for mosque opponents, tried to argue that First Amendment guarantees of freedom of religion, like the freedom to build a house of worship, should not extend to Muslims because Islam is not a religion.

In the 2010 court case over the mosque, the United States Department of Justice submitted an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief asserting that Islam is a religion.  In an October 18, 2010 press conference, U. S. Attorney Jerry Martin remarked, "Presidents as far back as Lincoln and Jefferson...have publicly recognized Islam as one of the world's largest religions."

In her 2013 book, Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders, Denise A. Spellberg proposed that USA Founders like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington "defended Muslim rights for the sake of 'imagined Muslims,' the promotion of whose theoretical citizenship would prove the true universality of American rights."

In 2010, Brandon answered such claims by saying, "The federal government cited Thomas Jefferson in their press conference, and he owned slaves.  Is that who they want to cite as an authority?" While Jefferson did not free his slaves, Washington did leave instructions in his will for the eventual liberation of all his slaves, and offering immediate liberation to William Lee for his "faithful service" throughout the American War of Independence.  Whatever their foibles, Jefferson and Washington are authorities on religious liberty and what we might call American ideals.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Courtesy and Kindness

     In the 1930s, the California resort at Byron Hot Springs drew legendary Hollywood stars like Clark Gable and Mae West. After the USA entered World War 2, however, the resort hotel and spa became "Camp Tracy."
     American interrogators welcomed Japanese Prisoners of War to the California spa and offered meals prepared by Japanese chefs.
     US Army Major Alexander Corbin researched the interrogations at Byron Hot Springs.  As reported by Brentwood, California newspaper The Press, Corbin told a crowd gathered at the remnants of the resort hotel in 2010, "Courtesy and kindness overcame the most reticent prisoner."
     Alex Corbin wrote the book, The History of Camp Tracy: Japanese WWII POWs and the Future of Interrogation.
     During the course of World War II, the forces of the Empire of Japan became notorious for religious extremism and gruesome decapitations.  Near the end of the war, Japan even employed kamikaze suicidal pilots.  The cruelty of an indoctrinated enemy, however, was no excuse for unkindness to prisoners.