Sunday, November 29, 2009

November 29, 1776: Waterbury, CT

From volume 3 of American Archives, edited by Peter Force:

"Volunteer Company at Waterbury, Connecticut"
Saw-Pitts, in Rye, Connecticut, 29 Nov. 1776:

"When his Honour Governour [John] Trumbull recommended it to the householders in the State of Connecticut, who are not obliged to do military duty, to form themselves into companies, choose their own officers, and equip themselves for the defence of these States, a number of aged gentlemen, in the first society in the town of Waterbury, Embodied themselves and nominated their own officers, who were honoured with commissions; and when the regiment of Militia to which they belong were ordered to New-York, agreeable to a late resolve of the General Assembly, this company was the first in the regiment that marched and reached the place of rendezvous. It is now at this place, and consists of twenty-four men; their ages, added together, are a thousand years. They are all married men, and when they came from home, left behind them their wives, with a hundred and forty-nine children and grand children. One of them is fifty-eight years of age, has had nineteen children and twelve grand children; fourteen of his own children are now living. A worthy example of patriotism. Let others go and do likewise."

After the fall of Fort Washington (Nov. 16, 1776) and the British captured of the soldiers there, Gen. George Washington, the Continental Congress and the state governors appealed for recruits. These admirable recruits risked falling into the hands of vindictive captors.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

November 25, 1776

After the Fall of Fort Washington (Nov. 16, 1776) and the capture of nearly 3,000 prisoners by the British, the Continental Army and the state militias try to recruit new soldiers, or spark reenlistment.

On Nov. 25, 1776, a Committee of Congress resolved "That the council of safety of Pensylvania [sic] be requested immediately, to call forth, all the associators in the city of Philadelphia, and its liberties, and in the counties of Philadelphia, Chester, Bucks, and Northampton, to continue in the service of the United States six weeks from the time they join the army, unless sooner discharged by Congress:

"That the volunteers who shall enrol [sic] to serve the United States till the tenth day of March next, shall, nevertheless, be discharged as soon as the situation of public affairs will possibly admit of it; it being the intention of Congress to detain them no longer than the present emergency shall render it absolutely necessary...."

David Hackett Fischer described the Philadelphia Associators in his book, Washington's Crossing. Founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1747 as a voluntary association because Pennsylvania had no militia, the Association elected its own officers and furnished its own weapons.

In 1775, Pennsylvania residents revived the wartime Association as the "Associators of the City and Liberties of Philadelphia." Associators elected their own officers and had a "Committee of Privates" that debating political issues and cared for the families of men at war. Nevertheless, Associators tended to elect the wealthy and socially prominent as their officers. Artist Charles Willson Peale, for instance, was a battalion commander who equipped some of his men and supported their families from his own money.

Fischer's opening chapter features the stories of several distinctive units that rushed to their country's defense in 1775-1776. It is an account worth reading.

Worthington Chauncey Ford, editor, Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Volume 6:October 9-December 31, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906), 979

David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 25-28

Monday, November 23, 2009

November 24, 1775

Several American newspapers reported that an Address (dated Cambridge, Massachusetts, 24 Nov. 1775), containing the following statement, "has been communicated to the Soldiery of the grand Continental Army:"

"The ministerial army, with three of their most esteemed Generals at their head, have been able to effect nothing. Instead of over-running and ravaging the continent from North to South, as they boasted they would do, they find themselves ignominiously cooped up within the walls of a single town (and even that they possessed themselves of by treachery) suffering all the distresses of a siege."

Consult, for instance, The Boston News-Letter (28 December 1775).

November 23, 1774

Lieutenant Governor William Bull of South Carolina, a royal appointee, wrote to Lord Dartmouth (William Legge, Second Earl of Dartmouth), the British secretary of American affairs, "Without giving your Lordship the trouble of another letter upon the result of the late Congress at Philadelphia, which doubtless hath long since reached your Lordship's hands, I beg leave only to add, that the disposition of this Province, in their political discontents, remain the same; that the people of the Province are, in the beginning of next January, again to choose Deputies to repair to the Philadelphia Congress by the 10th of May; and that I have farther prorogued the General Assembly to the 24th day of January, before which time we expect to receive some accounts of the measures that shall be adopted by the new Parliament relative to American affairs."

November 22, 1774

Extract of a Letter Received in London from a Gentleman in the British Army dated Boston, November 22, 1774, "The inhabitants of this Colony retain the religious and civil principles brought over by their forefathers in the reign of Charles the First, and are at least a hundred years behindhand with the People of England in every refinement. With the most austere show of devotion, they are void of every principle of Religion or common honesty, and reckoned the most arrant cheats and hypocrites upon the whole Continent of America."

The British officer (as this "gentleman" likely was) speculated, "As to what you hear of their taking arms to resist the force of England, it is mere bullying, and will go no farther than words; whenever it comes to blows, he that can run fastest will think himself best off: believe me, any two Regiments here ought to be decimated if they did not beat, in the field, the whole force of the Massachusetts Province; for though they are numerous, they are but a mere mob, without order or discipline, and very awkward at handling their Arms."

The officer's impressions must have been common even after the sad and shocking events at Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775) for in May 1775, Joseph Barrell wrote, "O my Dear Sir, the Yankees will fight; they are averse to begin; but when they once draw the Sword, they throw away the Scabbard...& Depend upon it they will prove that they have a true sense of that freedom wch. the God of nature gave & by whose Assistance they will Defend it."

Please consult Joseph Barrell to Unknown, Salem, Massachusetts, 24 May 1775, Correspondence and Journals of Samuel Blachley Webb: Volume 1: 1772-1777 (Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Wichersham Press, 1893), 60.

Friday, November 20, 2009

November 21, 1777

George Washington to Francis Hopkinson, Nov. 21, 1777, acknowledging receipt of Hopkinson's open letter to the Rev. Jacob Duché, “I confess to you, that I was not more surprised than concerned at receiving so extraordinary a Letter from Mr. Duché, of whom I had entertained the most favourable opinion, and I am still willing to suppose, that it was rather dictated by his fears than by his real sentiments; but I very much doubt whether the great numbers of respectable Characters, in the State and Army, on whom he has bestowed the most unprovoked and unmerited abuse will ever attribute it to the same Cause, or forgive the Man who has artfully endeavoured to engage me to Sacrifice them to purchase my own safety.”

In his Nov. 14, 1777 letter to Duché, Hopkinson asked the reverend to consider British conduct: “Look for their justice and honor in their several proclamations, and look for their humanity in the jails of New York and Philadelphia, and in your own Potter’s Field.”

The British occupied Philadelphia in Sept. 1777. By the time Hopkinson wrote his letter, British occupational forces again made themselves notorious for the murderous neglect of prisoners. Provost Marshal William Cunningham presided over the Provost Jail in Philadelphia (the Walnut Street Jail).

In a 1778 open letter to Pennsylvania Tory Joseph Galloway, Hopkinson charged that Galloway enjoyed “more than plenty” and made no effort to feed his countrymen who were “suffering all the lingering anguish of absolute famine in the jails of the city—within your reach—within your power to relieve.”

Hopkinson wrote to Galloway, “You well know that under the discipline of that arch-fiend, Cunningham, they have plucked the weeds of the earth for food, and expired with the unchewed grass in their mouths—yet you pity not the misery to which you have yourself been instrumental, nor will you suffer their torture to touch you heart….”

In 1785, Thomas Jefferson mentioned, “General Howe’s permitting our prisoners, taken at the battle of Germantown, and placed under a guard, in the yard of the State-house of Philadelphia, to be so long without any food furnished them, that many perished with hunger. Where the bodies laid, it was seen that they had eaten all the grass around them, within their reach, after they had lost the power of rising, or moving from their place.”

Francis Hopkinson, “A Letter to Joseph Galloway, Esq.” (1778), in Francis Hopkinson, The Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings of Francis Hopkinson, Esq. 3 vols. (Philadelphia: T. Dobson, 1792) 1:130.

Thomas Jefferson to Jean Nicolas Démeunier, 26 June 1786, in Thomas Jefferson Randolph, ed., Memoirs, Correspondence, and Private Papers, of Thomas Jefferson 4vols. (London: Boston and Palmer, 1829)1: 428

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November 20, 1780

Samuel Adams wrote to James Warren, "I could wish, if we must have abundant Addresses to see the manly Simplicity of Barckly the Quaker in his Dedication to Charles the 2d of England. Excepting that Instance, I do not recollect ever to have seen an Address to a Great Man, that was not more or less, and very often deeply, tincturd with Flattery."

In the opening of his Apology for the True Christian Divinity (1676), Robert Barclay featured an address to England's King Charles II. Barclay acknowledged that Charles II ordered the release of hundreds of Quakers from English jails. Barclay also stated that false accusations against the Quakers originated with people claiming to speak for the king, but not the monarch himself. Other than these acknowledgments, Barclay's address possesses the "simplicity" Adams admired. In his explanation ("apology") of Quaker belief, Barclay simply presented Charles II with the doctrines of the Society of Friends (Quakers).

Samuel Adams read the statement of Quaker belief and admired the author's simplicity of expression. Joseph Crukshank published Barclay's Apology in Philadelphia in 1775.

On Sept. 5, 1774, either Thomas Cushing of Massachusetts proposed (though Abraham Clark of New Jersey also claimed credit for the motion) that daily sessions of the Continental Congress open with prayer. John Jay of New York and John Rutledge of South Carolina objected to the motion, claiming the religious diversity of Congress made the measure impractical. Adams defended the measure by remarking, "I am not bigot. I can hear a prayer from a man of piety and virtue, who is at the same time a friend of his country."

Adams, a stranger to Philadelphia, nonetheless heard favorable accounts of Episcopalian (Anglican) pastor, the Rev. Jacob Duche. Adams's motion carried. Shortly after the Declaration of Independence, Duche defected to the British. In his place, a Presbyterian minister, Rev. George Duffield, and an Episcopalian pastor, Rev. William White. Duffield and White served as chaplains to Congress until 1784.

Derek Davis, Religion and the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Contributions to Original Intent(New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pages 73-76.

Monday, November 16, 2009

November 19, 1776

Today, the prisoners taken at Fort Washington receive "a little pork...which they are obliged to eat raw," Private Samuel Young recalls in a deposition given a month later.

Independent Chronicle (Boston, Mass.), 12 June 1777

Undercooked pork could communicate the parasitic intestinal roundworm, Trichinella spiralis, which causes trichinosis. The United States Department of Agricultural explains of trichinosis, "The first symptoms are nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain, followed by headaches, eye swelling, aching joints and muscles, weakness, and itchy skin. In severe infections, persons may experience difficulty with coordination and have heart and breathing problems. Death may occur in severe cases."

Prisoners suffered similar ill treatment during the British occupation of Philadelphia (1777-1778). Based on information obtained from American militiamen detained in Philadelphia, American commissary of prisoners Elias Boudinot reported to Congress, "There are Instances of some of them being kept from 4 to 6 Days without a Mouthful of food, and on receving [sic] a few ounces of raw Pork, it was devoured with so much eagerness that one in particular dropped dead on the spot...."

Paul H. Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Volume 18: March 1, 1781-August 31, 1781, 26 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1990), 396.

November 18, 1776

November 18, 1776:

The men and boys taken prisoner by the British surrendered on Saturday, Nov. 16. They receive their first serving of food from their captors on Monday night, Nov. 18.

The food consists of biscuit "broken and in crumbs," which was "mostly mouldy" and some of it "crawling with maggots."

Private Samuel Young was crowded into a stable with about 500 other prisoners. The British threw the crumbs into the stable "as if to so many hogs" which the prisoners "were obliged to scramble for without any division...."

A month later, Private Samuel Young described this meal in a statement sworn before two Presbyterian ministers. Young was "solemnly sworn after the manner used in Scotland," that is, with his right hand raised.

Several newspapers carried Private Young's affidavit. Consult, for instance, the New England Chronicle of 12 June 1777.

Private John Adlum recalled in his postwar memoirs, "Between eight and nine o'clock at night there came a British sergeant with several men with the first provisions we drew since we were taken. These provision consisted of broken biscuit; there was not one whole biscuit in all that the men in our room drew."

Himself a teenager, Adlum was confined with several hundred men and lads to New Bridewell, New York City's unfinished poorhouse. The British used the building as a prison, even though the unglazed windows admitted the winter cold. The sergeant who brought food to New Bridewell showed more respect and compassion than the personnel who flung the crumby, moldy biscuit into the barn.

Adlum wrote that the British officer "seemed to be a well disposed man and told us to eat heartily and that on the next day we should receive our rations regularly," and that the British soldiers themselves had not yet received their provisions.

The biscuit, however, made the same impression in New Bridewell and the barn. Adlum was sick to notice the "yellow and green streaks of mold" in the "unsound biscuit."

Howard H. Peckham, ed., Memoirs of the Life of John Adlum in the Revolutionary War (Chicago: Published for the William L. Clements Library Associates by the Caxton Club, 1968), 69-70.
Judith L. Van Buskirk, Generous Enemies: Patriots and Loyalists in Revolutionary New York (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 86.

November 17, 1776

Tench Tilghman wrote to Robert Livingston from Continental Army Headquarters at Hackensack, New Jersey, "I wish I had better news to communicate, but we suffered a heavy stroke yesterday in the loss of Fort Washington and its garrison, consisting of about two thousand men, who chiefly were made prisoners of war; what were not, fell in the action. The lines were bravely defended; but what could two thousand men do against General Howe' s whole Army, who poured in upon them from every quarter?"

British Gen. William Howe reported that he took 2,818 prisoners (soldiers and officers) at Fort Washington on Nov. 16, 1776.

Survivors later reported that their captors provided no food to the prisoners after their surrender on November 16 or the entire day of November 17.  

November 16, 1776: Battle of Fort Washington

After the Fall of Fort Washington (Nov. 16, 1776), almost 3,000 Americans became prisoners of the British in New York City. The British subjected the soldiers to disease-ridden squalor and moldy, maggot-eaten food. The British offered better treatment to any who joined the Redcoats, but most Fort Washington prisoners refused. By Christmas 1776, two-thirds of the prisoners were dead.

See Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 64.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

November 15

American newspapers reported prisoner abuse by the British throughout the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Patriot editors were willing to relay accounts of kindness by British or Hessian officers and soldiers. The Pennsylvania Packet of Dec. 4, 1781 carried this account with the dateline of Salem, Massachusetts, 15 Nov. 1781. This item pertains to Admiral Richard Edwards, of British Royal Navy, appointed Governor of Canada in 1779 (see ):

The prisoners who arrived in this port, in the late cartels from Newfoundland, conceive themselves bound by a principle of gratitude, to acknowledge in this public manner, the very humane and benevolent treatment which they received from admiral Edwards, while in his power as prisoners of war at St. John's. Although, being a British officer, they as Americans, cannot but consider him as a public enemy; yet as a man, they highly esteem him for the goodness of his heart, and as possessing the amiable and exalted virtues of a philanthropist. Their experience of his kindness, in alleviating the distresses incident to their situation as prisoners, will always be remembered with the most grateful sensibility. And they sincerely wish, that whenever their countrymen may have occasion to censure British cruelty, they may consider that admiral Edwards ought always to be excepted.

November 14

From Gen. George Washington's General Orders of November 14, 1776:

Colonel DeHaas' s battalion and the First and Second Jersey Battalions to embark to-morrow morning, at sunrise, for Fort George. The General thanks all the officers and soldiers of those regiments now upon this ground, for their readiness in complying with his request to remain three weeks for the defence and security of,this post after their term of service was expired.

November 13

Address of the Grand Jury of Burlington County, New Jersey, to Judge Samuel Tucker, 13 Nov. 1776:

"Having for some time past witnessed an interruption of the free enjoyment of our civil liberties by the hand of British tyranny and usurpation, the Grand Jury for the County of Burlington cannot forbear expressing their unfeigned satisfaction at the opening of the Supreme Court of the State of New-Jersey. The Constitution, as lately formed by the honourable Convention of this State, gives us the utmost satisfaction, and, as we believe, the County we represent. We flatter ourselves that, in due season, under the Divine protection, we shall be enabled to baffle the designs of our cruel enemy, and reap the benefits thereof. Conscious, however, of the goodness of our cause, and the rectitude of our intentions, the Grand Jury for the County of Burlington are determined to do their part for the support and relief of their much-injured country.

We congratulate you, sir, on your appointment as one of the Judges of the Supreme Court of this State. We have no doubt of your integrity and assiduity, and can only wish your country had called you to so important an office in times less perilous and dangerous. But, sir, let the peril and difficulty of the times be a criterion to distinguish who are real friends to their country and who are not.

Answer from Judge Samuel Tucker, 13. Nov. 1776:


I most cordially thank you for your address.

Your firmness in the cause of freedom is very agreeable to me, and am happy to find the Grand Jury for the opulent County of Burlington are determined to support their rights as freemen under our new and happy Constitution, in which they may rely on every assistance in my power.

Your good opinion of me affords me sensible pleasure, and hope my future conduct will be such as will meet with the approbation of every freeman in the State of New-Jersey.

Friday, November 6, 2009

November 12

General George Washington to General John Sullivan, Nov. 12, 1775:


At a time when some of our sea-port Towns are cruelly and wantonly laid in ashes, and ruin and devastation denounced against others; when the arms are demanded of the inhabitants, and hostages required, in effect, to surrender their liberties; when General Howe, by proclamation, under the threat of military execution, has forbid the inhabitants of Boston to leave the Town, without his permission first had and obtained in is evident that the most tyrannical and cruel system is adopted, for the destruction of the rights and liberties of this Continent, that ever disgraced the most despotick Ministry, and ought to be opposed by every means in our power.

I therefore desire that you will delay no time in causing the seizure of every officer of Government at Portsmouth who have given pregnant proofs of their unfriendly disposition to the cause we are engaged in; and when you have seized them, take the opinion of the Provincial Congress or Committee of Safety in what manner to dispose of them in that Government. I do not mean that they should be kept in close confinement. If either of those bodies should incline to send them to any of the interior Towns, upon their parole not to leave them till released, it will meet with my concurrence.

For the present I shall avoid giving you the like order in respect to the tories in Portsmouth; but the day is not far off when they will meet with this or a worse fate, if there is not considerable reformation in their conduct. Of this they may be assured.

Sir, your most obedient servant,

George Washington

November 11

American newspapers reprinted this item, dated November 11, 1780, from the London Evening Post:

The Committee for Relief of American Prisoners, are sorry to be under the necessity of again applying to the humanity of the public for assistance: there are 300 prisoners now in England, many of whom have been upwards of three years in confinement, and who cannot be exchanged, because there are not in Europe English prisoners, taken by the Americans, to make the exchange with, and no other will be accepted. The Committee hope the friends to humanity, and well wishers to reconcilement, will assist them with their benevolence.

Since March 3, 1780, London Evening Post reported, the Committee received several subscriptions for the support of American prisoners in England's jails. Sir George Savile, Baronet, offered 25 Pounds, the Duke of Grafton 20 Pounds and Samuel Gist, Esquire 10 Pounds and 10 shillings, each subscribing for the second time.

Other donors included the Reverend Mr. Thomas Wren, a Presbyterian minister in Portsmouth, England, "A friend to the felicities of his fellow men...."

Benjamin Franklin was aware of the humanity of Englishmen like the Rev. Wren. In July 1783, Franklin wrote to Robert Livingston, "Our people who were prisoners in England are now all discharged. During the whole war those who were in Forton prison, near Portsmouth, were much befriended by the constant, charitable care of Mr. Wren, a Presbyterian minister there, who spared no pains to assist them in their sickness and distress by procuring and distributing among them the contributions of good Christians, and prudently dispensing the allowance I made them, which gave him a great deal of trouble, but he went through it cheerfully, I think some public notice should be taken of this good man."

Franklin wrote, "I wish the Congress would enable me to make him a present, and that some of our universities would confer upon him the degree of Doctor."

Writing from Princeton, New Jersey on Nov. 1, 1783, where Congress was in session, Elias Boudinot wrote to the Rev. Thomas Wren:

Your Humanity & kindness to our helpless & distressed Citizens, who by the fortune of War, were thrown into the Power of their Enemies, and within your reach, have been made known to the united States of America in Congress assembled. I am honored by their Commands, to return you their united Thanks for the repeated acts Benevolence & Humanity shewn by you to their unfortunate & oppressed Citizens who were prisoners at Portsmouth during the late War.
This part of my Duty gives me great Pleasure as the highest satisfaction next to doing humane & benevolent Actions ourselves is the testifying our gratitude to those from whom we receive them. I have the honour of enclosing a Copy of the Act of Congress of the 29th Septr last by which the Sense of your goodness will more clearly appear than by any Expression of mine.
It adds Sir to my Happiness on this Occasion to enclose a Diploma from the University in this place of which I have the honour of being a Trustee, conferring on you the Degree of Doctor of Divinity, which I hope you will favour us with the acceptance of as an additional Evidence of the respect of this grateful Country.

The College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) was founded by Presbyterians. The sixth president of the College of New Jersey, the Rev.
John Witherspoon, was the only college president and the only clergyman among the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Rev. Witherspoon's descendants include Reese Witherspoon.

November 10

In a story with the dateline of Boston, November 10, 1777, The Norwich Packet (Norwich, Connecticut) compared the treatment of the British Army captured at Saratoga (Oct. 17, 1777) to the British treatment of Americans captured at the Battle of Fort Washington (Nov. 16, 1776):

Boston, November 10, 1777
Beef, pork, wood &c. &c. have been for several days, carting to the barracks at Cambridge, for the subsistance of...General Burgoyne's army.--Not so was the treatment of our poor countrymen, who have fallen into the hands of the inhuman General Howe; particularly those taken at Fort Washington, when 2000 were made prisoners, carried through the city of New-York, and treated with all the insult possible; were afterwards thrown into large store-houses, where they remained four days without any subsistance, and kept there till near two thirds of them perished.--Blush Britons! blush!

November 9

On Nov. 9, 1776, Colonel Samuel Atlee wrote from British custody in New York City to General George Washington. Reports of a possible prisoner exchange between the British and the Americans prompted Atlee to write, "Persons in captivity, let whatever pains be taken to make that state agreeable, are still unhappy and anxious for a releasement. Such, sir, at present, is my state."

Col. Atlee, from Pennsylvania, was captured by the British at the Battle of Brooklyn (August 27, 1776). Atlee and a party of Americans fought until Hessians began to surround them. Rumors and reports of Hessian severity circulated throughout America before the German mercenaries arrived in America. Atlee and his comrades considered these rumors. Atlee recalled, "finding after all our struggles no prospect of escaping, we determined to throw ourselves into the mercy of a battalion of Highlanders.... This we did about five o'clock in the afternoon to the number of twenty-three, thereby escaping the pursuit of a party of Hessians, who came to the Highlanders immediately after our surrender."

Atlee and the 22 other prisoners remained about twenty minutes with Scottish Highlanders, "during which time the officers and men behaved very civil...." Soon, however, a "strong guard" escorted the prisoners to the Bedford headquarters of Gen. William Howe, commander-in-chief of British forces operating within the United States.

Like other prisoners taken that day, Atlee recalled that the civility of his initial captors dissipated. Atlee recalled " receiving, as we passed, the most scurrilous and abusive language, both from the officers, soldiers, and camp ladies, every one at that time turning hangman, and demanding of the guard why we were taken, why we were not put to the bayonet, and hanged, &c., &c., &c., &c."

The British put Atlee and sixteen other prisoners into a single tent, "in which we had not room to lie down, and nothing allowed us for covering." Atlee concluded, "To sum up the whole, we were consigned to the care of the most infamous of mankind, the Provost-Marshal, one Cunningham."

After the Battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775, the British captured 27 wounded Americans and confined them in Boston Jail under the supervision of Provost Marshal, Captain William Cunningham. By Sept. 14, 1775, Americans learned that ten of the Bunker Hill prisoners were dead. A number of the prisoners died after the amputation of a limb, including Lieutenant Colonel Moses Parker of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, who died July 4, 1775 after the amputation of one leg.

As late as Dec. 12, 1777, the deaths in Cunningham's care in 1775 still featured in American complaints of British cruelty. In their Dec. 12, 1777 protest to Lord North, British minister for American affairs, Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane and Arthur Lee--the American commissioners to France--complained of Britain's mistreatment of prisoners: "It is a universal complained that the practices of those in authority under you have been conformable to the principles of those public acts [of the British Government]. Colonel Parker, a gentleman of rank, was thrown into a common jail, in Boston, covered over with wounds, where he perished unpitied for want of the common comforts which his situation and humanity required. Colonel Ethan Allen was dragged in chains from Canada to a time when the officers taken from you in the same expedition were treated not only with lenity, but with every possible indulgence."

The British evacuated Boston on March 17 (St. Patrick's Day), 1776. Once British forces captured New York City later that year, they placed Cunningham in charge of the Provost Jail, the municipal jail where the British confined American officers and civilians suspected of supporting the Revolution. The British continued to confine various felons to the Provost as well. In Boston Jail, Cunningham flung civilian detainees with the general population, which included British soldiers and their female companions, arrested for theft.

Briefly, Cunningham supervised a Provost Jail in Philadelphia, another detention center for captured American officers. On the grounds of this Provost, accounts indicate that prisoners died of starvation on the yard, with clumps of grass in their mouths and hands.

Prisoners who survived remembered Cunningham for arbitrary harsh punishment, cruel beatings, crowding prisoners into confined spaces for days at a time, and demeaning mistreatment. Elias Boudinot, an American commissary of prisoners, suspected Cunningham of selling the prisoner's food and letting them starve to death.

As officers on parole, with the means of supporting themselves on money or credit, Atlee boarded with several other officers in a New York City home.

Please consult Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008) pages 2-6, 21-22, 25-26, 119-120, 259.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

November 8

On November 8, 1778, William Whipple, a New Hampshire delegate to Congress, wrote to Richard Henry Lee of Virginia.

Please to make my most respectful Compliments to Your Good Lady, who I hope will so far retract her promise, as to give me an opportunity (when peace is happily Established) to introduce her to such persons in Portsmouth as will be very happy in having an opportunity of making a visit to that C[o]untry agreeable to her.

I have taken up my Quarters at Liberty Hall where you know is a set, well agreed in Political Sentiments, & I think I may say with great certainty that they are as well agreed in sentimen[ts] of Esteem & Respect for you. I anticipate the pleasures of some long winter Evenings where with a Social pipe and Friendly Glass we shall call to mind our worthy Friend & Heartily join in wishing he may soon add to our little Circle.

November 7

On November 7, 1776, Congressman William Ellery wrote to Rhode Island merchant William Vernon about the suffering in Newport with a British fleet stationed ominously off Newport: "If We succeed in the glorious Struggle in which We are engaged, and establish our Independency, perhaps the forfeited Estates in our Commonwealth may be apply'd to the Purposes of compensating the Sufferers. If they should, they will be no great Loosers in the End; and this ought to be a Motive particularly with them to exert themselves in the present War."

November 6

"You will inform Captain Parker of the Phoenix that it has been the constant practice throughout the United states to suffer British seamen taken in the merchant service to depart at their pleasure, and consequently there can no just demand be made on us from the British Navy for a return of such persons in lieu of what they have heretofore discharged, because if that Account was to be fairly settled and a List made out of what we and what they have discharged without Account the Ballance would be very considerably in our favour, and still much greater were we to include the vast number of Passengers and other British subjects not seamen heretofore discharged without account; but the practice of exchanging Officer for Officer of equal Rank, and Sailor for Sailor of those taken in Ships of war will be continued."

--The Marine Committee of the Honorable the Continental Congress to James Nicholson, 6 November 1777

November 5

Patriots sent their acknowledgments to British-born American General Horatio Gates on the Oct. 17, 1777 defeat of the British Army at Saratoga, New York.

Henry Laurens, President of the Continental Congress, wrote that Gates's dispatches to Congress about the "convention" signed by British General John Burgoyne "afforded satisfaction not only to the Representative body, but universally to the good people here, the glorious Intelligence is now extending from City to City diffusing Joy in the heart of every Loyal American to the remotest State in the Union."

Eliphalet Dyer wrote to Gates, "I have the pleasure to Inform you that Congress are not only happy in the Event, but entirely satisfied in your Closing the Convention, at the time, & in the time, & in the manner you did and dare say the Impartial World will not only Justifye but Applaud you therein. The Chance of Warr was too (great to hazzard) dubious to admit of a Delay, the Advantages proposed by Your Enemy, in their terms of surrendry too great, to leave to Chance. The preserving your Army Undiminished, & in spirit & Vigor for future operations, was wise & prudent."

The "Convention" of Saratoga was not an unconditional surrender but a contract stipulating that Burgoyne's 5,871 British soldiers and German mercenaries can return to Europe with the promise they will not fight again return to North America to fight against the American Revolution. This number does not include the wives and children that accompanied many Hessians on their American campaign.

Anticipating that the British command will not honor the Convention, but will return the soldiers to fight the American "rebels," Congress seizes on complaints and statements by Burgoyne to claim that Burgoyne effectively dissolved the Convention. Congress detained the Convention Army or Convention prisoners until the end of the Revolutionary War. By the end of the war, the Convention prisoners still in American custody amount to about 1,500, mostly due to desertion back to the British lines but also due to British soldiers and Hessian mercenaries who settled in America.

Historian Richard Sampson mentioned the 1932 discovery of a letter from British commander Gen. William Howe to Burgoyne. Howe planned to send the German mercenaries back to Europe, but send the British artillery and infantry men to New York City, the command center of British operations in America. Howe rationalized his plan to violate the Convention by remarking that he released approximately 2,200 American prisoners in the winter of 1776-77 but the Americans had yet to release the same number of British prisoners.

Sampson acknowledged that Howe's letter would have justified American suspension of the Convention, if the Americans knew of the letter in 1777. "At the time of the suspension however, Congress had no sound or honest case for their action and the 'stain' on their history remains."

Richard Sampson, Escape in America: The British Convention Prisoners, 1777-1783 (Chippenham, Wiltshire, UK: Picton Pub., 1995), 86.

Sampson to the contrary, Americans had plenty of experience with British disregard of agreements on the treatment of prisoners to know that Burgoyne's men might soon find themselves fighting against the Revolution soon after their release. As New Jersey Governor William Livingston remarked in a pseudonymous essay in Feb. 1778, "Ever since the commencement of the present war, it hath been the cruel and perfidious policy of Britain to consider us as rebels, with whom engagements were not to be observed and whom she might treat with the utmost severity."

Although detained for the remainer of the war, the Convention prisoners socialized with Americans. A Hessian officer and his family were frequent guests of the family of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. Many a Hessian prisoner married an American lass.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

November 4

On November 4, 1775, General Richard Montgomery, a British aristocrat in the American service, sent word from Canada of the surrender of British forces at Chambly.

November 3

On November 3, 1781, The Boston Evening Post reported the death of "the gallant and truly amiable" Colonel Alexander Scammel, an American officer from New Hampshire.

The Evening Post also quoted a letter dated Oct. 26, 1781 reporting, "With Satisfaction," that British officer Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton was a prisoner "to the Arms of these States."

Tarleton's men were Tories notorious for slaughtering the wounded and disarmed. During the seige of Yorktown, Scammel found himself surrounded by a British patrol of Tarleton's men and was obliged to surrender. Perhaps not aware that Scammel had just surrendered, a British horseman shot the American in the back. The British released Scammel, who died days later from his wounds.

November 2

Dateline Boston, November 2, 1778:

"By some prisoners lately returned from New-York, we learn, that...prisoners there have in general been treated...with great rigor and inhumanity. The pale and thin countenances of a number of our countrymen...confirm the accounts they give, of their having been cruelly denied necessary air, and a sufficiency of wholesome food for the support of life."

The Independence Ledger
(Boston, Mass.), 2 November 1778, on the mistreatment of prisoners in British-occupied New York City

Monday, November 2, 2009

November 1, 1776

"Use your officers and men well, and do the same by your prisoners."

--The Marine Committee of the Continental Congress, to Captain Elisha Warner of the sloop Fly, Nov. 1, 1776

In their orders to captains, the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress frequently emphasized the kind treatment of prisoners. On August 6, 1776, for instance, the Marine Committee instructed John Paul Jones to "use your People well thereby recommending the American Naval service to all who engage in it," adding, "we also recommend Humane kind Treatment of your Prisoners."