Monday, November 16, 2009

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.
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