Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Monsters Inside Me"

British and Tory personnel occasionally gave American prisoners raw pork and not enough firewood to cook it.  Elias Boudinot learned of American prisoners in Philadelphia "kept from 4 to 6 Days" without food.  When they finally received raw pork, "it was devoured with so much eagerness that one in particular dropped dead on the spot...."
In this clip from the Discovery Channel, biologist Dan Riskin discusses one threat to human life in under-cooked pork, Taenia solium, the pork tapeworm.

January 2, 1776

On Jan. 2, 1776, Congress acknowledged reports that "honest and well meaning" people were "deceived and drawn into erroneous opinions, respecting the American cause," and the likely result of American efforts:

"Resolved, That it be recommended to the several Committees, and other friends to American liberty in the said colonies, to treat all such persons with kindness and attention, to consider them as the inhabitants of a country determined to be free, and to view their errors as proceeding rather from want of information, than want of virtue or public spirit...."

Congress recommended that friends to liberty "explain...the orgin, nature and extent of the present controversy" and the fate of numerous humble petitions, from state assemblies as well as from the Continental Congress, to his majesty for a redress of grievances.

Since opposition Members of Parliament in Britain opposed the military efforts against American colonists, Congress recommended, "to all Conventions and Assemblies in these colonies, liberally to distribute among the people, the proceedings of this [the Second] and the former [the First Continental] Congress. the late speeches of the great patriots in both houses of parliament relative to American grievances, and such other pamphlets and papers as tend to elucidate the merits of the American cause..." Congress was "fully persuaded that the more out right to the enjoyment of our ancient liberties and privileges is examined, the more just and necessary our present opposition to...tyranny will appear."

Congress did recommend that state conventions and assemblies, and town and county committees or councils of safety to "frustrate the mischievous machinations" and "restrain the wicked practices" of those men who actively misrepresented "the conduct and principles of the friends of American liberty...." Congress also authorized the indivudual colonies to call for the assistance of the Continental Army in these efforts.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January 1, 1776: General Orders

The General Orders of His Excellency, General George Washington, were written in the third person: "His Excellency hopes that the Importance of the great Cause we are engaged in, will be deeply impressed upon every Man's mind, and wishes it to be considered, that an Army without Order, Regularity & Discipline, is no better than a Commission'd Mob...."

John H. Rhodehamel, ed., George Washington: Writings (New York: Library of America, 1997), 196.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

19 January 1776

On Jan. 19, 1776, Samuel Tucker, the President of the New Jersey Committee of Safety, wrote to John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, to acknowledge receipt of Hancock's Jan. 12 letter detailing Congressional resolutions "relating to the officers and soldiers, prisoners in this town...."

The Committee of Safety wrote of the prisoners, "The officers have made choice of Bordentown, for the place of their residence, and request that the band of musick, and their servants, may go with them, which was agreeeble to our Committee, and hope it will meet the approbation of Congress. They requested some short time to consider the matter respecting their drawing of bills, for the payment of the expense already incurred."

On Jan. 12, 1776, Congress resolved that the conduct of the British officers detained in Trenton, "though in other respects unexceptionable," was, "as to their manner of living, exceedingly extravagant, they being boarded at Taverns, and the Innkeepers supplying them in a luxurious manner, on the credit of the Continent." Congress expected officers, gentlemen of honor according to the eighteenth century laws of war, to write bills of credit for both necessities and luxuries. Congress resolved to pay the tavern keeper's expenses, "which are, also, to be repaid by the said Officers before their discharge." See also Charles Henry Metzger, S.J., The Prisoners in the American Revolution (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1971), page 156.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

January 12: a "bad and shameful" cause

In 1773, several newspapers in the thirteen North American colonies printed a passage from a letter dated January 12, from the British colony of Barbados in the Caribbean Sea. At the time, the British fought the Black Caribs of St. Vincent, a people comprised of Africans who escaped slavery and Carib Indians, for whom the Caribbean Sea is named.

Extract of a Letter from Barbados, dated Jan. 12.
"We have bad news from St. Vincent; our troops make but little way into the Indian quarter, and that with great bloodshed; in a word, we are worsted, and many more of the Christians than the Savages lost; indeed the cause we are fighting for is a bad and shameful one."

Papers reprinting the item included The Boston News-Letter (11 March 1773) and The New-Hampshire Gazette (19 March 1773).

Friday, January 7, 2011

11,644 Prisoners Dead

In his journal for May 8, 1783, American General William Heath wrote, "It was said that 11,644 American prisoners had died during the war, in the prisons and on board the prison ships at New York...." Heath thought it requisite for commander to ensure that provost personnel (those in charge of prisoners) are "considerate and humane" and that the commanders themselves "take care to know, and, if necessary, correct any abuses which may exist."

The source for Heath's figure was a newspapers article published in the April 17, 1783 issue of the Continental Journal (Boston, Massachusetts) and republished by several newspapers throughout the United States. Unlike Heath, however, the author of the article attributed these deaths exclusively to the most notorious British prison ship off occupied New York City, the Jersey:

To all Printers of Public News-Papers.
TELL it to the whole WORLD, and let it be published in every News-Paper throughout AMERICA, EUROPE, ASIA and AFRICA, to the everlasting disgrace and infamy of the British King's Commanders at New-York.
That during the late War, it is said ELEVEN THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED AND FORTY-FOUR American Prisoners, have suffered death by...inhuman, cruel, savage and barbarous usage on board the filthy and malignant British Prison Ship called the Jersey, lying at New-York. Britons tremble lest the vengance of Heaven fall on your Isle, for the blood of these unfortunate victims!

Historian Philip Ranlet observed that Heath was probably correct to assume that 11,644 represented all prisoner deaths in New York City during the British occupation (1776-1783). Ranlet offers corroborating evidence in support of the figure. (See Philip Ranlet, "Tory David Sproat of Pennsylvania and the Death of American Prisoners of War, Pennsylvania History, Volume 61, Number 2 (April 1994): 185-205, especially 198 to 200.

Ranlet is mistaken (page 197) in treating Heath's journal as the first source for the figure of 11,644 prisoner deaths. (See Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Prisoners: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War [New York: Basic Books, 2008], page 315, note 5, who observes Heath probably read the account as reprinted in the May 8 New York Packet.)