Monday, December 31, 2012

A Lover of Humanity

In January 1777, a writer identifying himself only as "a Lover of Humanity" sent to Benjamin Towne, printer of Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Evening Post, a copy of George Washington's orders dated January 1, 1777.  As in most of his General Orders, Washington wrote in the third person.  On January 14, 1777, Towne published the sender's introductory letter as a preface to the General Orders:

Mr. Towne,
   The following advertisement was put up in the most public parts of the Jerseys, and by giving it a place in your paper, you will oblige a      LOVER OF HUMANITY

   His Excellency General WASHINGTON strictly forbids...plundering any person whatsoever, whether Tories or others.  The effects of such persons will be applied to public uses in a regular manner, and it is expected that humanity and tenderness to women and children will distinguish brave Americans, contending for liberty, from infamous mercenary ravagers, whether British or Hessians.

Trenton, January 1, 1777

For the context of these General Orders in the New Jersey campaign of 1776-1777, please consult Brandies Historian David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).  The "Jerseys" meant East New Jersey and West New Jersey, two colonies combined as New Jersey during the reign of Queen Anne.  For mention of the ravages committed by British and Hessians during their occupation of New Jersey, also consult the posts here and here.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Most Respectable Meeting

In the London ward of Cornhill On December 24, 1777,  a number of Londoners gathered in the King's Arms Tavern.  American newspapers reprinted the report from London news sources:

In consequence of the advertisement for the relief of the American prisoners, a most respectable meeting was yesterday held at the King's-Arms tavern, Cornhill.  The sense of the meeting was then taken, and it was resolved to open an immediate subscription for their relief.  The subscription amounted in a very short time to more than eight hundred pounds.  A committee was nominated, of which four City Representatives are members.

Historian Sheldon S. Cohen wrote that two American expatriates were the primary organizers of the meeting at the King's Arms, Marylanders Thomas Digges and Matthew Ridley.  Cohen explained the Cornhill meeting appointed a committee of twenty members.  The most prominent London merchant in attendance was William Hodgson, a pro-American British merchant to whom Cohen dedicated an entire chapter in the book, British Supporters of the American Revolution, 1775-1783: The Role of the 'Middling-Level' Activists (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2004).

Boston newspaper The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser carried the London story in the 26 March 1778 issue.  For Cohen's description of the Cornhill meeting, check Cohen, British Supporters of the American Revolution, page 31.  For Cohen's identification of Digges and Ridley as Marylanders, see Sheldon S. Cohen, Yankee Sailors in British Gaols: Prisoners of War at Forton and Mill, 1777-1783 (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1995), page 84.  For "gaol" as a British term for "prison," see the post "Distress and Misfortune."  For the importance of British sympathy in saving the lives of Americans detained in the Britain, please visit the brief entries, "Britain as a Nation," "English Reverend Helps American Prisoners," and "November 11."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Relieving the Distressed

On December 30, 1776, Captain Andrew Snape Hammond, of the British frigate Roebuck, wrote to Robert Morris.

Hammond acknowledged information from Morris that anyone on a captured British merchant ship and brought to Philadelphia would not be detained as a prisoner of war but released on the first opportunity.  Hammond wrote that this information, with a statement by the Pennsylvania Council of Safety on an intended prisoner exchange, "has induced me to give immediate orders that every prisoner now on board the ship under my command here, shall be set at liberty without delay, being of nothing more ambitious than to prove myself on all occasions desirous of relieving the distressed."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

December 26, 1776: Retaliation?

By December 1776, the British had over 4,000 American enlisted men as prisoners in occupied New York City.  In December and in January 1777, newspapers around America published an "Extract of a Letter from a Prisoner in New-York to a Gentleman in New-London, Connecticut, dated 26th December, 1776"

The distress of the prisoners cannot be communicated by words.  Twenty or thirty die every day.  They lie in heaps unburied.  What numbers of my countrymen have died by cold and hunger, perished for want of the common necessaries of life!  I have seen it.  This, sir, is the boasted British clemency!  I myself had well-nigh perished under it.  The New-England people can have no idea of such barbarous policy.  Nothing can stop such treatment but retaliation.  I ever despise private revenge, but that of the publick must be in this case just and necessary.  

The writer's faith in retaliation was ill-founded, especially in the case of Americans held by British Army and Navy personnel in occupied cities like New York.  Jesuit historian Charles H. Metzger wrote of the suffering on prison ships, "Protests and appeals, even reprisal, proved ineffectual.  Correspondence was of no avail.  And meanwhile, defenseless men, even the sick, the dying, and the dead, bore the full brunt of outrageous treatment."  Metzger, The Prisoner in the American Revolution (Chicago: Loyola University  Press, 1971), page 288.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cruelty = Disgrace

In their December 19, 2012 remarks on the movie Zero Dark Thirty, United States Senators Dianne Feinstein (Democrat-California), Carl Levin (Democrat-Michigan) and John McCain (Republican-Arizona) characterized torture not only as a violation of the Geneva Conventions but "an affront to America's national honor."

In his September 14, 1775 instructions to Colonel Benedict Arnold, George Washington instructed the colonel to discourage Continental soldiers and their Native American allies "from all Acts of Cruelty and Insult, which will disgrace the American Arms, and irritate our Fellow Subjects against us."

In his April 28, 1779 instructions to Commodore John Paul Jones, Benjamin Franklin urged Jones to be "particularly attentive" to how his men treated British prisoners.  Many Jones's crew members were former prisoners who escaped British prisons in England and America.  Franklin wanted Jones to prevent act of retaliation and an imitation of inhumanity that "ought rather to be detested and avoided for the sake of humanity and for the honor of our country."  

Friday, December 21, 2012

Feinstein, Levin & McCain Denounce Torture

On December 19, 2012, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) sent a letter to Sony Pictures Entertainment, distributors of the forthcoming movie Zero Dark Thirty.

The Senators noted that "the filmmakers and your production studio are perpetuating the myth that torture is effective.  You have a social and moral obligation to get the facts right."

The Senators wrote, "We understand that the film is fiction, but it opens with the words 'based on first-hand accounts of actual events'....  Regardless of what message the filmmakers intended to convey, the movie clearly implies that the CIA's coercive interrogation techniques were effective in eliciting important information related to a courier for Usama Bin Laden.  We had reviewed CIA records and know that this is incorrect."

Among important facts the Senators raised in the letter, available here, "The CIA did not first learn about the existence of the Usama Bin Laden courier from CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques."

In 2004, the Pew Research Center found that Sen. McCain's age group had higher opposition to torture than any other age group, or any group based on income, education or religion.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Epidemic in Groton CT

In mid-December 1778, the neighboring Connecticut towns of Groton and New London took in 172 American prisoners returning from captivity in British-occupied New York City.  The prisoners were sick with fever and frostbite.  Several prisoners apparently left the prison ships with an incubating stage of yet another ailment--smallpox.  

Groton residents accommodated 52 of these prisoners.  On 12 January 1779, Groton merchant Ebenezer Ledyard wrote to Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr. , “We got them into different houses…and did everything in our power to make them comfortable, & in the violent cold snowstorm they began to brake out with the smallpox…at the same time every family that had taken any of the prisoners were taken down with the fever, likewise every nurse….”

In a postscript, Ledyard wrote, “We have lost but one of our inhabitants yet with the fever; but many lays very dangerous.  Scarce a house but has more or less down with the fever…& it begins to spread more back in the town.” 

Ebenezer Ledyard to Jonathan Trumbull, 12 January 1779, in The Trumbull Papers: Part 3: Letters and Documents Relating to the Revolution, 1777-1783, Seventh Series, Volume 2 of Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1902) , pages 331, 333.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

December 19, 1777: Provisioning Prisoners

On December 19, 1779, the Continental Congress noted that General Sir William Howe, commander of British military forces operating against the United States, forbade the circulation of Continental currency within cities and territory he controlled.  Since the ban applied even to Americans bringing supplies to American prisoners in Howe's custody.  Since the ban obliged American commissary personnel to transport goods into British-occupied areas or buy them on site with funds other than Continental money, Howe's measure created "great relieving the distresses of the American prisoners...."

Congress also noted that "large sums of continental bills of credit have been counterfeited and issued by the agents, emissaries and abettors of Sir William Howe...."

In response to such actions and policies, the Continental Congress resolved that no British prisoners could be exchanged until the British commissary of prisoners or any of his agents reimbursed the American public for "provisions or other necessaries" provided to British prisoners.

The December 19 resolution required British commissary personnel to reimburse Americans either in goods of equal kind and quality or "in gold and silver, at the rate of four shillings and six pence sterling for every dollar of the currency of these states: and that all these accounts be liquidated and discharged, previous to the release of any prisoners to whom provisions or other necessaries shall have been supplied."

Worthington Chauncey Ford, editor, Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, 34 volumes (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1904-1937), 9:1036-1037.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

New London, Connecticut: December 18, 1778

New-London, December 25 [1778].
   Last friday a cartel arrived here from New-York with 172 American prisoners, and the next day they were landed in this town and Groton; the greater part of them are in a sickly and most deplorable condition, owing chiefly to ill usage in the prison ships, where numbers of them had their feet and legs froze....Three of the number, whose names we could not learn, (one of them an elderly man, the other a tall man who had been a boatswain, & one other) have died since they were landed.
The New-London Gazette, 25 December 1778.

NEW-LONDON January 1, 1779
   Sixteen of the Prisoners which arrived here in the Cartel the 18th Ult. have died since our last; and a great Number of the others still remain sick.  
The Connecticut Gazette and the Universal Intelligencer (New London), 1 January 1779, The New-London Gazette under a new title.  

In the eighteenth century, Americans and Britons referred to a vessel carrying prisoners as a cartel ship or simply a "cartel," a cartel in this case being an agreement on an exchange of prisoners.  Also expect the term "Flag of Truce" or simply "Flag."  In the same era, writers also frequently used the term "ultimo" to refer to the previous month.  For more information on the Early American Newspapers collection, please visit the Newsbank web site.

For more information on why the English public and English civilian authorities treated American prisoners kindly in England, but the British military treated prisoners with disregard operating overseas in occupied cities like New York, please consult the post "Britain as a Nation."  For more details on suffering on prison ships moored off British-occupied New York City, read this 1781 letter from the notorious prison ship Jersey

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Isaac Hart

Mr. ISAAC HART, of this Town, Merchant, was last Wednesday married to Miss HANNAH POLOCK, Daughter of Mr. ISAAC POLOK.--Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury, Monday, 6 June 1763

Historian Cecil Roth explained that Isaac Hart and his family were Loyalists who left Newport with the British evacuation in 1778.  On 7 July 1780, the Assembly of Rhode Island enacted a law confiscated the land of Isaac Hart and other Loyalists or "Tories."

On 2 December 1780, The Royal Gazette of British-occupied New York, New York reported the following.

Mr. Isaac Hart, of Newport in Rhode-Island, formerly an eminent merchant, and ever a loyal subject, was inhumanly fired upon bayoneted, wounded in fifteen different parts of his body, and beat with their muskets in the most shocking manner in the very act of imploring quarter, and died of his wounds in a few hours after, universally regretted by every true lover of his King and country.

Studying the Jewish community of Newport, historian William Pencak found six adult males who were known Tories and seven active Revolutionaries, as well as three neutrals who did not actively support the Revolution.  The three neutral, however, fled Newport to avoid living under the invading British Army.  Aaron Lopez explained he led his family out of Newport before British forces landed to spare his relations "the cruel ravages of an enraged enemy," a sentiment that hardly seems neutral.

Pencak found that Newport merchants in general were more reluctant than merchants in other towns to join non-importation agreements (boycotts) as a protest against English policies.  Apparently, this was the inclination of a local merchant community, not the general inclination of a racial or religious group.

Although the British were notorious for battlefield atrocities against the disarmed and wounded, as reportedly occurred at the Battle of Long Island (27 August 1776).  As the Continental Congress lamented in May 1778, "Their victories have been followed by the...murder of men, no longer able to resist...."  In this case, however, a person or persons associated with raiders traveling by New England whaleboats carried out a massacre against a Tory or American loyal to England during the War of Independence.

Cecil Roth, "Some Jewish Loyalists in the War of American Independence," in American Jewish History: Volume 1: The Colonial and Early National Periods, 1654-1840, ed. Jeffrey S. Gurock (New York: Routledge, 1998), 88; William Pencak, Jews & Gentiles in Early America, 1654-1800 (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2005), 104-105, 107-108.

For the Revolutionary commitment of many Jews, please consult the post "Sheftall's Messmate." 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reverend Moses Allen

     After the fall of Savannah in December 1778, the British confined Mordecai Sheftall to the Nancy, a prison ship Savannah, GA.  Eventually, the British sent Sheftall to the West Indies.
     Conditions on British prison ships off Savannah became lethal just as they were aboard the prison ships of British-occupied New York City.  Pierre Colomb, a Frenchman enlisted in the Continental Army, was a prisoner on one of the British prison ships of Savannah.  Colomb described increasing mortality among the prisoners, sometimes reaching as many as twelve deaths each day.
     Confined to the prison ship Nancy, Rev. Moses Allen of Midway, Georgia tried to escape.  Sadly, Rev. Allen drowned in his attempt to reach shore.  On February 24, 1784, the Georgia House of Assembly resolved to give Rev. Allen's "only surviving Son," also named Moses Allen, five-hundred acres of land "as a compensation for his father[']s service."
     Allan D. Candler, The Revolutionary Records of the State of Georgia, 3 vols. (Atlanta: The Franklin-Turner Company, 1908), 3: 550, 551. For more on Moses Allen and the Revolutionary commitment of the New England settlement at Midway, Georgia, please visit the post "Sheftall's Messmate," especially the last paragraph.  Also visit the Moses Allen entry at Wikipedia.  For the disturbing description of one British prison ship off Savannah, please consult the quote included in the article by Historian Philip Ranlet, "In the Hands of the British: The Treatment of American POWs during the War of Independence," Historian vol. 62 (summer 2000): 731-757. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sheftall's Messmates

British sea captain John Stanhope ordered American Revolutionary Mordecai Sheftall to a prison ship off Savannah, Georgia.  The captain showered the Revolutionary with "illiberal" accusations but, Sheftall recalled, "I made a point of giving  Mr. Stanhope suitable answers to his impertinent treatment...."

In his diary, Sheftall wrote, "We were permitted to choose our messmates, and I accordingly made choice of Captain Thomas Fineley, Rev. Mr. Allen, Mr. Moses Valentonge, Mr. Daniel Flaherty, my self and son, [fifteen-year-old] Sheftall Sheftall."

The Sheftall Family were a Jewish-American family deeply committed to American protest and, ultimately, the American Revolution.  Congregationalists from New England settled in Midway, Georgia, making that town an early center of protest in Georgia.  Rev. Moses Allen served the church in Midway and later became a chaplain in the Continental Army.

Please consult William Pencak, Jews & Gentiles in Early America, 1654-1800 (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2005), pages 163, 167-169, and Burnette Vanstory Georgia's Land of the Golden Isles (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1981 [1956]), 36, 41-42.  For the Revolutionary inclinations of "English-speaking Calvinists" like New England Congregationalists, consult David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), page 162; for the Revolutionary commitment of many Jewish-Americans, please check Pencak, Jews & Gentiles, 65, 125, 202-212;  and Eli Faber, A Time For Planting: The First Migration, 1654-1820, vol. 1 of The Jewish People in America, series General Editor Henry L. Feingold (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), pages 102-105.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Treated with Humanity

On July 11, 1777, the Marine Committee instructed the Eastern Navy Board, "You are to Instruct the Commanders...that they Support strict discipline on board their Vessels, but treat their People well.  Prisoners are to be treated with humanity...."  This was a familiar theme for the Marine Committee.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Battle of Great Bridge, VA

Newspapers around America published a report with the dateline of December 23 in Williamsburgh, Virginia:  "A correspondent, on whose information we may depend, informs us, that our soldiers shewed the greatest humanity and tenderness to the wounded prisoners at the late engagement at the Great Bridge.  Several of them [that is, several of the American soldiers] ran through a hot fire to lift up and bring in some that were bleeding, and who they feared would die, if not speedily assisted by the surgeon."

The Battle of Great Bridge occurred in Virginia on December 9, 1775.  Newspapers reprinting the December 23 column included the January 17, 1776 issue of The Constitutional Gazette of New York City.  The Virginia Convention praised the "humane treatment" of enemy prisoners at the Battle of Great Bridge.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Prison Ship Nancy

American Revolutionary Mordecai Sheftall was serving as the deputy commissary of issues (supplies) for the Southern Department when the British captured Savannah in December 1778. 

In his diary for 28 December 1778, Sheftall recorded that it was Captain John Stanhope, of the sloop of war Raven, who ordered Mordecai and his fifteen-year-old son onto the prison ship Nancy, after giving Sheftall a verbal barrage of “the most illiberal abuse….” 

For an excerpt from Sheftall's diary, please consult Jules Chametzky, ed., JewishAmerican Literature: A Norton Anthology (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001), pages 30-31.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Medical Care for Prisoners

On December 12, 1776, the New York Committee of Safety, convening at Fishkill, authorized its secretaries, or any one of its secretaries, to pay the fees of Dr. Benjamin Miller, for medicine and attendance to Prisoners of War Caesar Freeman and Jeremiah Reerdor.  The secretaries were authorized to pay the medical expenses at the same time they paid for rations for POWs.

Sailors Caesar Freeman and Jeremiah Reerdor were one of eleven prisoners confined to jail on April 8, 1776 by General Israel Putnam of the Continental Army.  Jeremiah Reerdor's last name was various spelled Reerdor, Reerdon and Rierdon and was probably the Irish surname Riordan.

In February 1776, Dr. Benjamin Miller was a surgeon with Colonel Samuel Drake's regiment of Minutemen from Westchester County, New York.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Practice of Humanity

On December 10, 1776, the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress commissioned Elisha Hinman to conduct a cruise of two weeks to six months, targeting supply ships bound for British-occupied New York City.

The Marine Committee added, "We are persuaded it is not necessary to recommend to you the practice of humanity to those whom the fortune of war may make your prisoners."  The Marine Committee often recommended kindness toward prisoners.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gentleness, and Humanity

In December 1776, Congressman George Walton of Georgia wrote to Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, "Our soldiers...taken prisoners by the enemy, are closely imprisoned in New-York...plundered of the better part of a most scanty apparel; and suffered to remain in that condition at this most inclement season."

Walton added, "If we turn our eyes to those who have fallen into our hands, we shall find them free from almost the forms of restraint; fed on the fat of the land, in full possession of their all and quartered in our best barracks.  This is lenity, gentleness, and humanity: but our enemies call it timidity."

For frustration on perceived ingratitude, and how not every enemy prisoners was ungrateful, please read this post about 1779.  George Walton to Richard Henry Lee, Philadelphia, 30 December 1776, in Paul H. Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Volume 5: August 16-December 31, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1979), page 707.  For more on the British military occupation of New York, please visit the entry "2000 Corpses."  

Monday, November 26, 2012

December 1: Mordecai Sheftall

On December 1, 1780, on a motion from the Delegates from the State of Georgia, the Continental Congress resolved on to pay $20,000 to Mordecai Sheftall.  The Congressional committee that investigated Sheftall's claims determined "there is a considerable sum due him," but because he had "long been a prisoner," Sheftall "cannot...produce the necessary vouchers" to establish his claims.

Historian Michael Feldberg wrote that the British captured Mordecai Sheftall and his fifteen-year-old son Sheftall Sheftall in December 1778, as the father and son fought to defend Savannah from invading British forces.

Feldberg wrote, "The British interrogated the Sheftalls under great duress, depriving them of food for two days....  Refusing to provide information...father and son were transferred to a dank prison ship, the Nancy, where the British deliberately offered Mordecai no meat other than pork, which he rejected."  As an observant Jew, Mordecai abstained from eating pork.  

Gaillard Hunt, editor, Journals of the Continental Congress 1774-1789: Volume 18: September 7-December 29, 1780 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1910), pages 1112-1113; Michael Feldberg, Blessings of Freedom: Chapters in American Jewish History (Hoboken, New Jersey: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., for The American Jewish Historical Society, 2002), page 37.  For the Patriotic activism of many Jewish-Americans in Savannah, Georgia, please consult Eli Faber, A Time for Planting: The First Migration, 1654-1820, vol. 1 of The Jewish People in America, Henry L. Feingold, general editor (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), pages 102-103; and William Pencak, Jews & Gentile in Early America, 1654-1800 (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2008 [2005]), pages 162-169.

For the dangers of raw pork and an account of British captors giving raw pork to American military prisoners, causing the death of one prisoner, please check the post here.   For prison ships in Savannah as well as occupied New York City, please consult Philip Ranlet, "In the Hands of the British: The Treatment of American POWs during the War of Independence," Historian vol. 62 (Summer 2000): 731-757.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Britain as a Nation

On October 21, 1779, Boston newspaper The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser reported that a committee in London was continuing its work to collect donations for the relief of American prisoners in England.  The Independent Chronicle editorialized, "While Britain as a nation, has carried on the war in America with the greatest inhumanity, it ought to be acknowledged that many individuals have exhibited a compassion and liberality to our countrymen that does honour to human nature."

On November 2, 1778, The Independent Ledger, and the American Advertiser, also a Boston newspaper, opined, "There are, no doubt, many instances of humanity and generosity in those who belong to that country, and many Americans have been ready to acknowledge it with gratitude.  At the same time truth obliges us to declare, that we have found haughtiness and cruelty the general characteristics of our enemies."

Historian Francis D. Cogliano, of the University of Edinburgh, explained that the English public and English civilian authorities established humane and relatively safe conditions for prisoners in England.  The sentiments of the English public and the niceties of English law carried little weight with British military commanders and Tory personnel in occupied North America.  Please consult Francis D. Cogliano, American Maritime Prisoners in the Revolutionary War: The Captivity of William Russell (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2001), pages 153-161.  For more on the Committee for the Relief of American Prisoners, please visit the post here

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Number of American Prisoners, 1776

In his "Return of prisoners taken during the campaign, 1776," Tory Joshua Loring, serving the British as commissary general of prisoners, reported the British captured 304 American officers, 25 staff, and 4,101 privates.  British commander General Sir William Howe enclosed the return in a 3 December 1776 letter to Lord George Germain.

This return included men and officers captured in engagements like the Battle of Fort Washington (16 November 1776) on Staten Island and the Battle of Long Island (27 August 1776), which the British  called the Battle of Brooklyn.  This return did not include the officers, men and lads captured on privateers commissioned by the states or ships belonging to the Continental Navy.

The New-York Gazette; and the Weekly Mercury, a newspaper in British-occupied New York City, published Loring's return with an extract of Howe's letter to Germain on 17 March 1777.  Check the Early American Newspaper database at the Philadelphia Free Library web site.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

To Harass The Prisoners

The Boston-Gazette, and The Country Journal, 1 November 1779
“On Thursday [October 28, 1779] arrived here a cartel ship of the enemy’s from New-York, in seven days with 238 Americans, who have been in captivity several months, and have been used very inhumanly; though much better treatment have they experienced since our ally’s fleet arrived in these seas….”

Americans learned of temporary improvements in the treatment of prisoners after American victories, like the Battle of Princeton (3 January 1777).  In this report from Boston, the writer suggests that the French entry into the war in support of American independence improved conditions for American prisoners in British custody.  In theory, the prospect of more Britons becoming prisoners prompted the British to show more concern for Americans, at least temporarily.

According to the Boston-Gazette report, most of the 238 prisoners were not New Englanders.  Even though about two cartels of British prisoners awaiting exchange for New Englanders, the British in New York chose Americans from more distant regions to release in the New England port, "
in order the more effectually to harass them."  Most of the prisoners would have been closer to home if the British released them in New Jersey, instead of Massachusetts.

For reports that prisoner treatment apparently improved after the capitulation of the British Army under General John Burgoyne at Saratoga, New York, please consult Jesuit Historian Charles H. Metzger, The Prisoner in the American Revolution (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1971), page 152.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

November 3, 1777

Norwich, Connecticut, November 3, 1777
  Mr. Harry Clinton, chief Commander in the late Excursion up the North River, wantonly committed Depredations all along upon the Confines of the River as he went...
The Boston-Gazette, and The Country Journal, 17 November 1777

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

November 2: Rigor and Inhumanity

Boston, November 2
By some prisoners lately returned from New-York, we learn, that the American as well as French prisoners there have in general been treated...with great rigor and inhumanity.

The Independent Ledger, and the American Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), 2 November 1778

Friday, October 12, 2012

Dear Syrian Rebels Part 4

In 1937, as China faced an invasion by the Empire of Japan, Chinese Communist Mao Zedong wrote his essay On Guerrilla Warfare.  

We further our mission of destroying the enemy by propagandizing his troops, by treating his captured soldiers with consideration, and by caring for those of his wounded who fall into our hands.  If we fail in these respects, we strengthen the solidarity of our enemy.  

Mao Tse-Tung [Zedong], On Guerrilla Warfare, trans. Samuel B. Griffith (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2000 [1961]), page 93.  Mao ruled China from 1949 to his death in 1976.  Although his policies as a ruler destroyed millions of lives, Mao's doctrine of guerrilla warfare influenced modern counterinsurgency doctrine.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

October 14: Prisoners in Halifax

On October 15, 1778, a writer in Boston, Massachusetts reported a cartel or exchange vessel that carried prisoners returning from British custody in Canada: "Yesterday afternoon arrived here, a cartel from Halifax, with 400 unfortunate American prisoners, who have long been starving in their gaols, and on board guard ships."  

The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia), 27 October 1778.  Any suffering of American prisoners in Canada was not the fault of the Canadian people.  Canadians were generous to American soldiers who arrived in the country early in the war, as Thomas A. Desjardin wrote in Through a Howling Wilderness: Benedict Arnold's March to Quebec, 1775.  When Americans suffered in jails and prison ships in Canada, it was the fault of British military officers.  For the 1778 report from Boston, please visit the database 
Early American Newspapers.  

October 23: French Prisoners

New London, Connecticut, Friday, October 23, 1778
Wednesday two Ships with Flags arrived here from New-York; they...brought between 4 and 500 French Prisoners, to be exchanged for British Prisoners taken by Count d’Estaing’s Squadron.  They are in a very emaciated and sickly Condition.
The New-London Gazette, 23 October 1778

The British military occupied New York City from 1776 to the end of the war in 1783.  Conditions for prisoners detained by the British in the occupied city were notorious for most of the war.  Consider, for instance, this letter reportedly from a captive on the prison ship Jersey. 

From 1778 to 1780, French Admiral Jean Baptiste Charles Henri Hector, Comte d'Estaing led a French fleet in support of the American struggle for independence from Great Britain.

Newspapers around the country reprinted the October 23 account of the sick and hungry French prisoners released by the British.  For instance,
Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Packet published the story on 10 November 1778.  Please consult the database Early American Newspapers, Series I for a reasonable yearly fee from the Philadelphia Free Library.   

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Privateer Rattlesnake

The December 12, 1778 issue of Philadelphia newspaper The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser carried news with the dateline Williamsburg, Virginia, October 9.  The news from Williamsburg closed with a story about Pennsylvania Privateer the Rattlesnake, dated November:

Nov. 27.  Advice is just come to town of a British armed vessel called the Swift, Captain Tathwell, having run ashore at the Capes, when in pursuit of the schooner Rattlesnake.  The Swift's people set their vessel on fire, and they, ninety-two in number, are carried prisoners to Portsmouth.  The Rattlesnake is entirely lost.

The web site American War of Independence--at Sea (awiatsea): The American Privateers reports that the Rattlesnake was "driven ashore and destroyed by HM Sloop Swift" on 22 November 1778, at the Virginia Capes near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.  Joseph Tathwell commanded the Swift.  David McCullough, an ancestor of Jazz musician Harry Connick, Jr., commanded the Rattlesnake from December 1776 to 22 November 1778.  Awiatsea reports, "This was not the end of the Rattlesnake, however.  She was inspected, righted, salvaged, and put into service in Virginia."
Watch The Rattlesnake on PBS. See more from Finding Your Roots.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Dear Syrian Rebels Part 3

Tench Tilghman, an aide de camp of George Washington, described how Washington treated Tories, Americans Loyal to the British: “He is blessed wherever he goes for the Tory is protected in person and property equally with the Whig.  And indeed I often think more, for it is his Maxim to convert by good Usage and not by Severity.” Tench Tilghman to his Loyalist father, James Tilghman, 22 February 1777, in Samuel Alexander Harrison, editor, Memoir of Lieut. Col. Tench Tilghman: Secretary and aid to Washington… (Albany, NY: J. Munsell, 1876), page 153   

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

September 25, 1776

     On September 25, 1776, the Pennsylvania Council of Safety resolved, "Mr. Nesbitt to pay Elijah Etting, for dieting ten Soldiers, prisoners of war, seven days after their arrival at Yorktown, before they were put in quarters, £3 15s.; to be charged to Congress."
     In this document, "Yorktown" means York, Pennsylvania, not Yorktown, Virginia, where a British Army under General Charles Lord Cornwallis surrendered 
October 19, 1781 to George Washington and a combined force of Americans and their French allies.  In a November 28, 1782 sermon of thanksgiving, Rev. John Witherspoon thanked God for the help of France.  
     In 1775, the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety appointed John Maxwell Nesbitt Paymaster to the Pennsylvania Fleet.  On July 27, 1776, the Council of Safety appointed Nesbitt Treasurer.  
     Elijah Etting (1724-1778) was a German-born merchant in York, Pennsylvania and an adherent of the Jewish faith
     David A. Brener, The Jews of Lancaster, Pennsylvania: A Story with Two Beginnings (Lancaster: Congregation Shaarai Shomayim, 1979), page 18; John W. Jordan, editor, Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania: Genealogical and Personal Memoirs (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1978 [1911]), volume 1: page 1243.

Prisoner "Died on the Passage"

The September 30, 1778 issue of the Connecticut Journal (New Haven) carried news from the Connecticut port of New London dated September 25:
     "Yesterday se'nnight a Flag from New-York, bound to this Port with 45 American Prisoners, drove on shore at Say-Brook, where they were all landed but one who died on the Passage."
     The term sennight indicates seven days and seven nights.  September 25, 1778 was a Friday.  "Yesterday se'nnight," therefore, indicates seven days and seven nights previous to Thursday, September 24, 1778.  The ship probably ran aground at Saybrook on Thursday, September 17.
     Vessels conveying prisoners for exchange bore a flag of truce.  Contemporaries often referred to such a vessel as a "Flag of Truce" or more simple "a Flag."  
     For more information on Saybrook, Connecticut, please visit
     Connecticut ports are a short distance from New York City.  Nevertheless, it was not uncommon for American prisoners returning from captivity in the British-occupied metropolis to die in the short journey to a free American port, from the disease and starvation suffered in British detention centers in New York.
     In 1777, George Washington  complained to British commander Sir William Howe that many American prisoners returning from New York died "while they were returning to their homes...."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dear Syrian Rebels Part 2

     On the night of September 20, 1777, British forces launched a sneak attack with bayonets on American soldiers encamped near Paoli, Pennsylvania.  Americans called the Battle of Paoli a "massacre."
     At the Battle of Germantown (October 4, 1777), soldiers from Pennsylvania took their revenge.  Their officers ordered the men to stop, but the Pennsylvanians bayoneted British soldiers as they begged for mercy.
     Cornered in a country house, the British under Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Musgrave fought for their lives.  What could have been an American victory became an American defeat.  In his book, Battle of Paoli, Thomas J. McGuire wrote of Germantown, "The 'no quarter' behavior of the Pennsylvanians in the opening attack gave Musgrave's troops the resolve to stand firm against overwhelming odds."
     Human Rights Watch accuses Syrian rebels of summarily executing prisoners.  Rebels who commit atrocities make the revolution difficult, as well as insult the revolution's honor.
Keywords: kindness, prisoners, Syria, Revolution 
 لطف  السجناء  سوريا   ثورة

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dear Syrian Rebels Part 1

A British ship captain reportedly dumped papers overboard after surrendering his vessel to Captain John Manley of the Continental Navy.  On December 10, 1775, George Washington's Ireland-born secretary Stephen Moylan wrote to William Bartlett, the Continental Agent of captured prizes at Beverly, Massachusetts, about the British captain: "He deserved to be severely punished, if it is true that this was done after he was made a prize of."

Stephen Moylan wrote, "In any other war...he would suffer death for such an action; but we must show him and such as fall into our hands, that Americans are humane as well as brave.  You will therefore, sir, treat the prisoners with all possible tenderness."  

According to The Toronto Star, Human Rights Watch found that Syrian rebels execute prisoners, sometimes with a pretense of trial and sometimes not.

Dear Syrian Rebels: Even if you believe a prisoner deserves death, it is critical to the Revolution that you prove that you are humane as well as brave.  You should therefore treat prisoners with all possible tenderness.  

Keywords: kindness, prisoners, Syria, Revolution
Keywords in Arabic (right to left): لطف  السجناء  سوريا   ثورة

Friday, September 7, 2012

Not Dressed Like Soldiers

After the defeat and capture of Hessians at Trenton (25 December 1776) and British soldiers at Princeton (3 January 1777), American forces found general orders issued by British commander General Sir William Howe during the British occupation of New Jersey:

Head-Quarters, Trenton, Dec. 12, 1776
Small straggling parties, not dressed like soldiers and without officers, not being admissible in war, who presume to…fire upon soldiers or peaceable inhabitants of the country, will be immediately hanged without trial, as assassins.

Americans were outraged.  One Princeton resident wrote, “Genl. How Knows very well by the Numbers of Prisoners that he has taken that but few (if any) of the Millitia are cloathed like soldiers.” 

For Ann Coulter’s mention of “non-uniformed enemy combatants…who could have been shot on sight under the laws of war,” please consult her column dated May 6, 2009. 

William S. Stryker, Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey: Volume 1: Extracts from American Newspapers: Vol. 1: 1776-1777 (Trenton: The John L. Murphy Publishing Co., Printers, 1901), page 362; [Robert Lawrence] A Brief Narrative of the Ravages of theBritish and Hessians at Princeton in 1776-77, edited by Varnum Lansing Collins (Princeton: Princeton University Library, 1906), page 23; for Historian Samuel Smith's identification of Princeton lawyer Robert Lawrence as the author of the anonymous Brief Narrative, please read David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), page 531note53. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

When Terrorists Become Prisoners

In May 1945, The New York Times reported of the island of Okinawa, “Japanese terrorists operating behind American lines have beheaded thirty-eight Okinawan civilians….”

Despite atrocities reportedly committed by forces of the Empire of Japan, American interrogators like Frank Gibney treated Japanese prisoners with respect.  

Please consult the Harper's Magazine interview with Frank Gibney's filmmaker son, Alex Gibney.  Hear and read World War II veteran Frank Gibney's own words as the credits roll in the compelling documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, and the New York Times article by Adam Liptak.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Greatest Severity

On September 12, 1776, The New England Chronicle (Boston) reported details on the capture of General Nathaniel Woodhull by British Soldiers or “Regulars:”   

Since our Troops have evacuated Long-Island, the Tories and Regulars treat the Friends of their Country with the greatest severity.—Colonel Woodhull, late President of New-York Congress, for refusing to give up his side Arms, was wounded on the Head with a cutlass, and had a Bayonet thrust through his Arm.

The report was dated September 4, 1776 from New Haven, Connecticut. 
     Customarily, captured officers might retain some regalia of their office and mark of their rank, like the display of side arms.  In 1775, for instance, captured British officer Major Christopher French had freedom of movement on parole in
Hartford, Connecticut.  The major took umbrage when Hartford residents objected to him wearing his sword in public.     
     We learn from another account that Woodhull surrendered on condition of being treated as a gentleman.  Woodhull may have assumed that this condition allowed him to retain his side arms. 

Capture of General Woodhull

In an affidavit sworn before Gouverneur Morris, Lieutenant Robert Troup described his sufferings as a prisoner after the British victory at the Battle of Long Island (27 August 1776). 
     Troup testified that the British confined him, “with between seventy and eighty” other captured American officers, on a transport vessel that brought cattle from England.  Troup and his comrades were “obliged to lay upon the dung and filth of the cattle without any bedding or blankets….” 
     Troup recalled that while on the transport, Brigadier-General Nathaniel Woodhull “was also brought on board in a shocking mangled condition….”  Troup asked Woodhull “the particulars of his capture, and was told by the said General that he had been taken by a party of light horse under the command of Capt. Oliver Delancey; that he was asked by the said captain if he would surrender; that he answered in the affirmative, provided he would treat him like a gentleman, which Capt. Delancey assured him he would, whereupon the General Delivered his sword, and that immediately after, the said Oliver Declancey, junr., struck him, and others of the said party imitating his example, did cruelly hack and cut him in the manner he then was….”
     Troup recalled that, despite his gravely wounded condition, Woodhull would have “nevertheless been obliged to sleep on the bare floor of the transport, if a lieutenant of the man-of-war who guarded the transport, had not lent him a matrass; that Gen. Woodhull was afterwards carried to the hospital in the church of New Utrecht where he perished, as deponent was on good authority informed, through want of care and necessaries….”

     Robert Troup’s affidavit was sworn before Gouverneur Morris, a member of the Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York, on January 17, 1777, recorded in volume 2 of Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety and Council of Safety of the State of New-York.1775-1775-1777, 2 vols. (Albany: Thurlow Weed, 1842), and reprinted in Thomas W. Field, The Battle of Lond Island, with Connected Preceding Events, and the Subsequent American Retreat… (Brooklyn: Long Island Historical Society, 1869), quotes on pages 420, 422-423.  For conflicting opinions of historians on the life and death of Nathaniel Woodhull, please consult Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), page 14 and note 26 on page 269.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rebel, Illegal Combatant

     In American Archives, editor Peter Force included a September 27, 1775 petition from a company of the Continental Army recruited from the town of Worcester, to the Massachusetts Assembly.  The petitioners asked the Assembly to prevent even supposedly penitent Tories from returning to Worcester.  
     The petitioners complained that Worcester had been “infested” with “a cruel and merciless set of Tories” who showed “a most merciless, inimical tempter…styling the sons of freedom…rebels and traitors, and menacing death and cruel tortures as their just and remediless portion.”     
     The term rebel implied a death threat.  It designated someone an illegal combatant
     For more on the toxicity of the word rebel, please consult Jesuit historian Charles H. Metzger, The Prisoner in the American Revolution (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1971), page x and xnote2, and pages 293-294; Edwin G. Burrows, ForgottenPatriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), page 36.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

What Franklin Did Not Say

Benjamin Franklin thought belief in a Deity, and belief that service to others was the best way to honor the Deity, were among "the essentials of every religion...."  There is no evidence Franklin ever said anything against the Jews or Judaism.  The allegation that Franklin criticized Jews was first raised in February 1934 by William Dudley Pelley's pro-Nazi publication Liberation (Asheville, North Carolina).  Nazi Germany republished this dubious claim in a 1935 edition of Theordor Fritsch's Handbuch der Judenfrage (Handbook on the Jewish Question). For more on the so-called "Franklin Prophecy," consult the ADL or the book by Paul F. Boller, Jr. and John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions.

MEMRI: Egyptian Clerics Repeat Franklin Prophecy Myth, Call the Jews "Donkeys" and "Apes and Pigs," and Say: Making Our Children Loathe the Jews Is a Form of Worship of Allah

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Generation Gap: Torture

     After leaving office, former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney continued to defend waterboarding.  Bush (born 1946) and Cheney ( born in 1941) call attention to a generation gap.  Republicans opposed to torture include Colin L. Powell (born 1937), John McCain (born 1936) and Ron Paul (born 1935).
     In a 2004 survey, the Pew Research Center documented the same generation gap in the American population in general.  Pew asked respondents to choose whether torture is “often,” “sometimes,” “rarely” or “never” justified.  Pew considered several demographic groups (racial, religious and political).  Pew found the greatest refusal to torture by considering age.  Of those 65 and over in 2004, 44% said torture of a terrorism suspect is “never justified.”  
     For several years, Pew asked the same question on an annual basis.  By 2009, the percentage of those 65 and older who chose “never” dropped eleven percentage points, from 44% in 2004 to 33% in 2009.  
     In the intervening years, America lost many members of the World War II generation.  In the same period, a new vintage of Americans entered the “65 and older” demographic.  In 2004, those 65 and older meant Americans born in or before 1939.  In 2009, that age group included people born from 1940 through part of 1944.  
     Simply turning 65 did not increase a respondent’s inclination to say “never” to torture; being born before 1940 did.  
     One of the most common excuses for torture is the claim that al-Qaida is an enemy worse than any previous enemy.  The better you remember World War II (1939-1945), the less likely you are to believe that excuse.
     In 2006, McCain opposed Bush's efforts to redefine American commitment to the Geneva Conventions.  On Sept. 12, 2006, Gen. John W. Vessey wrote McCain a letter of support. Vessey was not impressed by claims that al-Qaida is a "different enemy." 
     Vessey appealed to his memory of World War II:  “In my short 46 years in the Armed Forces, Americans confronted the horrors of the prison camps of the Japanese in World War II, the North Koreans in 1950-53 and the North Vietnamese in the long years of the Vietnam War, as well as knowledge of the Nazi's Holocaust depredations in World War II.”
     Vessey wrote, “Through those years, we held to our own values. We should continue to do so.”
     Lt. Col. Chase J. Nielsen (United States Air Force, retired) was on board one of Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle's bombers that attacked Tokyo in 1942.  The Air Force Print News  quoted Nielsen's remarks at an April 18, 2006 reunion of the Doolittle Raiders:  “I hope and pray that our young men and young women who are serving ... will live their lives in accordance with the military rules and laws of war.”  
     The sanctity of the laws of war must have had a special meaning to Nielsen.  In 1942, Nielsen and nine other Americans became prisoners of the Empire of Japan after the crash of their bomber.  To force Americans to confess they intentionally targeted civilians, the Japanese tortured the prisoners.  After the war,  Nielsen testified at the war crimes trial of his captor.  In the article "Drop by Drop:  Forgetting the History of Water Torture in U. S.  Courts," Columbia Journal of Transnational Law vol. 45 (2007), page 476, Judge and Nevada National Guard Veteran Evan Wallach offered this quote from Nielsen's testimony:

"Well, I was put on my back on the floor with my arms and legs stretched out, one guard holding each limb.  The towel was wrapped around my face...and water poured on.  They poured water on this towel until I was almost unconscious from strangulation, then they would let up until I'd get my breath, then they'd start over again."

Lieutenant General Shigeru Sawada, a wartime commander of Japan's Imperial Expeditionary Army in China, faced war crimes trials with other defendants accused of leveling "fraudulent" charges against prisoners like Nielsen.
     The description of this torture technique supported the prosecution's claim that the charges were false and any confessions obtained under such treatment were also false..  The torture technique Nielsen suffered closely matches descriptions of what, after 2004, was called "waterboarding" (consult Wallach, "Drop by Drop," pages 478-480.)
     Frank Gibney was an expert on Japanese culture. Gibney’s expertise began with his service as a Navy intelligence officer interrogating Japanese prisoners during World War II.  Gibney’s son, filmmaker Alex Gibney, lets his father give a statement on interrogations as the credits roll for the 2007 film Taxito the Dark Side Adam Liptak of The New York Times also quotes Frank Gibney's remarks from the closing credits of Taxi to the Dark Side
We had the sense that we were on the side of the good guys.  People would get decent treatment.  And there was the rule of law.”  
     Frank Gibney was seriously ill, but determined to give his filmmaker-son a statement against the mistreatment of prisoners.  A little more than a month after filming the interview, the elder Gibney passed away.
     The generation gap seemed apparent in 2007 at National Park Service ceremonies honoring World War II interrogators based in Fairfax County, Virginia.  As a Baby Boomer President defended harsh interrogation techniques in the war on terror, professional interrogators in their eighties and nineties condemned anything less than respectful interrogations.  Reporting for The Washington Post, Petula Dvorak quoted ninety-year-old Henry Kolm as saying, “We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture.”
     In the 1960s, hippies rebelled against the morals of their parents’ generation.  In 2007, World War II veterans rebelled against the lower standards of a pro-waterboarding Baby Boomer President and his 1941-born Vice President.    

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gen. Nathaniel Woodhull

     On August 31, 1776, Colonel Henry B. Livingston wrote to General George Washington, "I have...received by express an account, which may be depended upon, that General Woodhull was taken prisoner by our enemies on Wednesday last."
     Nathaniel Woodhull was the President of the New York Provincial Congress and the commander of the Suffolk County, New York militia.  The previous Wednesday was August 28, a day after the Battle of Long Island.
     Livingston wrote, "General Woodhull was taken a prisoner and treated cruelly by them.  After he was taken he received in his head, and much uncivil language, and finally committed close prisoner to Jamaica jail."
     For background on the Jamaica neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens, please consult the Wikipedia entry on Jamaica.  For more on General Nathaniel Woodhull, please consult Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), page 14 and page 269note26.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

Samuel Tallman

   Stories of butchery surrounded the August 27, 1776 British victory at the Battle of Long Island.  More Americans probably died, however, from prolonged neglect as prisoners than from gruesome acts of violence.  Lieutenant Jabez Fitch offered the story of a Native American comrade in his regiment.

One Sam Talman, (an Indian fellow...) after he was taken & strip'd by the Barbarians, was set up at a small Distance as a mark for them to shoot at for Diversion or practice, by which he Recd: two severe wounds, one in the Neck & the other in the Arm, but alth'o it appear'd that their Skill was not sufficient to Despatch him in that way, yet it afterward Appear'd that they were sufficiently Skil'd in the Cruel Art of Starving with hunger Cold &c, to Destroy him with many hundred others who perrish'd in N. York.

   Please consult the except from Jabez Fitch's Diary in John H. Rhodehamel, editor, The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence (New York: Library of America, 2001).
     Samuel Tallman was one of nineteen Privates "Missing" from Captain [Jonathan] Brewster's Company of Col. [Jedidiah] Huntington's Regiment, the Seventeenth Regiment of Continental Infantry, after the Battle of Long Island.  Henry P. Johnston, The Records of Connecticut Men in the I-War of the Revolution, II-War of 1812, III-Mexican War (Hartford: The Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company, Printers, 1889), page 102.

27 August: Battle of Long Island

     The Battle of Long Island (27 August 1776) was the first major confrontation between American and British forces after the 4 July Declaration of Independence.  It was also the first in a string of engagements that left New York City in British hands for the duration of the American War of Independence.
     American newspaper The Massachusetts Spy published an intercepted letter supposedly by a Scottish officer in a British regiment of Scottish Highlanders.  The letter contained allegations of battlefield atrocities by the British.

The Hessians and our brave Highlanders gave no quarters; and it was a fine sight to see with what alacrity they despatched the Rebels with their bayonets after we had surrounded them so they could not resist.

     The officer explained, "We took care to tell the Hessians that Rebels had resolved to give no quarters to them in particular, which made them fight more desperately, and put all to death that fell into their hands."  David McCullough, in his book 1776, expressed doubts about the authenticity of the letter.  Other sources, however, support its details.  Hessian officer Col. Henrich Anton von Heeringen wrote, "The English did not give much quarter, and constantly urged our people to do the like."

Please consult Edward J. Lowell, The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1884), page  68.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

August 11

From his Headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts on August 11, 1775, General George Washington of the Continental Army wrote to British commander General Thomas Gage in Boston.

I understand that the officers engaged in the cause of liberty and their Country, who, by the fortune of war, have fallen into your hands, have been thrown indiscriminately into a common jail appropriate for felons....

According to the Laws of Nations as understood in the eighteenth century, captured officers should have parole.  That is, officers should have freedom of movement and the right to secure private lodgings in a district occupied by the enemy upon their word as gentlemen not to escape.  Officers could even have the option of returning to their homes, if they gave their word not to rejoin the fight until notified of their official exchange for an officer of equal rank.
     Under Gage's successor, William Howe, the British did extend parole to captured American officers.  Gage, however, claimed in his August 13 response that he "lodged" the American prisoners "indiscriminately...for I acknowledge no rank that is not derived from the King."  George Washington, however, learned that American officers suffered even worse in their confinement in Boston Jail: consideration has been had for those of the most respectable rank, when languishing with wounds and sickness; and that some of them have been even amputated in this unworthy condition.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

For Syria Rebels

Throughout the American War of Independence, British forces operating in America made themselves notorious for cruelty to military prisoners and crimes against civilians.  In his 1779 instructions to John Paul Jones, Benjamin Franklin urged Americans to believe their national honor depended upon the decent treatment of prisoners:

“As many of your officers and people have lately escaped from English prisons in Europe or America, you are to be particularly attentive to their conduct towards the prisoners…lest resentment of the more than barbarous usage by the English in many places towards the Americans should occasion a retaliation, and an imitation of what ought rather to be detested and avoided for the sake of humanity and for the honor of our country.”

Unfortunately, many Syrian rebels mistreat captured Syrian soldiers and militia.  Sometimes, rebels even kill their captives, as Ben Hubbard reported for the Associated Press.  Martin Chulov reported for UK paper The Observer on one Syrian leader, Sunni sheikh Omar Othman, who showed consideration captives.  Sadly, not all rebels follow such examples.  The New York Times released this video of Syrian rebels with a cruel plan involving a prisoner:

Benjamin Franklin, Instructions to John Paul Jones, Commander of the American Squadron in the Service of the United States, now in the Port L’Orient (28 April 1779), in Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, 6 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1889), 3:145-46