Sunday, April 22, 2012

Prisoner in Irons

On April 24, 1776, Thomas Walker, a merchant of Montreal, Quebec, gave a sworn statement before Samuel Mifflin in Philadelphia, describing Walker's treatment by British Brigadier General Richard Prescott.

British soldiers attacked Walker's Canadian residence at "about two or three o'clock in the morning," breaking into the house with axes, looting the property and setting the home on fire.  Until obliged to surrender, Walker shot repeatedly into the crowd of attackers.

The soldiers conveyed Thomas Walker to Prescott.  Encounter reconstructed from Walker's deposition, courtesy the American Archives web site of Northern Illinois University Libraries:  

PRESCOTT: "You are a traitor and a betray your country; but the laws of your country have overtaken you at last...."
WALKER: "I perceive that you know very little of my real character; but pray, who are you, sir, that treats me thus unworthily, for I have not the honour to know you?"
PRESCOTT: "What do you think of last nights work, and of that brave man in the boat, which you have so desperately wounded?"
WALKER: "I think, sir, that it was a very poor exploit, to send fifty men on purpose to murder one, and burn his house, whilst he and his family were asleep in their beds."
[Prescott directs Provost Marshal William Jones to put Walker in irons.]
PRESCOTT: "Your crime is high treason and rebellion; and [to Provost Marshal Jones], give that poor unhappy man a stray bed and blanket in Number four, in the barracks, and keep sentries over him, that nobody speaks to him but the Town-Major, (Mr. [JamesHughes,) unless before the Sergeant of the Guard."

Walker testified that he lay in the barracks, "confined and alone, in iron, for thirty-three days and nights, without fire or candle for a long while, or the consolation of a friend, at any time, Mrs. Walker being absolutely forbid to see him, and, for many days, made a prisoners in her own house, with six sentries round about it, and the persons who came and went to and from the barracks, with victuals, where search for letters, &c."

Prescott's treatment of American "rebels" and their supporters expressed the hatred that many Britons felt for the supposed illegal combatant.  For instance, Prescott told Ethan Allen he would grace a hangman's noose "at Tyburn, God damn you."  

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