Wednesday, June 27, 2012

July 5, 1777: Treat Prisoners with Humanity

The Marine Committee of the Continental Congress closed their 5 July 1777 letter to John Young, commander of the Continental sloop Independence, with these admonitions:

You must duely observe the Instructions of the Navy Board, preserve strict discipline but use your Officers & men well that they may be fond of the service--treat Prisoners with humanity and in All things act the part becoming an active good Officer which will recommend you to, Sir, your hble servants

Marine Committee to John Young, 5 July 1777, in Paul H. Smith, editor, Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Volume 7: May 1, 1777-September 18, 1777 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1981), pages 300-301. The Marine Committee and, earlier, the Naval Committee issued officers similar orders in JanuaryNovember and December 1776.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

James Josiah

     On 11 June 1776, the Andrew Doria, captain Nicholas Biddle, separated from captured prizes  Crawford and Oxford, transports carrying Scottish Highlanders the British meant to employ against American Revolutionaries.  The crew and the Highlanders on the Oxford became prisoners in Virginia.  The British man of war Cerberus, Captain John Symonds, captured the Americans in charge of the prize Crawford.  James Josiah, the First Lieutenant of the Andrew Doria assigned by his captain as prize master of the Crawford, was confined for six months on the Cerberus while it finished its cruise.  
     Although the transports Oxford and Crawford were taken at about the same time, the prisoners in American custody received different treatment from the prisoners in British custody.  On 22 June 1776 the Virginia Convention resolved the prisoners should be well treated and "reconciled to the country."
     In contrast, when Josiah refused to take up arms against his country, refusing to accept a mate's position on the British man of war, Captain Symonds ordered Josiah to the main deck, "where the boatswain and his three mates were charged to see him perform the meanest duty in the waist of the ship."  
     Josiah also witnessed the coercive enlistment of American captives: "
It…frequently happened that masters of vessels were rifled by the British officers of what was in their chests, and insulted and kicked from the quarterdeck for asking the liberty of brining their necessaries, which were left behind in their vessels.  The only satisfaction they could obtain was to be ordered directly to a gun."
     On 8 February 1777, James Josiah described his captivity in a statement sworn before Philadelphia Justice of the Peace James Young.  Josiah's deposition appeared in several American newspapers, including
The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser (Boston), 29 May 1777.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Well Used & Reconciled to the Country

On 22 June 1776, Dudley Digges of the Virginia Committee of Safety informed the Virginia Convention “that the Committee had taken into their consideration how the Prisoners lately taken by the Captains James and Richard Barron…might be best disposed of….”

The Virginia Convention reported that the Committee of Safety “were of opinion that the noncommissioned officers and Cadets should be sent to some secure place in the frontiers, and there kept as prisoners of war….”  The seamen could enlist with a cruiser or galley
, “if they shall be willing....”  If the mariners did not wish to enlist, the Committee of Safety recommended the crewmen should go to the frontier settlements with the privates.  

For the Scottish privates and any mariners who joined them, the Committee of Safety thought it “most prudent” to disperse them “over the middle Counties, where, one in a family, they being well used and employed on such wages as they may be willing to take, may be secured, and probably reconciled to the country, at the same time considering them as prisoners of war….”

The Committee thought anyone entrusted with the care of a prisoner should understand the primary intentions of the Committee—that the prisoners be well treated, fairly employed and “reconciled to the country.” 

The Committee of Safety wanted the privates and seamen sent in equal numbers to fourteen different counties, deciding that “it be recommended to the Committees of the said several Counties to distribute their number among the inhabitants respectively who may be willing to take them, and to be careful that the above purpose of the Committee respecting the said men may be complied with…..”  If the soldiers brought their families with them, as was not uncommon, then the wives of the privates “may be sent with them, together with their respective children.” 

The Virginia Convention “Resolved, That this Convention doth approve of the disposition of the Prisoners aforesaid, as made by the Committee of Safety.”

My thanks to the Northern Illinois University Libraries for making available the American Archives, edited by Peter Force.  For on the significance of local, county and provincial committees and for the importance of Peter Force's compilation of American Archives, please consult T. H. Breen, American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People (New York: Hill and Wang, 2010).

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Scottish Prisoners

     On the evening of Wednesday, 19 June 1776, the brothers Captain James Barron and Captain Richard Barron intercepted 217 escaped British prisoners.  The prisoners were Scottish Highlanders,  “mostly recruits,” belonging to the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment of Foot, "the Black Watch."  The two captains landed their prisoners in Williamsburg, Virginia on the morning of 20 June 1776.     
     Captain Nicholas Biddle of the Andrew Doria captured the transport ships carrying the Highlanders on 29 May 1776.  By the time the Barrons Brothers encountered the transport off Virginia, the ship was in possession of the Highlanders.  The 2 July 1776 issue of 
The Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia) explained how the Highlanders came to Virginia.  

   This morning Captain James Barron came to town from Jamestown with the agreeable news that and his brother, in two small armed vessels, were safe arrived there, with the Oxford transport from Glasgow, having on board two hundred and seventeen Scotch Highlanders, with a number of women and children, which they took last Wednesday evening, on her way up to Gwyn’s-island, to join Lord Dunmore. The people on board inform, that they are part of a body of three thousand troops which sailed from Glasgow for Boston, but upon hearing that place was in our possession, they steered their course for Halifax; that they had been taken by the Andreas Doria, one of the Continental fleet, who, after disarming them, and taking out all the principal officers, with such of the transport’s crew as were acquainted with navigation, put eight of their own hands on board to bring her into port, but that the carpenter of the transport formed a party and rescued the vessel from them, and was conducting her into Hampton road, when the Captain Barrons very fortunately came across them, and moored them safe at Jamestown, where they are now disembarking, and are expected in town this day.

This account mistakenly identified the Andrew Doria for the privateer The Congress, but the account offered this detail on the recapture of the Highlanders: "Upon sighting of Captain [James] Barron's vessel, they despatched a boat to him, with a sergeant, one private, and one of the men who were put on board by the Congress to make inquiry.  The latter, finding a convenient opportunity, informed Captain Barron of their situation, upon which he boarded her and took possession."  The Highlanders sent an officer to make an inquiry of Captain Barron, but the personnel on the transport ship most familiar with navigation were the Andrew Doria crewmen taken captive by the mutinied Highland prisoners, explaining why they included an American Patriot on the boat sent to Barron.  


     Reversals were not uncommon during the Revolutionary War, with captors becoming captives and vice versa.  On 29 May 1776, the American brigantine Andrew Doria, under Captain Nicholas Biddle, overtook the unarmed transports, Oxford and Crawford, conveying Highlander soldier and officers to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Biddle took the Highland officers onboard the Andrew Doria, along with navigators from the crew of the transports.  Biddle placed a few of his own crewmen on the captured transports.  pilots and any other crewmen with knowledge of navigation. 
     Perceiving five ships on the horizon on 11 June 1776, Biddle feared the approach of a stronger force.  To ensure that some of the vessels evaded the British, Biddle ordered his brigantine and the two prizes to head in different directions. 
     On 14 June 1776, the Andrew Doria reached Newport, Rhode Island with the capture "officers, navigators, and sailors, to the number of forty."  The Highlanders on the Oxford overtook the American crew and directed the ship toward Virginia, hoping to rendezvous with Lord Dunmore (John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore).  For more on the Oxford, check here.
The Crawford, under the command of Prize Master James Josiah, the First Lieutenant from the Adrew Doria, surrendered on 6 June 1776 to the British frigate Cerberus (Captain John Symonds).  The Continental Army Sloop General Schuyler (Captain Charles Pond) and Continental Army Schooner General Mifflin (Captain Clarke) retook the Crawford on 19 June.    
     On 8 July 1776, Vice Admiral Molyneux Shuldham informed Lord of the Admiralty Philip Stephens “that Four Transports, part of the Flora’s Convoy (two of them the Crawford and Oxford) had been taken in their passage by the Rebels, one of which was retaken by Captain Symons, but after the Troops had been removed out of her into one of the others….”  Please consult 
Vice Admiral Molyneux Shuldham to Philip Stephens, Chatham off Staten Island, 8 July 1776, in Molyneux Shuldham, The Despatches of Molyneux Shuldham, Vice-Admiral of the Blue and Commander-in-Chief of His Britannic Majesty’s Ships in North America, January-July, 1776 (New York: The Royal Naval History Society, 1913), page 273.
     Sadly, American prisoners like Lieutenant Josiah were also removed from the
Crawford before the Americans recaptured the transport.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Cruel Insults

     The 12 June 1775 issue of the Connecticut Courant (Hartford) featured an account of a prisoner exchange between British Regulars and American forces at Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The exchange took place on Tuesday, 6 June 1775. 
     “The Regular Officers…who had been Prisoners politely acknowledged the genteel, kind Treatment they had received from their Captors; the Privates, who were all wounded Men, expressed in the strongest Terms, their grateful Sense of the Tenderness which had been shewn them in their miserable Situation; some of them could do it only by their Tears.  It would have been to the honour of the British Arms, if the Prisoners taken from us could with Justice have made the same acknowledgment.”
      Regarding the mistreatment suffered by American prisoners, the report gave British military commanders the benefit of the doubt: “It cannot be supposed that any Officers of Rank, or common Humanity, were knowing to the repeated cruel Insults that were offered them; but it may not be amiss to hint to the Upstarts concerned, two Truths…viz. That Compassion is as essential [a] Part of the Character of a truely brave Man as daring; and that Insult offered to a Person entirely in the Power of the Insulter, smells as strong of Cowardice as it does of Cruelty.”