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.  
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