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.