Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gen. Richard Prescott

   On February 1, 1776, Philadelphia newspaper The Pennsylvania Evening Post reported, "Last Monday [January 29] Brigadier Gen. Prescot was removed from his apartments in the city tavern, to the new jail, by order of the Hon. Continental Congress.--It is said he was guilty of cruelly treating the prisoners taken from the Continental army in Canada, particularly Col. Allen, lately sent home to England, in irons."
   General Richard Prescott ordered Colonel Ethan Allen put in irons and sent to England to face trial for treason.  The February 1 Pennsylvania Evening Post also published Ethan Allen's letter to Prescott, written after Prescott ordered Allen clasped in irons and closely confined.  Allen chided Prescott, "On my part, I have to assure your Honor, that when I had the command, and took Capt. [William] Delaplace and Lieut. Felton [that is, Lt. Jocelyn Feltham], with the garrison of Ticonderoga, I treated them with every mark of friendship and generosity, the evidence of which is notorious even in Canada.  I have only to add, that I expect an honorable and humane treatment, as an officer of my rank and merit should have...."
   On February 1, 1776, the Continental Congress resolved "That General Prescot, who is confined a close prisoner in the gaol of Philadelphia, be allowed the attendance of his servant, and in case his health requires it, that he be allowed the attendance of a physician."  In his diary entry for February 1, Robert Smith wrote, "Gen. Prescott allowed a Servant and Physicians to see Him in Gaol, after a Proposition to allow Him the Liberty of the Hall & Yard and to see his Friends had been voted out by a small Majority."
   Robert Smith was a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress and a Scottish-trained architect.  Smith designed the "new jail," the Walnut Street Jail, mentioned by The Pennsylvania Evening Post.  During the 1777-1778 British occupation of Philadelphia, the jail was known as the Provost Jail.  The Provost Marshall, Captain William Cunningham, was already notorious for mistreating American prisoners in Boston and New York City but added to his reputation by neglecting and mistreating prisoners in Philadelphia.
   Congress informed England that Prescott might suffer whatever punishment befell Allen in England.  As mentioned in the post "Ethan Allen & Habeas Corpus," the possibility of American retaliation might have spared Ethan Allen from execution but generally did not deter British and Tory personnel from starving prisoners to death in occupied American cities.  Check the post "Duties of Humanity & Kindness" for George Washington's awareness of the possibility of reversals like the one experienced by Prescott.  For a description of Prescott's rudeness and severity to prisoners, read his angry exchange of words with Montreal merchant Thomas Walker at "Prisoner in Irons."
   Ethan Allen and Col. Benedict Arnold led the American forces that captured the British garrison at Fort Ticonderoga in 1775.  It was one of several actions for which future turncoat Benedict Arnold probably did not receive adequate recognition at the time.  
   For the quotes in paragraph three of this post, please consult Worthington Chauncey Ford, editor, Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, 34 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904-1937), volume 4: page 107; Paul H. Smith, editor, Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, 26 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1976-2000), volume 3: page 185.

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