Sunday, August 11, 2013

August 11, 1779

On August 11, 1779, The New-Jersey Gazette (Trenton) carried a March 22, 1779 from Captain Holmes Everett, of the frigate British Arethusa, to Philip Stevens, Secretary of the Board of Admiralty.  From Brest, France, Everett wrote, “It is with great regret I must beg you to inform their Lordships of the loss of the King’s frigate, the Arethusa.”
     Everett explained, “The Arethusa was lost on the reefs of Ushant the 19th.  We are to be conducted to Parhaix, a little town of Brittany.”
     Everett acknowledged kind treatment by the French.  “I ought to do justice to the nation in which I am a prisoner: The inhabitants of these coasts have given us every succor in their power, with uncommon readiness: They have omitted nothing that might comfort us under our misfortune, and my people are treated with the greatest humanity.” 
     TheNew-Jersey Gazette carried an editorial remark that appeared in the July 29, 1779 issue of Boston’s The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser: “Notwithstanding the known humanity of the French in Europe, and of the Count d’Estaing in America, to the British prisoners, in how different a manner have the subjects of France been treated who have fallen into British hands?”
     For American editors in 1779, the kind treatment of Captain Everett and his crew demonstrated the generosity of the French.  For Americans in 2013, the kind treatment received by these prisoners demonstrates that, in fact, poor treatment of prisoners was not accepted as normal to people in the eighteenth century.  The suffering of French and American prisoners in British-occupied cities like New York was appalling not only by modern standards, but by eighteenth-century standards as well. 
     For more on Everett and the wreck of the Arethusa, please consult John Campbell, et al., Lives of the British Admirals…, 8 volumes, new edition (London: Barrington, Strand, and J. Harris, 1812-1817), 5:447.
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