Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Prison Ships During the Revolutionary War

More than 11,500 Americans were held captive on British prison ships. They died of disease, starvation, violence and neglect. A monument to these soldiers was erected in Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, New York; it overlooks Wallabout Bay, the site where these prisoners were held captive in sixteen British prison ships between the years of 1776 and 1783. In 1776 Fort Putnam under the command of Colonel Rufus Putnam stood in this site in the park; it was built to defend the Brooklyn high land and to protect New York from the british. It was Georgia's Major General Nathaniel Greene who battled the british there on August 27, 1776. He was greatly outnumbered and the British took control of New York City and Long Island, occupying them until the war ended. The ships collected American prisoners from everywhere and included the seamen imprisoned in Charleston, South Carolina after the British occupation of 1780, St. Augustine, Florida and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Over 5,000 prisoners came from Savannah, Georgia. Eventually such prisoners were eventually transferred to the prison ships in the New York harbor. Every morning, British guards yelled ” Turn out your dead!” and the bodies were taken and buried in shallow graves along the shore. A British ship Jersey was nicknamed Hell by its prisoners because of crowding conditions, sickness, starvation, whippings and frequent deaths. General George Washington complained about the prison ships in his letter to British commander General William Howe on January 13, 1777. Prisoners were released if they renounced the Revolutionary cause and pledged their loyalties to King George III. When the war ended in 1783, the remaining prisoners were freed. The list of of prisoners was copied from records in the British War Department in 1888 by the Society of Old Brooklynites and can be found here

Jeannette Holland Austin, author of over 100 genealogy books
Virginia Pioneers

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