of the Wallabout Prison Ships!.
[The following description of the sufferings of the patriot prisoners, at the Wallabout, during the early portion of our revolutionary war, coming to us from the pen of the venerable citizen whose reminiscences we have two or three times before given in our columns, will be read with peculiar interest. Cannot the empire state afford a fitting mausoleum to the remains of these 12,000 martyrs? Have we no representative in the legislature, who will see that a bill for such a monument is properly put before the legislature at Albany? Why, it seems to us if such a bill were prepared, and the member introducing it were to read the following remarks from our paper, the bill would pass by acclamation! We hope to be able to record something of this kind--the passage of such a bill--the ensuing winter; and shall bear in mind to "keep it before" the minds of the assemblymen and senator elect from this county--unless, indeed, we are forestalled by the present members proposing such a bill before the ensuing new year's day. And why cannot they do so?--Ed. Eagle.]
By the public journals published at the close of the war, it appeared that 11,500 men died on board the prison ships at the Wallabout within seven years. Although this number is great, still, if the number who perished had been less, the commissary and his deputy had it in their power by an official return to give the true return of captures, deaths, and exchanges--which never has been done in America.--David Sprout returned to our country after the war and died in Philadelphia. He could not have been ignorant of the statements of our journals, therefore I properly infer that at least 11,500 men (doubtless 12,000 in reality,) perished in the prison ships.
A large transport named the Whitby was the first prison ship which was anchored in the Wallabout. She was moored near Remsen's mill about the 20th of October 1776, and was then crowded with prisoners. Many landsmen were on board this vessel, and she was said to be the most sickly of all the prison ships. Bad provisions, bad water and scanted allowances were furnished the prisoners. No medical men attended the sick. Diseases reigned unmitigated in this floating hell whereof hundreds died, or were starved to death. I have seen a sand beach between a ravine in the hill (where Little street now is) and the old mill filled with graves in two months, and before the 1st of May 1777 I have also seen the ravine alluded to filled with graves.
In the month of April 1777, two large old ships were anchored in the Wallabout, when the prisoners were transferred from the Whitby to the two new comers. These ships were also very sickly.--Although many prisoners were taken, and none exchanged, still death made room in the ships for all received. On Sunday afternoon, about the middle of October, 1777, one of the prison ships was burnt. When the ship was on fire the prisoners were removed to other ships, except a few who were said to have been burnt in the vessel. It was reported at the time that the prisoners had fired the ship. If this were true, then they preferred a speedy death by fire, to death by starvation and pestilence.
In the month of February 1778, at night, the remaining prison ship was burnt, when the prisoners were removed from her to the ship then remaining in the Wallabout. In the month of April 1778, the old Jersey was moored in the Wallabout; when all the prisoners except the sick were transferred to her. The sick were removed to hospital ships named the Hope and the Falmouth, which were anchored near each other about 200 yards east of the Jersey--These ships remained in the Wallabout until New York was evacuated by the British. The Jersey was the receiving ship, the others were truly the dead ships.
It has been incorrectly reported that the prisoners all died on board the Jersey. This is not true, many may have died suddenly on board of her; many who were not reported as sick, may also have died on board, but still all the men who were placed on the sick list were transferred to the hospital ships, from which they were usually taken to their long home. Although they then for the first [time] received medical attendance, few, very few, recovered. It was no uncommon thing to see five or six dead brought on shore in a morning, when a small excavation would be made at the foot of the hill, wherein three or four bodies were cast, when a man with a shovel would cover them by shoveling some sand down the hill on their corpses! Many were buried on the Remsen farm. The shore from Remsen's point (there so named) to the door yard was a place of graves. From Remsen's barn to the Rappelye farm was the same. The hill near the house was the same. The sand island between the mill and the dam was also a place of graves, and several were buried on the easterly shore of the Wallabout. Thus death reigned here from 1776 until the peace. In the years 1777 and 1778, the whole Wallabout was a sickly place, nearly all the aged inhabitants died of malignant diseases. There were many ships wintered in the Wallabout and Newtown creek during the war. I have counted 74 vessels in the Wallabout in the year 1777. In the year 1780 about 30 sail were firmly frozen in and a fine sleigh road crossed the bay between the ships and the river.
Johnson, General Jeremiah, "The 12,000 Martyr Patriots of the Wallabout Prison Ships!," Brooklyn Eagle and Kings County Democrat, Brooklyn, Monday, 15 November 1847, p. 2.
John Sparhawk Wurts in his article for the Bucks County Intelligencer, "Henry Wynkoop - Sketch of Soldier-Jurist,", mentions that Dr. Reading Beatty, the son-in-law of Judge Henry Wynkoop was incarcerated in one of the British Prison ships from November of 1776 to May, 1778:
"Christiana Wynkoop, the eldest child was born 18th August, 1763. Her husband, Dr. Reading Beatty, born 23d. December, 1757, was of Scotch descent. He was a son of the Rev. Charles Beatty, of Log College fame. His mother was Ann Reading, a daughter of Governor John Reading, of New Jersey.
It seems his father had intended his going to Princeton College, but for some reason it was given up, and after his father's death he began the study of medicine, and was thus engaged when the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775. He enlisted as a private, and was immediately appointed sergeant. Through the influence of his elder brother, he obtained an ensign's commission, August 10, 1775, in the Fifth Pennsylvania Battalion, commanded by Colonel Robert Magaw. February 2, 1776, he was appointed a lieutenant, and in the course of the campaign, in consequence of the sickness of his captain, had command of the company. Whether he was in any of the engagements of the summer is not known, but he was taken prisoner at the surrender of Fort Washington, November 16, 1776, and met with harsh treatment, indeed almost losing his life at the hand of a savage Hessian soldier, and had to be shielded by a British officer. He was confined on the "Myrtle" prison ship, and held as a prisoner eighteen months until May 18, 1778, when he was exchanged."
Created March 9, 2004; Revised March 9, 2004
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