Three Rivers
Hudson~Mohawk~Schoharie
History From America's Most Famous Valleys


American Prisoners of The Revolution

BY DANSKE DANDRIDGE

CHAPTER XXXV
THE NARRATIVE OF CAPTAIN DRING (CONTINUED)

"The quarter-deck of the Jersey covered about one-fourth of the upper deck, and the forecastle extended from the stern, about one-eighth part of the length of the upper deck. Sentinels were stationed on the gangways on each side of the upper deck, leading from the quarter-deck to the forecastle. These gangways were about five feet wide; and here the prisoners were allowed to pass and repass. The intermediate space from the bulkhead of the quarter-deck to the forecastle was filled with long spars and booms, and called the spar-deck. The temporary covering afforded by the spar-deck was of the greatest benefit to the prisoners, as it served to shield us from the rain and the scorching rays of the sun. It was here, therefore, that our movables were placed when we were engaged in cleaning the lower decks. The spar-deck was also the only place where we were allowed to walk, and was crowded through the day by the prisoners on deck. Owing to the great number of prisoners, and the small space allowed us by the spar-deck, it was our custom to walk in platoons, each facing the same way, and turning at the same time. The Derrick for taking in wood, water, etc., stood on the starboard side of the spar-deck. On the larboard side of the ship was placed the accommodation ladder, leading from the gangway to the water. At the head of the ladder a sentinel was also stationed.

"The head of the accommodation ladder was near the door of the barricade, which extended across the front of the quarter-deck, and projected a few feet beyond the sides of the ship. The barricade was about ten feet high, and was pierced with loop-holes for musketry in order that the prisoners might be fired on from behind it, if occasion should require.

"The regular crew of the ship consisted of a Captain, two Mates, a Steward, a Corporal, and about 12 sailors. The crew of the ship had no communication whatever with the prisoners. No person was ever permitted to pass through the barricade door, except when it was required that the messes should be examined and regulated, in which case each man had to pass through, and go between decks, and there remain until the examination was completed. None of the guard or of the ship's crew ever came among the prisoners while I was on board. I never saw one of her officers or men except when there were passengers going in the boat, to or from the stern-ladder.

"On the two decks below, where we were confined at night, our chests, boxes, and bags were arranged in two lines along the decks, about ten feet distant from the sides of the ship; thus leaving as wide a space unencumbered in the middle of each deck, fore and aft, as our crowded situation would admit. Between these tiers of chests, etc., and the sides of the ship, was the place where the different messes assembled; and some of the messes were also separated from their neighbors by a temporary partition of chests, etc. Some individuals of the different messes usually slept on the chests, in order to preserve their contents from being plundered in the night.

"At night the spaces in the middle of the decks were much encumbered with hammocks, but these were always removed in the morning. * * * My usual place of abode being in the Gunroom, I was never under the necessity of descending to the lower dungeon; and during my confinement I had no disposition to visit it. It was inhabited by the most wretched in appearance of all our miserable company. From the disgusting and squalid appearance of the groups which I saw ascending the stairs which led to it, it must have been more dismal, if possible, than that part of the hulk where I resided. Its occupants appeared to be mostly foreigners, who had seen and survived every variety of human suffering. The faces of many of them were covered with dirt and filth; their long hair and beards matted and foul; clothed in rags, and with scarcely a sufficient supply of these to cover their disgusting bodies. Many among them possessed no clothing except the remnant of those garments which they wore when first brought on board; and were unable to procure even any material for patching these together, when they had been worn to tatters by constant use. * * * Some, and indeed many of them, had not the means of procuring a razor, or an ounce of soap.

"Their beards were occasionally reduced by each other with a pair of shears or scissors. * * * Their skins were discoloured by continual washing in salt water, added to the circumstance that it was impossible for them to wash their linen in any other manner than by laying it on the deck and stamping on it with their feet, after it had been immersed in salt water, their bodies remaining naked during the process.

"To men in this situation everything like ordinary cleanliness was impossible. Much that was disgusting in their appearance undoubtedly originated from neglect, which long confinement had rendered habitual, until it created a confirmed indifference to personal appearance.

"As soon as the gratings had been fastened over the hatchways for the night, we usually went to our sleeping places. It was, of course, always desirable to obtain a station as near as possible to the side of the ship, and, if practicable, in the immediate vicinity of one of the air-ports, as this not only afforded us a better air, but also rendered us less liable to be trodden upon by those who were moving about the decks during the night.

"But silence was a stranger to our dark abode. There were continual noises during the night. The groans of the sick and the dying; the curses poured out by the weary and exhausted upon our inhuman keepers; the restlessness caused by the suffocating heat, and the confined and poisonous air, mingled with the wild and incoherent ravings of delirium, were the sounds which every night were raised around us in every direction. Such was our ordinary situation, but at times the consequences of our crowded condition were still more terrible, and proved fatal to many of our number in a single night.

"But, strange as it may appear, notwithstanding all the * * * suffering which was there endured I knew many who had been inmates of that abode for two years, who were apparently perfectly well. They had, as they expressed it, 'been through the furnace and become seasoned.' Most of these, however, were foreigners, who appeared to have abandoned all hope of ever being exchanged, and had become quite indifferent with regard to the place of their abode.

"But far different was the condition of that portion of our number who were natives of the United States. These formed by far the most numerous class of the prisoners. Most of these were young men, * * * who had been captured soon after leaving their homes, and during their first voyage. After they had been here immured the sudden change in their situation was like a sentence of death. Many a one was crushed down beneath the sickness of the heart, so well described by the poet:--

" 'Night and day,
Brooding on what he had been, what he was,
'Twas more than he could bear, his longing fits
Thickened upon him.
His desire for Home Became a madness'

"These poor creatures had, in many instances, been plundered of their wearing apparel by their captors, and here, the dismal and disgusting objects by which they were surrounded, the vermin which infested them, the vile and loathsome food, and what with them was far from being the lightest of their trials, their ceaseless longing after their homes, * * * all combined, had a wonderful effect on them. Dejection and anguish were soon visible on their countenances. They became dismayed and terror-stricken; and many of them absolutely died that most awful of all human deaths, the effects of a broken heart.

"A custom had long been established that certain labor which it was necessary should be performed daily, should be done by a company, usually called the 'Working party.' This consisted of about twenty able-bodied men chosen from among the prisoners, and was commanded, in daily rotation, by those of our number who had formerly been officers of vessels. The commander of the party for the day bore the title of Boatswain. The members of the Working-party received, as a compensation for their services, a full allowance of provisions, and half a pint of rum each, with the privilege of going on deck early in the morning, to breathe the pure air.

"This privilege alone was a sufficient compensation for all the duty which was required of them.

"Their routine of service was to wash down that part of the upper deck and gangways where the prisoners were permitted to walk; to spread the awning, or to hoist on board the wood, water, and other supplies, from the boats in which the same were brought alongside the ship. "When the prisoners ascended to the upper deck in the morning, if the day was fair, each carried up his hammock and bedding, which were all placed upon the spar-deck, or booms. The Working-party then took the sick and disabled who remained below, and placed them in the bunks prepared for them upon the centre-deck; they then, if any of the prisoners had died during the night, carried up the dead bodies, and laid them upon the booms; after which it was their duty to wash down the main decks below; during which operation the prisoners remained on the upper deck, except such as chose to go below and volunteer their services in the performance of this duty.

"Around the railing of the hatchway leading from the centre to the lower decks, were placed a number of large tubs for the occasional use of the prisoners during the night, and as general receptacles of filth. Although these were indispensably necessary to us, yet they were highly offensive. It was a part of the duty of the Working-party to carry these on deck, at the time when the prisoners ascended in the morning, and to return them between decks in the afternoon.

"Our beds and clothing were kept on deck until nearly the hour when we were to be ordered below for the night. During this interval * * * the decks washed and cleared of all incumbrance, except the poor wretches who lay in the bunks, it was quite refreshing after the suffocating heat and foul vapors of the night to walk between decks. There was then some circulation of air through the ship, and, for a few hours, our existence was, in some degree, tolerable.

"About two hours before sunset the order was usually issued for the prisoners to carry their hammocks, etc., below. After this had been done we were all either to retire between decks, or to remain above until sunset according to our own pleasure. Everything which we could do conducive to cleanliness having then been performed, if we ever felt anything like enjoyment in this wretched abode, it was during this brief interval, when we breathed the cool air of the approaching night, and felt the luxury of our evening pipe. But short indeed was this interval of repose. The Working-party was soon ordered to carry the tubs below, and we prepared to descend to our gloomy and crowded dungeons. This was no sooner done than the gratings were closed over the hatchways, the sentinels stationed, and we left to sicken and pine beneath our accumulated torments; with our guards above crying aloud, through the long night, 'All's well! "'

Captain Dring says that at that time the Jersey was used for seamen alone. The average number on board was one thousand. It consisted of the crews of vessels of all the nations with which the English were at war. But the greater number had been captured on board American vessels.

There were three hospital ships in the Wallabout; the Stromboli, the Hunter, and the Scorpion. [Footnote: At one time as we have seen, the Scorpion was a prison ship, from which Freneau was sent to the Hunter hospital ship.] There was not room enough on board these ships for all the sick, and a part of the upper deck of the Jersey was therefore prepared for their accommodation. These were on the after part of the upper deck, on the larboard side, where those who felt the symptoms of approaching sickness could lie down, in order to be found by the nurses as soon as possible.

Few ever returned from the hospital ships to the Jersey. Dring knew but three such instances during his imprisonment. He says that "the outward appearance of these hospitals was disgusting in the highest degree. The sight of them was terrible to us. Their appearance was even more shocking than that of our own miserable hulk.

"On board the Jersey among the prisoners were about half a dozen men known by the appellation of nurses. I never learned by whom they were appointed, or whether they had any regular appointment at all. But one fact I knew well; they were all thieves. They were, however, sometimes useful in assisting the sick to ascend from below to the gangway on the upper deck, to be examined by the visiting Surgeon who attended from the Hunter every day, when the weather was good. If a sick man was pronounced by the Surgeon to be a proper subject for one of the hospital ships, he was put into the boat waiting alongside; but not without the loss or detention of his effects, if he had any, as these were at once taken by the nurses, as their own property. * * * I had found Mr. Robert Carver, our Gunner while on board the Chance, sick in one of the bunks where those retired who wished to be removed. He was without a bed or pillow, and had put on all the wearing apparel which he possessed, wishing to preserve it, and being sensible of his situation. I found him sitting upright in the bunk, with his great-coat on over the rest of his garments, and his hat between his knees. The weather was excessively hot, and, in the place where he lay, the heat was overpowering. I at once saw that he was delirious, a sure presage that the end was near. I took off his great-coat, and having folded and placed it under his head for a pillow, I laid him upon it, and went immediately to prepare him some tea. I was absent but a few minutes, and, on returning, met one of the thievish Nurses with Carver's great-coat in his hand. On ordering him to return it his reply was that it was a perquisite of the Nurses, and the only one they had; that the man was dying, and the great-coat could be of no further use to him. I however, took possession of the coat, and on my liberation, returned it to the family of the owner. Mr Carver soon after expired where he lay. We procured a blanket in which to wrap his body, which was thus prepared for interment. Others of the crew of the Chance had died before that time. Mr Carver was a man of strong and robust constitution. Such men were subject to the most violent attacks of the fever, and were also its most certain victims."

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