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"The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn: An Untold Story of... " Topic


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920 hits since 27 Jan 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Tango0127 Jan 2018 4:01 p.m. PST

….the American Revolution

"The most horrific struggle of the American Revolution occurred just 100 yards off New York, where more men died aboard a rotting prison ship than were lost to combat during the entirety of the war.

Moored off the coast of Brooklyn until the end of the war, the derelict ship, the HMS Jersey, was a living hell for thousands of Americans either captured by the British or accused of disloyalty. Crammed below deck--a shocking one thousand at a time--without light or fresh air, the prisoners were scarcely fed food and water. Disease ran rampant and human waste fouled the air as prisoners suffered mightily at the hands of brutal British and Hessian guards. Throughout the colonies, the mere mention of the ship sparked fear and loathing of British troops. It also sparked a backlash of outrage as newspapers everywhere described the horrors onboard the ghostly ship. This shocking event, much like the better-known Boston Massacre before it, ended up rallying public support for the war.

Revealing for the first time hundreds of accounts culled from old newspapers, diaries, and military reports, award-winning historian Robert P. Watson follows the lives and ordeals of the ship's few survivors to tell the astonishing story of the cursed ship that killed thousands of Americans and yet helped secure victory in the fight for independence."
Main page
link


Amicalement
Armand

charared Supporting Member of TMP27 Jan 2018 7:31 p.m. PST

Just got this book; have yet to read it.
Growing up in Brooklyn I often made visits to the Memorial of the Prisoners and AWI locations in Kings County (my folks owned a house right off Kings Highway where the Brits marched to flank the rebels during the Battle of Long Island).

42flanker28 Jan 2018 3:15 a.m. PST

'Ghost Ship'- so let me get this right. This ship died but, having gone to the Dark Side, its soul found no rest and, consigned to purgatory, its rotting carcass surfaced nightly to haunt the waters of New York Harbour where its transparent, grey shape could be seen drifting along, scooping up unfortunates and consigning them to a living hell in its very bowels, their cries ringing out across the foetid, murky waters as, at the first cock crow, it sank beneath the waters again to…

Or am I possibly making too much of an overblown, trite, and ultimately meaningless label that only serves to obscure the facts regarding a grim and tragic episode in the history of the AWI? Where is Supercilious Maximus when you need him?

charared Supporting Member of TMP28 Jan 2018 8:06 a.m. PST

…Or am I possibly making too much…

Possibly.

thumbs up

42flanker28 Jan 2018 10:39 a.m. PST

It was always a possibility.

Garde de Paris28 Jan 2018 10:56 a.m. PST

The author discussed the Ghost ship yesterday here in the US at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. It was on C-Span III, a mainly history channel.

The ship was the HMS Jersey, commissioned as a 60 gun line of battle ship. It had a hard luck history, and bay the time of the AWI was rotting away. The British dismasted it, took of rudder and bowsprit, and used it as a "floating coffin," anchored where the Brooklyn (NY) Navy Yard is today.

He records that t6 to 12 American prisoners died aboard the hulk daily. Every morning the guards opened nailed-down hatch, and called "send up your dead."

More prisoners died on that hulk than in any battle fought between the British and Americans during the whole 8-year war.

GdeP

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP28 Jan 2018 11:02 a.m. PST

The author discussed the Ghost ship yesterday here in the US at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. It was on C-Span III, a mainly history channel.

Did he mention that, in the 18th Century, PoWs remained the responsibility of their own government? Or that the bad faith/disinterest of Congress meant that these men (mostly privateers) could not be exchanged? Or that the British were themselves on short rations?

And it wasn't the British and Hessian guards who were "brutal" – it was the Loyalists, and particularly Mr Joshua Loring jnr, who was later forced to resign for corruption.

Garde de Paris28 Jan 2018 11:25 a.m. PST

Yes. He noted that attempts were made to deliver food to the prisoners, but the "Warden" kept the food for his own use.

Congress did a poor job of feeding our own troops! Philadelphia Quakers did a great job of feeding the British.

Congress attempted to exchange prisoners, but healthy, combat-ready British soldiers were exchanged for "human wrecks" who would never be able to function normally again. In a last exchange of 200, the Americans were fed poisoned food before departure, and died when on the boats back to the American authorities, of as – and shortly after – they arrived.

This treatment inspired more Americans to come forward to fight the British.

Washington realized that he was rebuilding the British Army with these exchanges, and not able to do the same for the US Army. Thus ended the exchanges.

This hulk still held US, Spanish and French prisoners until late 1783, when the British finally left the US. The last "real" fighting was at Yorktown in 1781.

The hulk was left behind. The Spanish and French were often sailors of cargo ships, and probably privateers from other ships.

GdeP

Tango0128 Jan 2018 3:09 p.m. PST

Wow!….


So… not a case of fault of space like the same prisión ships in England… sound like a system to kill enemy prisioners…

Amicalement
Armand

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP29 Jan 2018 2:20 p.m. PST

Congress did a poor job of feeding our own troops!

Well, that's certainly how the myth goes – at Valley Forge, it is now known that the average allowance of food was ten pounds weight, per man per day.

Congress attempted to exchange prisoners, but healthy, combat-ready British soldiers were exchanged for "human wrecks" who would never be able to function normally again.

I suggest you (and the historian) look at how British and more particularly Loyalist troops were treated whilst in captivity – despite the fact that Congress had way more "safe spaces" in which to hold prisoners than the British did, penned up in cities on the eastern seaboard. The death toll among the Convention Army (Saratoga) was over 50%; the Simsbury Copper mines were hell-holes, and were well known about long before the NYC hulks (which is why the Loyalist guards were the worst at treating the Rebel prisoners).

Another problem that is rarely mentioned is that many of the NYC prisoners had been captured 2 or 3 times (often with "parole" notices still in their pockets. Legally, it would have been completely above board, according to the rules of war at that time, to have executed them.

And as I said earlier, many of the Rebels were "unexchangeable" since they were naval prisoners and the Rebels captured almost no Royal Navy ships, hence they had nobody to exchange them with. Congress wasn't going to exchange British troops for men who would simply go back to sea and serve their own interests, rather than that of Congress. Had they wanted to, the owners of the privateer fleet could have "bought" their exchange, but their own greed – and the ready availability of other men to replace those on the hulks – meant they could not be bothered.

In a last exchange of 200, the Americans were fed poisoned food before departure, and died when on the boats back to the American authorities, of as – and shortly after – they arrived.

Any actual evidence for this poisoning? I only ask because the British were accused of this by the Boers during the South African War of 1899-1902. Turned out the "poison" was an inert blue crystal added to sugar to prevent it getting damp and growing mold (see also "fish hooks in the meat" which turned out to be the "keys" with which the tins of corned beef were opened).

Washington realized that he was rebuilding the British Army with these exchanges, and not able to do the same for the US Army. Thus ended the exchanges.

Sorry, but once again that is nonsense. The exchanges ended because the Americans stopped capturing large numbers of British troops (Montreal, Saratoga and Yorktown were the principal sources) and hence had nobody to bargain with, and because many of the military Rebel prisoners had been on one-year enlistments which had expired whilst they were in captivity. On top of that, Congress welched on the Convention agreement and kept moving the Saratoga PoWs around (usually in the depths of winter) in order to deter rescue attempts and escapes.

…where more men died aboard a rotting prison ship than were lost to combat during the entirety of the war.

It is worth reading Boatner's thoughts on this. He pointed out (almost 50 years ago now) that the estimates of Rebel deaths, anything from 11,000 to 18,000, were exaggerated (possibly 3-4 times) by the original excavators of the burial grounds assuming that EVERY corpse found was a Rebel prisoner and ignoring the fact that the British and Hessian troops AND the poorer Loyalist civilians had also used the low tidal areas around Brooklyn as a burial ground. A simple tally of how many Rebels were captured would tell "historians" this fact.

Finally, can I point out that the "massacre" of Jane McCrea also galvanised support for the Rebels – even though it turned out to be a lie and she was actually shot by Rebel militia commanded by her own brother.

Personal logo Ironwolf Supporting Member of TMP29 Jan 2018 3:34 p.m. PST

Are we seriously trying to justify the abuse of prisoners??

Garde de Paris29 Jan 2018 4:06 p.m. PST

In arguing against statements I quoted from the lecture by the author on C-Span, you'll have to read his book. I was just repeating what I heard.

I think he said what the poison was, but I was not writing notes. The AWI is not my period of interest.

With your notes, I cannot conceive of a man eating 10 pounds of food a day. Daily allowance per man at Valley Forge? Maybe 1 pound?

If the 11,000 plus dead on the hulks is a fiction – not considering loyalist, British troop and other dead pulled from the bay – how do you confirm 50% of the Convention troops dead? Lots of German troops were dropped off along the way through Pennsylvania with there weapons and ammo to live with locals and protect them against Indian depredation.

Many German prisoners were living in eastern PA as well, working on farms. Many decided to stay.

GdeP

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP29 Jan 2018 9:58 p.m. PST

Are we seriously trying to justify the abuse of prisoners??

Ah, I was wondering when the ad hominem attacks would start.
Well, I don't know about you, but I'm certainly not justifying anything, merely pointing out that it was almost certainly tit-for-tat abuse by loyalists in return for the dreadful way they were treated right from the very start of the war (and even before it), and that there were more issues to the confinement of PoWs aboard prison hulks than a simple urge to mistreat them. Let's not forget that the loyalist in charge of looking after them was sent back to England in disgrace, and the surgeon charged with their medical care was imprisoned and later executed.

…how do you confirm 50% of the Convention troops dead? Lots of German troops were dropped off along the way through Pennsylvania with there weapons and ammo to live with locals and protect them against Indian depredation.

Again, Boatner (from memory); he may have been referring to the British contingent, as German PoWs were deliberately given "kid glove" treatment in order to encourage them to desert. However, the Convention troops were not the ones "salted" along western PA; they were generally kept together, first in Boston for a year, then they were marched south to Virginia, and they were only moved to PA in mid-1781 when the British sent expeditions to Virginia.

Many decided to stay.

Actually, teh vast majority were not given the option. Orders from Germany limited the number of men allowed to be brought back from America at the end of the war. Remember that many of the recruits were not natives of the states to which their regiments belonged.

This hulk still held US, Spanish and French prisoners until late 1783, when the British finally left the US. The last "real" fighting was at Yorktown in 1781.

The war did not officially end until November 1783, and there was serious fighting between the British and the French and Spanish all around the world up to that date. British and German PoWs were also held until then, including the Convention Army.

Personal logo Ironwolf Supporting Member of TMP30 Jan 2018 12:25 p.m. PST

SuperMax, I'm not attacking you or directing the focus of the conversation towards you to divert from the topic. My post was a reminder that in every war there are atrocities committed by all sides. I think its beyond ridiculous to try and claim or imply the British were not complicit in what happened on the prison ships.

Prison hulks were found all around the world, but were commonly used in England before and after the AWI.

42flanker30 Jan 2018 1:08 p.m. PST

It seems to me that it is 'what happened' that S.M. aims to clarify.

Garde de Paris30 Jan 2018 4:01 p.m. PST

Here is an article about Ms McCrea on Wikipedia, with sources:

link

It appears she may have been led away by Indians fighting for the British, and shot by US militia in pursuit. Her scalp was seen later in the British camps carried by one of the Indians. Like everything about that era, in a primitive country, there are few absolutes. Certainly no "massacre" by militia led by her own brother in evidence.

Her death made great propaganda for the US, bringing out something like 10,000 militia to surround Burgoyne.

Here is an article about just the Convention troops:

link

And here is an article about Prisoners in General in the AWI:

link

The surgeon charged with their (aboard the hulk) medical care was imprisoned and later executed – but evidently for an issue NOT related to his actions on the hull.

I find the articles very interesting, and wonder if they can inspire small wargames – a small town with German soldiers working among them having to ward off attacks by hostiles – with the help of the Germans!

I spent 35 years working as a management consultant in the eastern US, and several times in towns along Interstate 81 (and US Route 11) talked with locals who had a German history. The Convention army was marched down to Virginia (Charlottesville, very close to current I-81 and Route 11) from the Boston area. I wager they passed through Pennsylvania along that trip, and some Germans may have slipped away – or been dropped off – to live in these towns. There is a "Hessian Barrack" attraction at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA along US 11.

Rather quaint, even amusing, that some deserted to marry US women and stay to build families – and our country.

The hatred between the Piedmont, wealthy Virginia Loyalists, and the Scots/Irish "mountain" people was in being before the AWI. Little to do with the King at that time. Much to do with the highland people being attacked first by Cherokee Indians, and doing the hardest work against them. Also the poverty of the highlands vs to lowland slave plantations.

King's Mountain was a very dramatic and total victory by "over the mountain" (US militia) men against Loyalist force led by Ferguson.

GdeP

Bill N30 Jan 2018 6:12 p.m. PST

The hatred between the Piedmont, wealthy Virginia Loyalists, and the Scots/Irish "mountain" people was in being before the AWI.

Sorry to go off topic but could you clarify this, as it is not consistent with my information. Virginia seems to have avoided the Tidewater aristocracy-backcountry strife that hit the Carolinas in the years prior to the AWI. There were issues which divided the Tidewater planter aristocracy from the Piedmont farmers, and both of those groups from the mountain and frontier peoples, but white Virginians were fairly united when it came to the issue of rebellion against the King.

Among Virginia whites the only true loyalists seem to have been on the Eastern Shore and the Scottish merchants in towns such as Norfolk. As the war progressed there were a few "loyalist uprisings" which most historians say were really anti-draft anti-tax riots.

Garde de Paris31 Jan 2018 4:41 a.m. PST

What do the young folks say these days: "My bad!"

You are right. In storage these past 3 years, I have a small book written by a scholar who studied the Tory/Loyalist conflicts, and it was mainly about South Carolina, maybe some of North Carolina. Some day I'll get to my "stuff."

I recall seeing this on the internet some time ago, and may have confused George Washington's comment about the Scots/Irish in the mountains of his native Virginia:

"The Scots-Irish settlers made superb frontiersmen in early Colonial America. Their experiences over the previous few centuries, first in the Scottish Borders and then fighting the Irish Catholics in the north of Ireland had created a race of hardy unyielding people who were ideally suited to clearing the forests to build farms and pushing the borders further and further west.
Their experience of religious discrimination in Ulster by their Episcopal English landlords meant the Scots-Irish had no hesitation in taking the side of the rebels in the War of Independence. In the words of Professor James G. Leyburn "They provided some of the best fighters in the American army. Indeed there were those who held the Scots-Irish responsible for the war itself".

No less a figure than George Washington once said "If defeated everywhere else I will make my last stand for liberty among the Scots-Irish of my native Virginia".

This is from:

link

GdeP

42flanker31 Jan 2018 11:40 a.m. PST

From the link:

No Irishman, nor Scot, ever loved an English King. They were sent here, or fled here, because of English persecution.

Well, that is a fairly nonsensical statement.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP01 Feb 2018 2:09 a.m. PST

Especially given that the last English king was Richard III (died 1485 – at the hands of a Welshman).

42flanker01 Feb 2018 2:06 p.m. PST

Especially.

While there were Scots who were either loyal to the house of Stuart in its various forms or Whig supporters of their Hanoverian successors.

Bill N01 Feb 2018 5:11 p.m. PST

Were the Plantagenets English or were they French?

42flanker01 Feb 2018 7:13 p.m. PST

They were Kings of England. And of France. In theory.

Richard III was technically of the House of York but, like the Lancastrians before them, the Yorkists were scions of the Plantagenet line, descended from Edward III.

The broom (Planta Genista) was the emblem of the House of Anjou, in France, whose kings succeeded the Normans, who of course were originally Danes settled in France. Both dynasties had one foot in England and one in France. Richard I- 'Coeur de Lion' spent less than a year in England during his reign. The rest of the time he spent either on Crusade or defending his French territories. He died besieging a French castle. Subsequently, his brother John 'Lackland', lost much of the family's lands in France.

The Plantagenets would have spoke various French dialects French and some English. Henry V, of the house of Lancaster who briefly achieved the throne of France in battle and by marriage, was the first Plantaget to conduct royal business and issue edicts in English as a matter of policy. His claim to the throne of France (See- 'Henry V' Act One, Scene i) dated back to at least the reign Edward III whose claim to the French crown had sparked the '100 Years War.' Despite this, Harry of Monmouth might arguably be said to be the first truly 'English' Plantagenet, although that view may be considerably influenced by Shakespeare.

"Cry God for Harry, England and St George!"

Sorry, what was the question?

Brechtel19801 Feb 2018 7:23 p.m. PST

George III was the English king that finally gave up any pretension of being King of France.

Virginia Tory01 Feb 2018 7:40 p.m. PST

British, not English.

42flanker02 Feb 2018 12:51 a.m. PST

Yet, he was a German, the first of his line who spoke English fluently, who chose to live soberly as an English country gentleman.

Virginia Tory02 Feb 2018 8:44 a.m. PST

But he was King of Great Britain, not "England."

Good point on the German. GI an and GII never quite learned it.

42flanker02 Feb 2018 11:06 a.m. PST

'Great Britain, United Kingdom of'- ('and Ireland' from 1801 when the red saltire of St Patrick, supposedly, was added).

Jeffers03 Feb 2018 10:02 a.m. PST

German? He was born in London, therefore British (or English depending on how far you want to narrow it down) and considered himself such.

42flanker03 Feb 2018 2:55 p.m. PST

Indeed, perhaps, but "Being born in a stable does not make you horse….."

On the other hand, our 'Farmer George' was son of Frederick, Prince of Wales (Born Friedrich Ludwig of Brunswick-Lüneburg), and Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, grandson of Prince George Augustus of Hanover (later George II) and Caroline of Ansbach, great grandson of George Ludwig, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (later George I)and Sophia-Dorothea of Celle, and great great grandosn of Sophia of Palatine, and so great-great-great-grandson of James VI of Scotland. Therefore, in actual fact, he was really a Scot.

Jeffers04 Feb 2018 8:59 a.m. PST

No, being born in a stable doesn't change your species, but that is not the same as nationality. Why not trace him back to Henry Mk7 and call him Welsh?

I suppose it depends on how many generations of British forebears a person needs before you accept them as British. For my money, a bloke born in London who considers himself English/British is just that. You are free to disagree.

Brechtel19804 Feb 2018 1:19 p.m. PST

But he was King of Great Britain, not "England."

Perhaps-but he was still referred to as 'King of England' and Great Britain was continually referred to as 'England' by France and other nations.

'George III, King of England and self-styled King of France…'-Vincent Cronin, Napoleon Bonaparte An Intimate Biography, 224.

42flanker04 Feb 2018 2:21 p.m. PST

House of Hanover might be a clue.

Fatuus Natural Inactive Member06 Feb 2018 4:31 a.m. PST

"From the link:

No Irishman, nor Scot, ever loved an English King. They were sent here, or fled here, because of English persecution.
Well, that is a fairly nonsensical statement."

Yes indeed, that blog post is more mythology than history. I suppose young nations need their foundation myths, but it is never wise to believe your own propaganda.

Brechtel19806 Feb 2018 10:48 a.m. PST

I have the book inbound, so I'll see what it's like.

Brechtel19806 Feb 2018 12:02 p.m. PST

The New York Prison Hulks

A better and more thorough reference might be A History of Napoleonic and American Prisoners of War 1756-1816: Hulk, Depot, and Parole by Clive Lloyd, Part 2, Chapter 7, The New York Prison Ships', 118-141:

‘The English prison ships, which stood out so starkly in their miserable and threatening greyness against the background of brightly painted men-of-war, on the Thames and Medway and off Portsmouth and Plymouth, left a life-long mark, mentally and often physically, on many of the thousands of prisoners who had suffered in them-at any time between the Seven Years' War and the end of the Napoleonic Wars.'

‘They were, fairly or unfairly, considered proof of England's vindictive and cruel attitude toward her captives, not only by our enemies, but by some of the more enlightened of our own people; and they were, indeed, a blot on our seascape and maritime history. Records, reports, letters and memoirs in half a dozen languages tell of the horrors of those floating hells; but there were others, if anything more hellish, which are by comparison more or less forgotten-the English prison hulks off the City of New York.'

‘Before entering into this record of suffering, and what might seem to be wanton cruelty, towards prisoners of war who were regarded by their captors as rebels and insurgents, a fair balance should be struck by acknowledging that many British prisoners were as badly treated as the Americans-who regarded them as oppressors. For the Americans, too, had their ‘floating hells'; the prison ships at Boston, in the harbors of Connecticut and on the Hudson. Even if we discount by fifty percent the complaints and accusations from either side, there would still remain sufficient undeniable hardship to justify their bitterness.'-119

This is an excellent study of the prisoners of war and is highly recommended.

The British had 21 prison hulks, including the infamous Jersey, used to keep American prisoners of war, some of them used as hospitals, but the majority were prison ships.

Brechtel19806 Feb 2018 3:18 p.m. PST

Received Ghost Ship today.

I briefly looked at it, and the story centers around the Jersey as the worst of the lot.

The above book I mentioned is more informative of the entire episodes of the period 1756-1816. For reference, I'd use that one before Ghost Ship.

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