Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

signify as much to that body, as I really think it fraught with every evil."

Washington was not always successful in instilling his wise moderation into public councils. Congress adhered to their vindictive policy, merely directing that no other hardships should be inflicted on the captive officers, than such confinement as was necessary to carry their resolve into effect. As to their refusal to grant the request of Lee, Robert Morris surmised they were fearful of the injurious effect that might be produced in the court of France, should it be reported that members of Congress visited General Lee, by permission of the British commissioners. There were other circumstances beside the treatment of General Lee, to produce this indignant sensibility on the part of Congress. Accounts were rife at this juncture, of the cruelties and indignities almost invariably experienced by American prisoners at New York ; and an active correspondence on the subject was going on between Washington and the British commanders, at the same time, with that regarding General Lee.

The captive Americans who had been in the naval service were said to be confined, officers and men, in prison-ships, which from their loathsome condition, and the horrors and suf

[ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

ferings of all kinds experienced on board of them, had acquired the appellation of floating hells. Those who had been in the land service, were crowded into jails and dungeons like the vilest malefactors; and were represented as pining in cold, in filth, in hunger and naked

[ocr errors]

ness.

Our poor devoted soldiers," writes an eyewitness, “were scantily supplied with provisions of bad quality, wretchedly clothed, and destitute of sufficient fuel, if indeed they had any. Disease was the inevitable consequence, and their prisons soon became hospitals. A A fatal malady was generated, and the mortality, to every heart not steeled by the spirit of party, was truly deplorable."* According to popular account, the prisoners confined on shipboard, and on shore, were perishing by hundreds.

A statement made by Captain Gamble, recently confined on board of a prison-ship, had especially roused the ire of Congress, and by their directions had produced a letter from Washington to Lord Howe.

“I am sorry,' writes he, “that I am under the disagreeable necessity of troubling your lordship with a letter, almost wholly on the subject of the cruel treatment which our officers and men in the

* Graydon's Memoirs, p. 232.

[ocr errors]

VOL IV.-3

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

naval department, who are unhappy enough to fall into your hands, receive on board the prison-ships in the harbor of New York." After specifying the case of Captain Gamble, and adding a few particulars, he proceeds: From the opinion I have been taught to entertain of your lordship's humanity, I will not suppose that you are privy to proceedings of so cruel and unjustifiable a nature; and I hope, that, upon making the proper inquiry, you will have the matter so regulated, that the unhappy persons whose lot is captivity, may not in future have the miseries of cold, disease, and famine, added to their other misfortunes. You may call us rebels, and say that we deserve no better treatment; but remember, my lord, that, supposing us rebels, we still have feelings as keen and sensible as loyalists, and will, if forced to it, most assuredly retaliate upon those upor whom we look as the unjust invaders of our rights, liberties, and properties. I should not have said thus much, but my injured countrymen have long called upon me to endeavor to obtain a redress of their grievances, and I should think myself as culpable as those who inflict such severities upon them, were I to continue silent," etc.

Lord Howe, in reply (January 17), expressed himself surprised at the matter and language

[ocr errors]

Lord bowe's Denial

67

[ocr errors]

of Washington's letter, "so different from the liberal vein of sentiment he had been habituated to expect on every occasion of personal intercourse or correspondence with him." He was surprised, too, that “the idle and unnatural report” of Captain Gamble, respecting the dead and dying, and the neglect of precautions against infection, should meet with any credit. Attention to preserve the lives of these men,” writes he, whom we esteem the misled subjects of the king, is a duty as binding on us, where we are able from circumstances to execute it with effect, as any you can plead for the interest you profess in their welfare."

He denied that prisoners were ill treated in his particular department (the naval). They had been allowed the general liberty of the prison-ship, until a successful attempt of some to escape, had rendered it necessary to restrain the rest within such limits as left the commanding parts of the ship in possession of the guard. They had the same provisions in quality and quantity that were furnished to the seamen of his own ship. The want of cleanliness was the result of their own indolence and neglect. In regard to health, they had the constant attendance of an American surgeon, a fellow-prisoner ; who was furnished with medicines from the king's stores ; and the visits of the physician of the fleet.

"As I abhor every imputation of wanton cruelty in multiplying the miseries of the wretched,” observes his lordship, “or of treating them with needless severity, I have taken the trouble to state these several facts.”

In regard to the hint at retaliation, he leaves it to Washington to act therein as he should think fit; but adds he grandly, “the innocent at my disposal will not have any severities to apprehend from me on that account.”

We have quoted this correspondence the more freely, because it is on a subject deeply worn into the American mind; and about which we have heard too many particulars, from childhood upwards, from persons of unquestionable veracity, who suffered in the cause, to permit us to doubt about the fact. The Jersey Prison-ship is proverbial in our Revolutionary history ; and the bones of the unfortunate patriots who perished on board, form a monument on the Long Island shore. The horrors of the Sugar-house converted into a prison, are traditional in New York ; and the brutal tyranny of Cunningham, the provostmarshal, over men of worth confined in the common jail, for the sin of patriotism, has been handed down from generation to generation.

« AnteriorContinuar »