Recollections Of Andrew Sherburne

Andrew Sherburne, a lad of seventeen, shipped on the Scorpion, Captain R. Salter, a small vessel, with a crew of eighteen men. This vessel was captured by the Amphion, about the middle of November, 1782. Sherburne says that the sailors plundered them of everything they possessed, and that thirteen of them were put on board the Amphion, and sent down to the cable tiers between the two decks, where they found nearly a hundred of their countrymen, who were prisoners of war.

“We were very much crowded, and having nothing but the cables to lay on, our beds were as hard and unpleasant as though they were made of cord wood, and indeed we had not sufficient room for each to stretch himself at the same time.

“After about two weeks we arrived at New York, and were put on board that wretched ship the Jersey. The New York prison ships had been the terror of American tars for years. The Old Jersey had become notorious in consequence of the unparallelled mortality on board her. * * *

“I entered the Jersey towards the last of November, I had just entered the eighteenth year of my age, and had now to commence a scene of suffering almost without a parallel. * * * A large proportion of the prisoners had been robbed of their clothing. * * * Early in the winter the British took the Chesapeake frigate of about thirty guns, and 300 hands. All were sent on board the Jersey, which so overcrowded her, that she was very sickly. This crew died exceedingly fast, for a large proportion were fresh hands, unused to the sea.”

Sherburne says that boats from the city brought provisions to sell to such of the prisoners as were so fortunate as to be possessed of money, and that most of them were able to make purchases from them. A piece of sausage from seven to nine inches long sold for sixpence.

In January, 1783, Sherburne became ill and was sent to the Frederick, a hospital ship. In this two men shared every bunk, and the conditions were wretchedly unsanitary. He was placed in a bunk with a man named Wills from Massachusetts, a very gentle and patient sufferer, who soon died.

“I have seen seven men drawn out and piled together on the lower hatchway, who had died in one night on board the Frederick.

“There were ten or twelve nurses, and about a hundred sick. Some, if not all of the nurses, were prisoners. * * * They would indulge in playing cards and drinking, while their fellows were thirsting for water and some dying. At night the hatches were shut down and locked, and the nurses lived in the steerage, and there was not the least attention paid to the sick except by the convalescent, who were so frequently called upon that, in many cases, they overdid themselves, relapsed, and died.”

Sherburne suffered extremely from the cold. “I have often,” he says “toiled the greatest part of the night, in rubbing my feet and legs to keep them from freezing. * * * In consequence of these chills I have been obliged to wear a laced stocking upon my left leg for nearly thirty years past. My bunk was directly against the ballast-port; and the port not being caulked, when there came a snow-storm the snow would blow through the seams in my bed, but in those cases there was one advantage to me, when I could not otherwise procure water to quench my thirst. The provision allowed the sick was a gill of wine, and twelve ounces of bread per day. The wine was of an ordinary quality, and the bread made of sour or musty flour, and sometimes poorly baked. There was a small sheet iron stove between decks, but the fuel was green, and not plenty, and there were some peevish and surly fellows generally about it. I never got an opportunity to sit by it, but I could generally get the favor of some one near it to lay a slice of bread upon it, to warm or toast it a little, to put into my wine and water. We sometimes failed in getting our wine for several days together; we had the promise of its being made up to us, but this promise was seldom performed. * * * Water was brought on board in casks by the working party, and when it was very cold it would freeze in the casks, and it would be difficult to get it out. * * * I was frequently under the necessity of pleading hard to get my cup filled. I could not eat my bread, but gave it to those who brought me water. I have given three days allowance to have a tin cup of water brought me. * * * A company of the good citizens of New York supplied all the sick with a pint of good Bohea tea, well sweetened with molasses a day; and this was constant. I believe this tea saved my life, and the lives of hundreds of others. * * * The physicians used to visit the sick once in several days: their stay was short, nor did they administer much medicine. Were I able to give a full description of our wretched and filthy condition I should almost question whether it would be credited. * * * It was God’s good pleasure to raise me up once more so that I could just make out to walk, and I was again returned to the Jersey prison ship.”

Here he received sad news. One of his uncles was a prisoner on board the Jersey, and had been very kind to him, giving him a share of his money with which to purchase necessaries. Now he found his uncle about to take his place in the hospital ship. A boy named Stephen Nichols also informed him of the death in his absence of the gunner of their ship, whose name was Daniel Davis. This poor man had his feet and legs frozen, from which he died.

“Nichols and myself were quite attached to each other. * * * We stalked about the decks together, lamenting our forlorn condition. In a few days there came orders to remove all the prisoners from the Jersey in order to cleanse the ship. We were removed on board of transports, and directly there came on a heavy storm. The ship on which I was was exceedingly crowded, so that there was not room enough for each man to lay down under deck, and the passing and repassing by day had made the lower deck entirely wet. Our condition was distressing. After a few days we were all put on board the Jersey again. A large number had taken violent colds, myself among the rest. The hospital ships were soon crowded, and even the Jersey herself shortly became about as much of a hospital ship as the others.”

Sherburne was again sent to a hospital ship, where he was rejoiced to find his uncle convalescing. A man who lay next him had been a nurse, but had had his feet and legs frozen, the toes and bottom of his feet fell off.

Two brothers shared a bunk near him. Their names were John and Abraham Falls. John was twenty-three, and Abraham only sixteen. Both were very sick. One night Abraham was heard imploring John not to lie on him, and the other invalids reproached him for his cruelty in thus treating his young brother. But John was deaf to their reproaches, for he was dead. Abraham was too ill to move from under him. Next day the dead brother was removed from the living one, but it was too late to save him, and the poor boy died that morning.

Sherburne says that only five of his crew of thirteen survived, and that in many instances a much larger proportion died.

“At length came news of peace. It was exceedingly trying to our feelings to see our ship mates daily leaving us, until our ship was almost deserted. We were, however, convalescent, but we gained exceedingly slowly. * * * I think there were but seven or eight left on board the hospital ship when we left it, in a small schooner sent from R. I., for the purpose of taking home some who belonged to that place, and the commander of the hospital ship had the humanity to use his influence with the master of the cartel to take us on board, and to our unspeakable joy he consented.”

When at last he reached home he says: “My brother Sam took me into another room to divest me of my filthy garments and to wash and dress me. He having taken off my clothes and seen my bones projecting here and there, was so astonished that his strength left him. He sat down on the point of fainting, and could render me no further service. I was able to wash myself and put on my clothes.”

After this he was obliged to spend twenty days in bed. Poor Mrs. Falls, the mother of the two young men who had died on the hospital ship, called on him and heard the fate of her sons. She was in an agony, and almost fainted, and kept asking if it was not a mistake that both were dead.


Dandridge, Danske American Prisoners of the Revolution, Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, 1911, 1967.

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