The Supplies For The Prisoners

“As the disgust at swallowing any food which had been cooked in the Great Copper was universal, each person used every exertion to procure as much wood as possible.” – Captain Dring

“After the death of Dame Grant, we were under the necessity of purchasing from the Sutler such small supplies as we needed. This man was one of the Mates of the ship, and occupied one of the apartments under the quarter-deck, through the bulkhead of which an opening had been cut, from which he delivered his goods. He here kept for sale a variety of articles, among which was usually a supply of ardent spirits, which was not allowed to be brought alongside the ship, for sale. It could, therefore, only be procured from the Sutler, whose price was two dollars per gallon. Except in relation to this article, no regular price was fixed for what he sold us. We were first obliged to hand him the money, and he then gave us such a quantity as he pleased of the article which we needed; there was on our part no bargain to be made, but to be supplied even in this manner was, to those of us who had means of payment, a great convenience.

“Our own people afforded us no relief. O my country! Why were we thus neglected in this hour of our misery, why was not a little food and raiment given to the dying martyrs of thy cause?

“Although the supplies which some of us were enabled to procure from the Sutler were highly conducive to our comfort, yet one most necessary article neither himself nor any other person could furnish. This was wood for our daily cooking, to procure a sufficient quantity of which was to us a source of continual trouble and anxiety. The Cooks would indeed steal small quantities, and sell them to us at the hazard of certain punishment if detected; but it was not in their power to embezzle a sufficient quantity to meet our daily necessities. As the disgust at swallowing any food which had been cooked in the Great Copper was universal, each person used every exertion to procure as much wood as possible, for the private cooking of his own mess.

“During my excursion to the shore to assist in the interment of Mr. Carver, it was my good fortune to find a hogshead stave floating in the water. This was truly a prize I conveyed the treasure on board, and in the economical manner in which it was used, it furnished the mess to which I belonged with a supply of fuel for a considerable time.

“I was also truly fortunate on another occasion. I had, one day, commanded the Working-party, which was then employed in taking on board a sloop-load of wood for the sailors’ use. This was carefully conveyed below, under a guard, to prevent embezzlement. I nevertheless found means, with the assistance of my associates, to convey a cleft of it into the Gunroom, where it was immediately secreted. Our mess was thereby supplied with a sufficient quantity for a long time, and its members were considered by far the most wealthy persons in all this republic of misery. We had enough for our own use, and were enabled, occasionally, to supply our neighbors with a few splinters.

“Our mode of preparing the wood was to cut it with a jack-knife into pieces about four inches long. This labor occupied much of our time, and was performed by the different members of our mess in rotation, which employment was to us a source of no little pleasure.

“After a sufficient quantity had been thus prepared for the next day’s use, it was deposited in the chest. The main stock was guarded by day and night, with the most scrupulous and anxious care. We kept it at night within our enclosure, and by day it was always watched by some one of its proprietors. So highly did we value it that we went into mathematical calculation to ascertain how long it would supply us, if a given quantity was each day consumed.”


“Soon after the Jersey was first used as a place of confinement a code of by-laws had been established by the prisoners, for their own regulation and government; to which a willing submission was paid, so far as circumstances would permit. I much regret my inability to give these rules verbatim, but I cannot at this distant period of time recollect them with a sufficient degree of distinctness. They were chiefly directed to the preservation of personal cleanliness, and the prevention of immorality. For a refusal to comply with any of them, the refractory person was subjected to a stated punishment. It is an astonishing fact that any rules, thus made, should have so long existed and been enforced among a multitude of men situated as we were, so numerous and composed of that class of human beings who are not easily controlled, and usually not the most ardent supporters of good order. There were many foreigners among our number, over whom we had no control, except so far as they chose, voluntarily, to submit to our regulations, which they cheerfully did, in almost every instance, so far as their condition would allow. Among our rules were the following. That personal cleanliness should be preserved, as far as was practicable; that profane language should be avoided; that drunkenness should not be allowed; that theft should be severely punished, and that no smoking should be permitted between decks, by day or night, on account of the annoyance which it caused the sick.

“A due observance of the Sabbath was also strongly enjoined; and it was recommended to every individual to appear cleanly shaved on Sunday morning, and to refrain from all recreation during the day.

“This rule was particularly recommended to the attention of the officers, and the remainder of the prisoners were desired to follow their example.

“Our By-laws were occasionally read to the assembled prisoners, and always whenever any person was to be punished for their violation. Theft or fraud upon the allowance of a fellow prisoner was always punished, and the infliction was always approved by the whole company. On these occasions the oldest officer among the prisoners presided as Judge. It required much exertion for many of us to comply with the law prohibiting smoking between decks. Being myself much addicted to the habit of smoking, it would have been a great privilege to have enjoyed the liberty of thus indulging it, particularly during the night, while sitting by one of the air-ports; but as this was inadmissible, I of course submitted to the prohibition. * * * We were not allowed means of striking a fire, and were obliged to procure it from the Cook employed for the ship’s officers, through a small window in the bulkhead, near the caboose. After one had thus procured fire the rest were also soon supplied, and our pipes were all in full operation in the course of a few minutes. The smoke which rose around us appeared to purify the pestilent air by which we were surrounded; and I attribute the preservation of my health, in a great degree, to the exercise of this habit. Our greatest difficulty was to procure tobacco. This, to some of the prisoners, was impossible, and it must have been an aggravation to their sufferings to see us apparently puffing away our sorrows, while they had no means of procuring the enjoyment of a similar gratification.

“We dared not often apply at this Cook’s caboose for fire, and the surly wretch would not willingly repeat the supply. One morning I went to the window of his den, and requested leave to light my pipe, and the miscreant, without making any reply, threw a shovel full of burning cinders in my face. I was almost blinded by the pain; and several days elapsed before I fully regained my sight. My feelings on this occasion may be imagined, but redress was impossible, as we were allowed no means of even seeking it. I mention this occurrence to show to what a wretched condition we were reduced.”


“During the period of my confinement the Jersey was never visited by any regular clergyman, nor was Divine service ever performed on board, and among the whole multitude of prisoners there was but one individual who ever attempted to deliver a set speech, or to exhort his fellow sufferers. This individual was a young man named Cooper, whose station in life was apparently that of a common sailor. He evidently possessed talents of a very high order. His manners were pleasing, and he had every appearance of having received an excellent education. He was a Virginian; but I never learned the exact place of his nativity. He told us that he had been a very unmanageable youth, and that he had left his family, contrary to their wishes and advice; that he had been often assured by them that the Old Jersey would bring him up at last, and the Waleboght be his place of burial. ‘The first of these predictions,’ said he, ‘has been verified; and I care not how soon the second proves equally true, for I am prepared for the event. Death, for me, has lost its terrors, for with them I have been too long familiar.’

“On several Sunday mornings Cooper harangued the prisoners in a very forcible yet pleasing manner, which, together with his language, made a lasting impression upon my memory. On one of these occasions, having mounted upon a temporary elevation upon the Spar-deck, he, in an audible voice, requested the attention of the prisoners, who having immediately gathered around him in silence, he commenced his discourse.

“He began by saying that he hoped no one would suppose he had taken that station by way of derision or mockery of the holy day, for that such was not his object; on the contrary he was pleased to find that the good regulations established by the former prisoners, obliged us to refrain even from recreation on the Sabbath; that his object, however, was not to preach to us, nor to discourse upon any sacred subject; he wished to read us our By-laws, a copy of which he held in his hand, the framers of which were then, in all probability, sleeping in death, beneath the sand of the shore before our eyes. That these laws had been framed in wisdom, and were well fitted to preserve order and decorum in a community like ours: that his present object was to impress upon our minds the absolute necessity of a strict adherence to those wholesome regulations; that he should briefly comment upon each article, which might be thus considered as the particular text of that part of his discourse.

“He proceeded to point out the extreme necessity of a full observance of these Rules of Conduct, and portrayed the evil consequences which would inevitably result to us if we neglected or suffered them to fall into disuse. He enforced the necessity of our unremitting attention to personal cleanliness, and to the duties of morality; he dwelt upon the degradation and sin of drunkeness; described the meanness and atrocity of theft; and the high degree of caution against temptation necessary for men who were perhaps standing on the very brink of the grave; and added that, in his opinion, even sailors might as well refrain from profane language, while they were actually suffering in Purgatory.

“He said that our present torments, in that abode of misery, were a proper retribution for our former sins and transgressions; that Satan had been permitted to send out his messengers and inferior demons in every direction to collect us together, and that among the most active of these infernal agents was David Sproat, Commissary of Prisoners.

“He then made some just and suitable observations on the fortitude with which we had sustained the weight of our accumulated miseries; of our firmness in refusing to accept the bribes of our invaders, and desert the banners of our country. During this part of his discourse the sentinels on the gangways occasionally stopped and listened attentively. We much feared that by some imprudent remark, he might expose himself to their resentment, and cautioned him not to proceed too far. He replied our keepers could do nothing more, unless they should put him to the torture, and that he should proceed.

“He touched on the fact that no clergyman had ever visited us; that this was probably owing to the fear of contagion; but it was much to be regretted that no one had ever come to afford a ray of hope, or to administer the Word of Life in that terrific abode; that if any Minister of the Gospel desired to do so, there could be no obstacles in the way, for that even David Sproat himself, bad as he was, would not dare to oppose it.

“He closed with a merited tribute to the memory of our fellow-sufferers, who had already passed away. ‘The time,’ said he, ‘will come when their bones will be collected, when their rites of sepulchre will be performed, and a monument erected over the remains of those who have here suffered, the victims of barbarity, and who have died in vindication of the rights of man.’

“The remarks of our Orator were well adapted to our situation, and produced much effect on the prisoners, who at length began to accost him as Elder or Parson Cooper. But this he would not allow; and told us, if we would insist on giving him a title, we might call him Doctor, by which name he was ever afterwards saluted, so long as he remained among us.

“He had been a prisoner for about the period of three months when one day the Commissary of Prisoners came on board, accompanied by a stranger, and inquired for Cooper, who having made his appearance, a letter was put in his hand, which he perused, and immediately after left the ship, without even going below for his clothing. While in the boat he waived his hand, and bade us be of good cheer. We could only return a mute farewell; and in a few minutes the boat had left the ship, and was on its way to New York.

“Thus we lost our Orator, for whom I had a very high regard, at the time, and whose character and manners have, ever since, been to me a subject of pleasing recollection.

“Various were the conjectures which the sudden manner of his departure caused on board. Some asserted that poor Cooper had drawn upon himself the vengeance of old Sproat, and that he had been carried on shore to be punished. No certain information was ever received respecting him, but I have always thought that he was a member of some highly influential and respectable family, and that his release had been effected through the agency of his friends. This was often done by the influence of the Royalists or Refugees of New York, who were sometimes the connections or personal friends of those who applied for their assistance in procuring the liberation of a son or a brother from captivity. Such kind offices were thus frequently rendered to those who had chosen opposite sides in the great revolutionary contest, and to whom, though directly opposed to themselves in political proceedings, they were willing to render every personal service in their power.”

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

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