Americans have been extremely sympathetic to the plight of its POWs in recent years, however, most people think of POWs as those held in World War II, Korea, or Viet Nam. This is understandable, given that they were largely our friends, neighbors and relatives.

At times we may think back to the Civil War and prisons like Andersonville, but that is about as far as most peoples historic memory can manage. Few among us consider that the history of American POWs goes back much farther…all the way to the Revolutionary War.

During the battle for New York, starting in August, 1776 and after New York City fell to the British, thousands of “rebels” came into British hands. It didn’t take long for the prison space to be filled up. At the same time, the British navy had taken a number of derelict vessels and soon turned them into maritime prison ships.

Each ship had more than 1,000 men crammed into the hold. Every morning, the dead would be carried up on deck to be hauled to shore later in the day. The bodies were then dumped into shallow mass graves on the shore of Wallabout Bay in Brooklyn.

The story of these men, and the atrocities they suffered on behalf of a yet unborn nation, is one of the least known sagas of the American Revolution. These brave souls, who could have saved themselves from horrible deaths if only they would join the British forces, are among America’s greatest heroes.

As a proportion of today’s population their 11,500 deaths compare to a million in our day, and they were more than twice the deaths suffered in that war’s combat.
These valiant Patriots who gave their lives and suffered greatly for you and I, need to be remembered as Americas First POWs.

June 16, 1900 Internment of Martyrs’ Bones

Naval Secretary John D. Long spoke thes words:

The naval heroes of today who are the nation’s pride are one with these naval heroes whose martyred bones you so sa­credly and tenderly preserve and to whom you now do these deserved honors. We in this generation have seen men who died that their country might live. We honor today the men who died to give their country birth, and with it the birthright of freedom.

Death for country in one position is as patriotic, though it may not be so glorious, as death in another. These patriot mar­tyrs who would not purchase life even at the cost of treason, who endured unutter­able suffering’s rather than betray their country’s cause; and who, thousands in number, perished in those horrible prison ship monument, deserve that you make their memory eternal and that you write their story on a monument that shall tell it to this and succeeding generations.

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The prison ship martyrs association was founded to bring to the attention of the American public and their elected representatives, this often overlooked group of American Heroes.

These courageous men, men of all races and nationalities, heroically withstood daily pressure to betray their comrades, and accepted terrible deaths at the hands of the British military.

It is perhaps because Brittan has been our staunchest ally, through the two world wars and more recently in our war on terror, that there is reluctance on the part of some in government and the media to acknowledge the atrocities that these Martyrs suffered in the years 1776 through 1783.

Nevertheless, we in PSMA feel very strongly that their story must be told and that “the Republic hath never yet paid them the tribute of gratitude!”