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.