The Price to be Paid
According to the Department of Defense, there were 4,435 battle deaths during the Revolutionary War. The most reliable estimate of prison ship casualties is 11,500.
Although these men could be released if they joined the British forces, all refused and purchased your freedom at enormous personal costs.
Robert Sheffield of Stonington, Conn. escaped and told his tale, relating that men were “swearing and blaspheming; some crying, praying and wringing their hands, and stalking about like ghosts; others delirious, raving and storming; some groaning and dying—all panting for breath; some dead and corrupting—air so foul at times that a lamp could not be kept burning, by reason of which the boys were not missed till they had been dead ten days.”
Gary North reports: “There was, indeed, one condition upon which these hapless sufferers might have escaped the torture of this slow but certain death, and that was enlistment in the British service. This chance was daily offered to them by the recruiting officers who visited the ship, but whose persuasions and offers were almost invariably treated with contempt, and that, too, by men who fully expected to die where they were. In spite of untold physical sufferings, which might well have shaken the resolution of the strongest; in spite of the insinuations of the British that they were neglected by their Government – insinuations which seemed to be corroborated by the very facts of their condition; in defiance of threats of even harsher treatment, and regardless of promises of food and clothing — objects most tempting to men in their condition; but few, comparatively, sought relief from their woes by the betrayal of their honor. And these few went forth into liberty followed by the execrations and undisguised contempt of the suffering heroes whom they left behind. It was this calm, unfaltering, unconquerable SPIRIT OF PATRIOTISM – torture, starvation, loathsome disease, and the prospect of a neglected and forgotten grave-which sanctifies to every American heart the scene of their suffering in the Wallabout, and which will render the sad story of the “prison-ships” one of ever-increasing interest to all future generations. “They chose to die, rather than injure the Republic. And the Republic hath never yet paid them the tribute of gratitude!” . . .
How great was the sacrifice that purchased your freedom.
How extraordinary in the entire world of the eighteenth century was the right of a free people to vote and seek life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? These heroes of our revolution did not know, and could not know the outcome of the war. They could not know if their sacrifice was in vain. The odds were so heavily against the colonial army. How can we possibly understand their state of mind, and their prospect of a neglected and forgotten grave in the service of a cause apparently lost? And yet they endured terrible suffering so as not to damage the chances of this potential new Republic. They suffered death and gave the last true measure of their devotion to purchase your chance at freedom.
When you cast your vote, you reach back across time to touch these heroes, and all that fought to make us free, and tell them they are not forgotten; and that we honor their sacrifice. In doing so we affirm their hopes as they lie dieing, panting for breath in the air so foul. How dare any among us not cherish that freedom for which their suffering paid such an exceptional price? How dare any of us not vote?