The SAR Magazine

Fall 2018

The SAR MAGAZINE is the official quarterly publication of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution published quarterly.

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Page 21 of 47

12 SAR MAGAZINE 22 SAR MAGAZINE By John A. Schatzel T he Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier bears the inscription, "Liberty is the light for which many men have died in darkness." Though a few revolutionary luminaries shine brightly in our memory, most Patriots died in the shadows. During the dark winter of 1776-1777, British prisons contained almost as many Patriots as the American camps. Throughout the New York Campaign, the British amassed victories and prisoners of war. Barely able to provide for their own troops, British commanders were unable to care for the prisoners. The 4,000 prisoners would have been a large burden on Sir William Howe if he accepted the responsibility. However, precedent obliged the Americans to provide for the Patriots, protocol dictated exchanging an equal number by rank, predicament precluded the British from recognizing a sovereign opponent or its prisoners, and the Continental Congress established a policy opposing the exchange of frail Patriots who would return home for Redcoats who would return to their units. While some soldiers were jailed at the notorious Sugar House, most captured Patriots were confined on prison ships in the harbors of New York, Savannah and Charleston, where they were presented with little food, many dangers and few options: some were exchanged, others escaped or purchased their freedom, and the survivors were freed at war's end. However, despite the universal offer of release to any Patriot pledging allegiance to the crown, approximately 18,000 Patriots died as prison-ship martyrs. While prisoners arrived in groups after each battle, they died at a daily rate of half a dozen, with some variance, such as an increase caused by guards retaliating against spirited Patriots unceasingly singing to celebrate July 4, 1782. In 1836, a reminiscing Gen. Jeremiah Johnson, recalling how, as a Brooklyn boy, he had watched the dead thrown overboard or buried in shallow graves uncovered by the tide, commented that "death made room for all." While young Jeremiah watched the sun bleach the Patriot remains, some patriotic citizens collected the bones. In 1804, then-Col. Johnson led Brooklyn's 4th of July celebration and ensuing banquet, during which a toast was raised to "those hardy sons of freedom, who died on board the Jersey prison ship: their bones have severally had a grave, while their patriotism has merited a monument." Possibly inspired by the toast, Johnson and Revolutionary War veteran Benjamin Romaine, then Grand Sachem of the Tammany Society, decided to construct a monument to the martyrs. In 1808, the remains of more than 1,000 Patriots, held in 13 coffins, were paraded in a grand procession and laid to rest in a large vault on land purchased by Romaine. He died in 1844, and having been a Patriot, a prisoner and a Patriots Who Died in Darkness: THE PRISON SHIP MARTYRS Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument

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