French Privateer - French Fleet - Patience scarce - Escape - One missing - Man with Red Hair - Blockade - Ball Play - Severity of the Guard - Admiral Biron's Fleet - Effects of Drink - A Widow - A Surprise - Press of Fishermen - Another Detection - Voluntary Suffering - Captain Pulford - Attempt to Escape - Taken - Cruel Treatment - Just Retaliation - King's Birthday - Contribution for the Sick - Twelve months in Prison - Reflections.
MAY 16. We are informed that a French privateer was taken by a Guernsey privateer, a few days ago, and brought in here. She had eighty men on board, a number of whom were officers bound to America. We are informed that she had a commission to sink, burn and destroy all that she met belonging to Great Britain. We have also a newspaper, by which we learn that a French fleet, consisting of twelve sail of the line, and six frigates, sailed from Toulon on the 13th of April, and passed through the Straits of Gibraltar on the 24th, commanded by Count D'Estaing, supposed to be bound to America.
17. Sunday. We are informed by the paper, that on the 10th of this month, William Pitt died. I think that all England has reason to mourn the loss of so great a man, at this critical juncture, and the house of Bourbon to rejoice.
18. Mr. Sorrey, one of our "fathers," has returned from London. He informs us that General Burgoyne had arrived in London before he left, but whether he is exchanged, or come home on parole, we have not yet learned. Mr. Sorrey tells us that we must exercise a little more patience. We cannot, however, gather much patience in the yard, it is rather inclined to nettles.
19. We hear that General Burgoyne came home on parole of bonor, and is to return as soon as he has dispatched his business.
20. To-day Mr. Walch, one of the lieutenants
of the Lexington, about two o'clock in the afternoon, had an
invitation from a sentry that stood without the wall at one corner
of the yard, to go out. Accordingly he dressed himself, and went
as directed. At night, when the guard came to turn them into
the prison, it was so contrived that a small boy should go in
first, and then slip out of a
window and be counted in twice; so that they had their number and did not miss him.
21. This morning when they were turned out they did the same, and by that means it was not found out. This contrivance was to screen the guard that was on duty, when he went out, fearing lest if it was found out, they would mistrust which way he escaped, and thus the sentry be exposed.
22. Last night, the second time the guard went into the officers' ward, they found that one of them was missing; but it was about thirty hours after he went away, before they had the least suspicion of it. This morning, after we were turned out, we were mustered to see if there were any more gone, and while they were mustering us, one of the prisoners, with red hair, said something to the officer that he did not like, for which he threatened to put him in the Black-hole. After muster, accordingly, they made search for him, but could not find him, as they had no other mark for him but his hair. They then sent us into prison, and took aside each one that had red hair, but they could not find him among the number, so they let the matter pass. This afternoon, another man got over the wall at the corner of the yard, by the vault, and, by his own folly, was taken and sent to the Black-hole. On account of this futile attempt, we were sent into the prison in the midst of a pleasant afternoon; and as they were turning us in, there was one man a little obstinate, who would not voluntarily go in; they therefore took him to the Black-hole also.
23. This forenoon, as some of the prisoners were playing at ball in the prison yard, the ball happened to lodge in a spout that is placed under the eves of the prison to convey the water, when it rains, into the well in the yard. They sent a boy up after it, and one of the sentries without the wall saw him, levelled his gun at him and fired, but the ball happened not to touch him. To-day Admiral Biron and his fleet arrived in Plymouth Sound, from Spithead. The fleet consists of thirteen sail of the line, and one frigate. They are bound to America, in search of the French fleet that sailed from Toulon.
24. Sunday. For two days past, the guard has been so strict with us that they have placed a sentry at the gate, and do not allow a prisoner to go near it upon any occasion whatever; and this afternoon after we were turned into prison, one of the prisoners got up to a window to look out, and a sentry without, saw him and bade him get down; as he did not get down as soon as asked, he fired at him, but did not hurt him. We think the occasion of the guard's being so strict with us lately, is the conduct of a few evil-minded men in prison, who, as regularly as they receive their sixpence per week, lay it out at the gate for strong beer - drink it all at once, and so get drunk. Then they abuse any one who comes across them.
25. We hear that the King has granted all the men in the fleet, that now lay in the Sound, eight days to frolic and make themselves merry.
26. To-day a poor American widow came to see us; she is daughter to Dr. Murray, in Newtown Chester, Maryland. She told us that she was lately from America, that her husband is dead, and she is left with three small children in a strange land, and with nothing to help herself. I do not know what business she had here, but as there were some who knew her in America, and as she seemed to be an object of charity, we contributed among us about a guinea, and gave it to her.
27. This morning, very early, the guard came in and surprised some of us, while we had a piece of the wall down, and were digging. Some one must go to the Black-hole for it, but as yet there is nothing done about it.
28. We hear that night before last, all the Fishermen in the harbor were pressed out of their fishing boats, on board of the fleet which now lays in the Sound.
29. To-day is what they call Royal Oak, or King Charles' restoration day, and each ship, fort, and garrison, fires a salute.
30. To-day another hole was begun.
31. This forenoon we were all turned out into the yard, but a few who stayed in to dig; and while they were at work, the guard happened to come in to drive a prisoner down from an end window; so they went directly up stairs, which gave those who were at work an opportunity of making off into the yard. But the guard, before they went out, found out the hole, and the agent declared that he would have four men go to the Black-hole, or the whole should be put on half allowance. He gave us until four o'clock in the afternoon to consider of it, and at the time four men delivered themselves up of their own accord, to go to the Black-hole, rather than that all should suffer. But as we are all equally concerned in every such scheme, satisfaction will be made to them by us.
This afternoon, one Captain Pulford, came to see us. He is only about forty days from North Carolina, and was taken in a merchantman bound to France. He informed us that General Lee has been exchanged.
June 1. Two gentlemen who came to see us today, informed us that the French Admiral, now laying in Brest with thirty-six sail of the line, besides frigates, sent a challenge to the English Admiral to meet him off Brest. We are also informed that there are orders from London for a larger prison, three stories high, separate, and in another yard, to be repaired for the reception of the French prisoners.
2. In expectation of some making their escape, a difficult piece of work was undertaken, which I hope we shall prosper in.
3. Ever since I have been in prison there have been vaults dug in the yard, for the prison offal, until within a fortnight. The vaults having since then been full, each man has taken his turn to empty the tubs, twice a day, into the river. This morning two in the Black-hole went to empty their tubs at the river's edge, about twenty-rods distant, and having a mind to try to make their escape, although part of the guard was with them, they left their tubs and ran. They were immediately pursued by the guard, and overtaken about a quarter of a mile distant; and after they were secured, they used them shamefully, knocking them down two or three times, and very badly injuring them. As our cook, who prepares our victuals, gave chase and caught one of them, we determined that he should suffer for it. This same cook has lately got a license to sell strong beer, and his wife tends daily at the gate, and there are many in prison who have bought of her a great deal. But we are unanimously agreed to buy no more of him. A man who has been only two days out of the Black-hole, was carried there again to-day, for abusing the sentry in the yard.
4. To-day is the King's birth-day, and each ship, fort, and garrison, fired twenty-one guns as a royal salute. I think that his subjects would have more reason to rejoice at his death than at his birth-day; for according to the best accounts, the national debt is more than one hundred and forty-six millions. A commissioner has been here to-day, reviewing the prisons; I suppose to give orders in what manner they shall be repaired for the accommodation of the French. There are two of our ship's company that have been very ill for some months past, and as the doctor will not let them have things necessary for their comfort, we think it our duty to contribute to their relief, as Providence has put something in our hands. Accordingly, to-day we raised among us a trifle of money to buy them such things as they want, and we shall raise more as they need it. This afternoon, there were thirteen prisoners brought to prison from the Blenheim. They were lately brought from Liverpool, and have been taken nearly five months; they were captured in a privateer, fitted out of Salem. The captain's name is Ravel. Today a fleet of fishermen, consisting of about thirty sail, went out of the Sound, bound to Newfoundland.
5. The fleet that sailed yesterday for Newfoundland, meeting with contrary winds, and the weather looking likely for a storm, put about and came in again. It is twelve months to-day since I came to prison. I believe four months ago it was the opinion of every one within these walls, that we should be out before this day, but I believe now, most of us despair of being exchanged this summer, unless General Burgoyne's coming home should be of advantage to us. He is able to represent the case as it is, for we hear that the Congress told him, before he left America, to go home and take his seat in Parliament, and speak the truth, for the truth could not hurt them.
This judgement for our sins was sent,
To awake us from our carnal sleep,
And teach us God's commands to keep.
6. There are now four prisoners, who are sail-makers, at work in this prison, making hammocks for more prisoners. They are employed by a sail-maker without, and are allowed a trifle for their labor.