Twenty-one - A Sorrowful Freedom - Fort on Drake's Island - A Report - A Request granted - London Evening Post - Breach in Black-hole - Disagreeable Confinement - William Moody - Evening Post - John Howe - Escape prevented - King's Speech - Anthony Shomaker's Escape - Thoughts about the Cartel - Roll of Prisoners called by the Board - English Prisoners at Brest - Bad Money - Sorrowful Day - Donation Money closes - Hyfield's Escape - Unsuccessful Attempt - Exposure of the Sick - John Lott died - Public Prayer - Insolent Captain rebuked - Letter of Thanks to the Hon. Committee - Escape of Captain Ross.
NOVEMBER 17. Tuesday. I am twenty-one years of age. Alas ! little did I think, three years ago, that at this age I should have spent so much of my time immersed in prison. A sorrowful freedom this; or rather no freedom at all. There has been nothing to be purchased within these walls to-day, to drink, but cold water, and we came near having nothing to eat; for, it being rainy last night, some in prison broke a hole through the wall, with the intent to go out, but were discovered, and this morning our butcher went out to cut the meat up, but the agent put all in prison on half allowance, and then went off. When the butcher came in, we told the cooks not to cut the meat up, for we would not receive half allowance. About 4 o'clock in the afternoon the agent came back, in a great passion, swearing by all that was good or bad, that all in this prison should go on half allowance. The men that dug the hole offered to go to the Black-hole, but he refused their offer; but after a long controversy, he became a little more calm, and took the men and gave us our allowance, which we received about dark.
18. For several days past, a large number of men have been at work upon an island, called Drake's Island. It seems that they have been building new works; I suppose for fear that a landing may be attempted by the French; and another fort is building further up the river.
19. To-day Joseph Burnham, one of our company, who had his leg cut off some months ago, has so far recovered as to come up into this yard.
20. We learn, by the papers, that 10,000 troops are to be sent to America in the spring, and the war is to be pushed with the utmost vigor, both by sea and land.
21. To-day we received a letter from Mr. Sorrey and Mr. Heath, which informs us that the beef shall be deducted, which we have received by subscription, and the other articles continued as before, and that we shall receive sixpence per week in money, according to our request.
22. Sunday. Wet, dirty weather, as it has been for three or four weeks past, in which time there has scarcely been a day in which it has not rained more or less.
23. This evening I had the privilege of hearing the London Evening Post read, which is a paper we seldom see, and in which is a burlesque on the Ministry, very severe.
24. I have been a prisoner three-and-twenty months to-day.
25. To-day we received sixpence per man, and the beef was deducted; the rest of the provisions continue, which, with sixpence per week, amounts to what we are allowed - fifteen pence, as before mentioned. This afternoon, the men in the Black-hole, being vexed by ill usage, and not being allowed to come out and take the air, broke down the Black-hole door, which alarmed the guard, and the agent ordered five of them to be put in irons; but the militia being on guard, and the officer being a great gentleman, he put only one of them in irons.
26. It is two years to-day since we sailed in the brig Dolton from Portsmouth. To-day the Parliament is to set, according to adjournment.
27. Wet, rainy, blustering, unsteady weather, which renders our confinement more tedious than in good weather, on account of our being obliged to keep house a great part of the time. At present, many in prison are destitute of shoes, and of late our prison has become very leaky. Along through the last of summer and the first of fall, for nearly three months, there was scarcely rain enough to wet the dust; but now, for a month past, there has been scarcely a day but there has been more or less rain; so that the grass in the fields looks much better now than it did in the month of August, when the fields were parched up for want of rain.
28. Nothing remarkable.
29. Sunday. To-day William Moody came to see us; I had not the least expectation of ever seeing him again in these parts, for I expected that he had got home before this, as he was cleared a long time ago. Where he has been ever since I cannot tell, but he tells us that he is now a carpenter of a privateer of eight guns, belonging to this port, in which he has been one cruise, and taken one French St. Domingo vessel.
30. Nothing remarkable.
December 1. This evening I had the privilege of reading the London Evening Post, in which is an account of the capture of three English frigates, by name the Minerva and the Acton, carried into the West Indies, and the Thundering Unicorn, into Boston.
2. This afternoon, one John Howe came to see us. He made his escape out of this prison a few months ago, and went on board the Blenheim, a guard ship in this port; and as he was one that petitioned to go on board the men-of-war, after he made his escape his pardon came down for him with the rest; so that he may come on shore as often as he can get liberty, with safety. He induced two of the number who petitioned last to run away, at night, when they went out with their tubs, which they did, and a boy with them, but they were pursued by the guard, taken, and lodged in the Black-hole.
3. The three that were put in the Black-hole last night were taken out to-day. To-day I had the opportunity of seeing and reading the King's speech on the 26th of last month, in which he seems very cool and moderate to what he was at the opening of the session last year. His speech was not long, but too long to be comprehended here; but he confesses that his arms have not met with the success that the justness of the cause and their exertions promised; and I think that he seems rather inclined to peace, as he says, if it can be attained consistently with the honor and dignity of the crown.
4. This evening we had two papers in prison, the Exeter paper and the London Evening Post; in the latter were the proceedings of Parliament. This paper says that the King was never seen to look so melancholy, and to speak so sorrowful, as on the 26th of Nov. last; and he was never seen to exert himself, except when he addressed the House of Commons for support. In the same paper are several fine speeches in favor of America; they lament the loss of Dominica, and deplore the situation of Great Britain and all her foreign territories.
5. Last evening Mr. Anthony Shomaker privately made his escape from the officers' prison, and but very few in this yard knew any thing of it until this evening; and neither the agent nor the guard know it yet, which makes it well for the mess he left, as they draw his provisions. But this is not the only thing; the reason we keep it from them is that he may have a better chance to get off, and to screen the militia on guard at the time.
6. Sunday. By this time I begin to feel very sad about our cartel, for I expected that it would have been here before this time, but I entertain the same opinion, about its being agreed upon, now, as I did at first; I am fearful, however, that something has turned up to prevent its being put in execution.
7. We were all called to muster just before night. We thought it was on account of Mr. Shomaker being gone, but we were soon convinced to the contrary, as they did not find it out till his name was called; and I have heard since that the Board sent down for an immediate list of all the prisoners here. There are various conjectures concerning this uncommon affair; some are encouraged by it, others not.
8. We learn, from the papers, that there are 7000 English prisoners in and about Brest.
9. To-day Mr. Coudry, the agent, and Mr. Turner, his clerk, told us that we should be exchanged very soon; it was but a few days ago that they contradicted the story concerning a cartel, and wanted to entice us to enter on board the men-of-war, so that I pay no regard to what they say, whether it be for us, or against us.
10. To-day the story concerning a cartel is rumored again; we are told that the transports are engaged for that purpose; and some say that we shall be gone in a fortnight, others in a month.
11. At this time, there is considerable bad money in prison, which was brought and handed in as change for good money, by some of the turnkeys or market people, and now that they begin to be suspicious of our going away soon, they will take no more of it, though it has passed in and out for several months, so that there is considerable laying on our hands, which we are obliged to lose. Some in prison have several shillings in bad half pence.
12. I fear that I shall forever have cause to remember this day, to my sorrow; for this morning, when we were turned out, it was reported from the officers' prison that the Act by which we were committed was again renewed, but upon further inquiry, and upon searching the paper, we found it to be nearly as follows: Sir Gray Cooper made a motion in the House for leave to bring in a bill to renew this act, for a certain limited time, which passed without a debate. But the worst is yet to come; Mr. Heath and Mr. Sorrey, who hitherto have been messengers of good news, came this afternoon with tidings of bad news, in a letter from the committee in London, which gives an account of all the donation being expended. This occasions many long faces in prison; but in this letter there is a word of comfort, for they write that the time is so short which we have to stay in prison, that they thought it not worth while to open a new subscription, though they have the same feelings for us that they ever had; which seems to imply, that if it was necessary, or if we were to stay here long, they would do it again.
13. Sunday. The sudden, disagreeable, and unexpected news that we received yesterday, has greatly added to our affliction, and this is the last day that we may expect any thing from the donation. To-day we received a fourpenny white loaf per mess, which came last night; so that from this time we may bid it adieu. This donation has lasted exactly eleven months and one day; so that it was eleven months yesterday since we received the first of it. Doubtless many of us would have been in our graves before this day, had it not been for this; and heaven, I hope, will reward the donors.
14. To-day we received another fourpenny loaf per mess; the occasion of it I cannot tell. Last evening, about eight o'clock, Mr. Hyfield made his escape from the officers' prison, in disguise; and about ten o'clock another attempted it in the same way, but was discovered, and sent to the Black-hole. There are a number sick in another prison in this yard, which is called a hospital; but it is not worth the name, as there is no fire-place in it, neither is it water tight, but whenever it rains, as it has done most of the time of late, it beats in upon the sick as they lay in their beds. At this time there are several sick with the fever, three of whom now appear to be at the point of death.
15. Last evening John Lott died with fever; he was an Indian that was taken with Captain Brown, in the sloop Charming Sally. He is the seventh man that has died in prison since I came here, and he is the seventh that Captain Brown has lost of his men since he was taken. Six of our crew have died since we were taken, two of Captain Lee's, and one of Captain Henry Johnson's. There are two men in prison who lay dangerously sick, and to-day we got leave for Mr. Heath to come and pray with them, which is the only public prayer that has been made in this yard since we came to prison. I think it not amiss to mention a few words that this Rev. gentleman said concerning the sick. He said that they should be supplied with such necessaries as they wanted for their comfort, if he had to go about the country with a bag and beg them. Today we came upon our old government allowance, which, I must confess, is better than it was in 1777; the quantity is the same, except half a pint of peas on Saturday, which we were then cheated out of; our beef and bread are the same in quantity, but better in quality. To-day the agent served out a few clothes to such as were in immediate need, but poor Charles gets none.
16. To-day the sick were removed from one prison, in this yard, to another that has been some time preparing for them.
17. Yesterday the captain of the grenadiers in the 13th regiment was on guard; last evening he came into this prison and used two or three men very ill. As this man has lately boasted that no man could make his escape while be was on guard, and as they had not found out that Mr. Hyfield was gone, who made his escape several evenings ago, and on account of the captain's insolence and abuse last evening, we let them know it this morning, so that they think he went away on this captain's guard, and the blame, if there is any, will fall upon his head. To-day, by the request of the whole prison, a letter of thanks was written, and sent to the honorable committee in London, and we desired that it might be made public, by putting it in the paper. As there was something in it which we did not wish the agent to see, we sent it out by the officer of the guard, who, being a gentleman in the militia, and approving mightily of it, promised to forward it on its way.
18. A report has prevailed in prison, to-day, that information has been received that two ships have been engaged, in Portsmouth, to carry us to Boston.
19. Last night Captain Alexander Ross made his escape from the officers' prison. Our officers that have made their escape so many times lately, may thank good friends and their money for getting off; but a poor foremast hand, with no friends, and no money in his pocket, would stand but a poor chance to get off, if he was without the walls.