"I then told him I was an American, making my escape, from a long confinement, and was determinedto pass,and took up a stone. He immediately drew his bayonet, and ordered me to go back with him. I refused and told him to keep his distance. He then run upon me and pushed his bayonet into my side. It come out near my navel; but the wound was not very deep; he then made a second pass at me, and stabbed me through my arm; he was about to stab me a third time, when I struck him with the stone and knocked him down. I then run, but the guard who had been alarmed, immediately took me and carried me before the Governor, where I understood the man was dead."
John Blatchford was one of the lucky ones. As a POW of the British during the American Revolution, he should have died. Most of the captured did die: of disease, of starvation, of exposure, of poisoning. They were dumped in unmarked graves by the thousands. They died to give you freedom. Today, their sacrifice is little known. Yet John Blatchford did survive, through beatings, stabbings, sea voyages, and jungle treks, and wrote his story down. It's quite a tale. Click "Read More" to begin the article.
Taken from Chapter 16, "The Case of John Blatchford," "American Prisoners of the Revolution," by Danske Dandridge (full ebook at Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7829). Edited by Gary M. Bohannon.
IN OUR ATTEPT to describe the sufferings of American prisoners taken during the Revolution, we have, for the most part, confined ourselves to New York, only because we have been unable to make extensive research into the records of the British prisons in other places. But what little we have been able to gather on the subject of the prisoners sent out of America we will also lay before our readers. We have already stated the fact that some of our prisoners were sent to India and some to Africa. They seem to have been sold into slavery, and purchased by the East India Company, and the African Company as well.
It is doubtful if any of the poor prisoners sent to the unwholesome climate of Africa ever returned to tell the story of British cruelties inflicted upon them there,--where hard work in the burning sun,--scanty fare,--and jungle fever soon ended their miseries. But one American prisoner escaped from the Island of Sumatra, where he had been employed in the pepper fields belonging to the East India Company. His story is eventful, and we will give the reader an abridgement of it, as it was told by himself, in his narrative, first published in a New England newspaper.
John Blatchford was born at Cape Ann, Mass., in the year 1762. In June, 1777, he went as a cabin boy on board the Hancock, a continental ship commanded by Capt. John Manly. On the 8th of July the Hancock was captured by the Rainbow, under Sir George Collier, and her crew was taken to Halifax. His narrative appears to have been dictated by himself to some better educated person. It was first published in New London, Conn., in the year 1788. We will now continue the narrative in Blatchford's own words:
On our arrival at Halifax we were taken on shore and confined in a prison which had formerly been a sugar-house.
The large number of prisoners confined in this house, near 300, together with a scanty allowance of provisions, occasioned it to be very sickly. * * * George Barnard, who had been a midshipman on the Hancock, and who was confined in the same room as myself, concerted a plan to release us, which was to be effected by digging a small passage under ground, to extend to a garden that was behind the prison, and without the prison wall, where we might make a breach in the night with safety, and probably all obtain our liberty. This plan greatly elated our spirits, and we were anxious to proceed immediately in executing it.
Our cabins were built one above another, from the floor to the height of a man's head; and mine was pitched upon to be taken up; and six of us agreed to do the work, whose names were George Barnard, William Atkins, late midshipmen in the Hancock; Lemuel Towle of Cape Ann, Isaiah Churchill of Plymouth; Asa Cole of Weathersfield, and myself.
We took up the cabin and cut a hole in the plank underneath. The sugar house stood on a foundation of stone which raised the floor four feet above the ground, and gave us sufficient room to work, and to convey away the dirt that we dug up.
The instruments that we had to work with were one scraper, one long spike, and some sharp sticks; with these we proceeded in our difficult undertaking. As the hole was too small to admit of more than one person to work at a time we dug by turns during ten or twelve days, and carried the dirt in our bosoms to another part of the cellar. By this time we supposed we had dug far enough, and word was given out among the prisoners to prepare themselves for flight.
But while we were in the midst of our gayety, congratulating ourselves upon our prospects, we were basely betrayed by one of our own countrymen, whose name was Knowles. He had been a midshipman on board the Boston frigate, and was put on board the Fox when she was taken by the Hancock and Boston. What could have induced him to commit so vile an action cannot be conceived, as no advantage could accrue to him from our detection, and death was the certain consequence to many of his miserable countrymen. That it was so is all that I can say. A few hours before we were to have attempted our escape Knowles informed the Sergeant of the guard of our design, and by his treachery cost his country the lives of more than one hundred valuable citizens.
When we were discovered the whole guard were ordered into the room and being informed by Knowles who it was that performed the work we were all six confined in irons; the hole was filled up and a sentinel constantly placed in the room, to prevent any further attempt.
We were all placed in close confinement, until two of my fellow-sufferers, Barnard and Cole, died; one of which was put into the ground with his irons on his hands.
I was afterwards permitted to walk the yard. But as my irons were too small, and caused my hands to swell, and made them very sore, I asked the Sergeant to take them off and give me larger ones. He being a person of humanity, and compassionating my sufferings, changed my irons for others that were larger, and more easy to my hands.
Knowles, who was also permitted to walk the yard, for his perfidy, would take every opportunity to insult and mortify me, by asking me whether I wanted to run away again, and when I was going home, etc.
One day as he was tantalizing over me as usual, I suddenly drew my one hand out of my irons, flew at him and struck him in the face, knocked out two or three of his teeth, and bruised his mouth very much. He cried out that the prisoner had got loose, but before any assistance came, I had put my hand again into the hand-cuff, and was walking about the yard as usual. When the guard came they demanded of me in what manner I struck him. I replied with both my hands.
They then tried to pull my hands out, but could not, and concluded it must be as I said. Some laughed and some were angry, but in the end I was ordered again into prison.
The next day I was sent on board the Greyhound, frigate, Capt. Dickson, bound on a cruise in Boston Bay.
After being out a few days we met with a severe gale of wind, in which we sprung our main-mast, and received considerable other damage. We were then obliged to bear away for the West Indies, and on our passage fell in with and took a brig from Norwich, laden with stock.
The Captain and hands were put on board a Danish vessel the same day. We carried the brig into Antigua, where we immediately repaired, and were ordered in company of the Vulture, sloop of war, to convoy a sloop of merchantmen into New York.
We left the fleet off Sandy Hook, and sailed for Philadelphia, where we lay until we were made a packet, and ordered for Halifax with dispatches. We had a quick passage, and arrived safe.
While we lay in the road Admiral Byron arrived, in the Princess Royal from England, who, being short of men, and we having a surplus for a packet, many of our men were ordered on board the Princess Royal, and among them most of our boat's crew.
Soon after, some of the officers going on shore, I was ordered into the boat. We landed at the Governor's slip--it being then near night. This was the first time since I had been on board the Greyhound that I had had an opportunity to escape from her, as they were before this particularly careful of me; therefore I was determined to get away if possible, and to effect it I waded round a wharf and went up a byway, fearing I should meet the officers. I soon got into the street, and made the best of my way towards Irishtown (the southern suburbs of Halifax) where I expected to be safe, but unfortunately while running I was met and stopped by an emissary, who demanded of me my business, and where I was going? I tried to deceive him, that he might let me pass, but it was in vain, he ordered me to follow him.
I offered him what money I had, about seven shillings, sixpence, to let me go, this too was in vain. I then told him I was an American, making my escape, from a long confinement, and was determined to pass, and took up a stone. He immediately drew his bayonet, and ordered me to go back with him. I refused and told him to keep his distance. He then run upon me and pushed his bayonet into my side. It come out near my navel; but the wound was not very deep; he then made a second pass at me, and stabbed me through my arm; he was about to stab me a third time, when I struck him with the stone and knocked him down. I then run, but the guard who had been alarmed, immediately took me and carried me before the Governor, where I understood the man was dead.