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The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn: More Americans Died in the Revolutionary War on this British Prison Ship Than in Combat

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 22, 2024 3:02 am

The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn: More Americans Died in the Revolutionary War on this British Prison Ship Than in Combat

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 22, 2024 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Robert P. Watson, author of The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn, tells this untold story of the American Revolution.

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Head to today and score the 4K TV you've been waiting for. V-Series is about to share with us a discovery he made when researching a terrible prison ship run by the British during the Revolutionary War. Professor Roberts tells the story in his book, The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn.

Let's take a listen. So history still has her secrets. We think we know all there is to know about major episodes in history, like the Revolutionary War.

But lo and behold, not only are there still some secrets waiting, but some real shockers. One of them involved an infamous ship called the HMS Jersey, known as Hell Afloat, or the Ghost Ship. Twice as many Americans died on this one ship than died in the entirety of combat during the Revolutionary War. Twice as many men.

So how did that happen? It starts with the construction of a ship in the 1730s called the HMS Jersey. This ship was really a weapon of mass destruction for the day and age. It was a marvel of technology and warfare, whatever the threshold of technology and warfare was for the 1700s was on this ship. She had a crew of over 400, dozens and dozens of major guns, naval guns, multiple decks, multiple masks, an amazing, amazing ship. However, despite these advanced technologies, this ship seemed to be cursed. She loses virtually every battle she's in off the coast of Columbia.

She's destroyed. The crew catches a tropical disease, wipes out the crew. The captain of the ship dies mysteriously. So it gets a reputation as being a cursed ship.

And of course, folks were a lot more superstitious back then. So no one wanted to serve on this ship. No one wanted to captain her.

But she has one more major mission. That would be the Revolutionary War. During the Revolutionary War, she's stripped of her elegance, power and all the artillery.

She's turned into a supply ship. In the 1770s, the British want to push back on these pesky colonials who were starting this revolution. So they sail a massive force to America's shores. It's led by General Howe and his brother, Admiral Howe.

They set sail with 32,000 men. They're supplemented by 9,000 Hessian mercenaries. These are the soldiers of fortune, the biggest, most feared warriors of the time. And they're led by a commander named Colonel Johann Gottlieb Rall. He's almost a Dracula type of figure in that he tortures people in medieval ways.

The sheer mention of his name strikes terror into people. So this is the army, the flotilla, the armada that set sail for America. And they go to New York City. Why New York City? Well, they need a place to launch their counteroffensive and to subdue the colonials. New York City at the time had a large population of loyalists and royalists.

That was that they were folks who were pro-crown. Well, one of the ships that sailed in the armada was the Jersey. But she was stripped of her elegance and power. She was turned into a lowly supply ship. Her halls were filled with food and powder and cows and horses and things of that effect.

So she stripped down to the bare essentials and set sail. So the British Howe takes New York City easily, but now he has a new problem. He has thousands of prisoners and he doesn't know what to do with them. They're not going to build prisons because the British believe the war will be over in a matter of days or weeks or months at the most.

After all, Washington's on the run and his army's depleted and Howe has most of his army prisoner. So they're trying to figure out what they do about all these prisoners and then they have an idea. Why don't we get a massive warship or two or three and we should hawk them? Well, hawking a ship means you take the rudder off, the wheelhouse off, the masts and sails. You strip a ship down so it's only the hull of the ship. So they decided they would strip that down and make it a floating prison. Well, now which ship are they going to pick?

It was obvious, the HMS Jersey. The ghost ship, hell afloat. She was already cursed. She was already demoted to a supply ship and she was massive. So they stripped her down, they hawked her and they moored her in Brooklyn in a place called Wallabout Bay.

It's about 100 yards off coast. They put her in the water. She looked like a coffin and they loaded her up with 1000 American prisoners of war. And then they nailed down the hatches. They board up the portholes. And what happens is disease tears through the ship and virtually everybody on board died. And that's when the British got a terrible idea, an evil idea. Why don't they use that ship for propaganda? They would announce through broadsides, that is sort of a poster meets newsletter.

They would tack them to a pub door. So these broadsides would say, essentially, if you pick up arms against us and you get caught, you're going to hell. And that's the ghost ship.

And there's only one way off the ship and that's horizontal. So that would deter Americans from picking up weaponry or armaments. And it would also form a prototype of psychological warfare. So the British decided to diabolically use this ship for those purposes, psychological war and torture. So then after most of the men, 1000 died, they loaded up with another 1000 and this repeats itself. This ship is for years in Brooklyn. Sailors that survived the ship estimated that somewhere between five and 12 men died every night.

And the death toll is extraordinary. There's a gruesome routine every morning. They row from the shoreline, a boat out to the ship and the commandant of the ship, his name is Sprout and he's wicked. Sprout would row everybody out to the ship and he would say, there, he would point there, there is your hell.

And they would look at these ghostly, gaunt faces in the portholes and he would say, that's your future. In the morning mist in this mucky bay, the men would be boarded on the ship. And their first appearance that they see, they would walk on board and there's no room to sit down or lie down.

It's so crowded that men are literally on top of one another. The weakest, the youngest, the sickest end up lying down by the portholes. And even though they're boarded up, it's freezing.

It snows, it rains. A lot of them would freeze to death. A lot of them would be frozen stiff in the morning. The main problem for them was there was something called the tub. There was no facilities.

You just want a hard floor. There was a big tub. They used it for human waste. That tub would overflow. And the problem is some of the men had to bunk near the tub. Others were below it and it would pour down the cracks. And in the morning, they would hear the footsteps above.

The hatch would be loosened and they would yell down, Rebels, bring out your dead. And somebody would have to carry the corpses up, but a couple men would have to carry the tub up. And then they would dump the tub in the water. And of course you'd be covered in feces and urine. There was no water, not enough water to clean. You had to stay like that until you were above decks and it happened to rain.

And that could be a day, weeks, or who knows when. They would dump the tub and carry up the corpses and two things would happen. Sproat would order that they lower the buckets with a rope into the water and that would be their water supply. So if you did not drink on the ghost ship, you died. And if you drank on the ghost ship, you died because you're basically drinking the foul human excrement. The second thing that would happen is they would get the dead boat. And they would put men on the dead, the corpses on the dead boat and they'd row them ashore. And the men on the shoreline would describe that they would only be able to throw two or three, at the most maybe four shovels of dirt before they would put the corpses in.

So they weren't even covered. And then as the men were rowing back, they would watch as a pig or a coyote or a dog or a buzzard or something would come out and start to eat their comrades. And then they'd go back on the boat, put below decks and the hatch would be closed. Somehow, someway, as unlikely as this is, a few men managed to survive this and a few others managed to escape to tell their tale.

And you're listening to one heck of a story being told by Robert Watson. The ghost ship of Brooklyn was the book. The ghost ship of Brooklyn was real. My goodness, I knew a lot about the Revolutionary War, but I did not know that twice as many of our soldiers died on that ship than died in combat. And when we come back, more of the ghost ship of Brooklyn, the hell ship of Brooklyn, here on Our American Stories. Find the perfect TCL Roku TV for you today at slash TCL Roku TV.

For multiple prices on all V Series 4K Smart TVs, head to today and score the 4K TV you've been waiting for. And we continue with Our American Stories and with Robert Watson, author of The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn. Let's pick up where we last left off. There was too little food. I estimated that the caloric intake that the prisoners on the ship got was about two-thirds to three-quarters of the calories one needs to stay alive.

Therefore, if you didn't eat, you died on the ghost ship, and if you did eat, you died slower on the ghost ship. The food was prepared in what they called the great copper, and the chef was the man the prisoners called him, His Majesty the Chef, not a compliment, that was satirical. The great copper was this huge, boiling cauldron. The sprout would order that the buckets to fill up the cauldron, the great copper, were of course gathered after they dumped the human waste into the water. Then the men would be given either rotted meat, they were given some kind of oatmeal porridge type of thing that the men called burgoo, and then hard tack, a biscuit that is the consistency of the heel of your shoe. The men would have to float it in the water, one, to get the bugs out, but a lot of them ate the bugs for protein.

Two, just so they wouldn't lose a tooth. So that's their food intake, but to make matters worse, when they would queue up to wait in line to get their meager portion, the chef, cruelly as it's boiling, he would get his ladle, and he would arbitrarily just throw scalding water in the men's eyes and face, and when you got toward the end of the queue or the line, he would call off the mess, no more food. So of course there was a mad fight to get in line, and the youngest, the weakest, the sickest would be at the end of the line, and of course this just expedited their demise. There were a handful of things that kept the men alive. One was a portly older woman, they called her Dame Grant. Miss Grant would get a young boy to rower aboard the ship, and she would bring apples or tobacco or scissors so they could trim their hair. She reminded them of a mom, or their grandmother. Some degree of normalcy and hope and home, which would have motivated them to stay alive.

Well, unfortunately, on one of her visits to the ship, Dame Grant caught one of the countless diseases that tore through the ship, and Dame Grant died. There was a guy, they called him the orator. He was a preacher and soldier from Virginia, and he was on board, and he would jump up on the side of the ship and give these motivational speeches. And it kept the men going. One day he didn't stop, and the guards told him to stop. And he kept going and going, and they told him, and the men begged him to stop, and he didn't.

He was dragged off the ship, and they heard a shot from the shoreline and never heard of again. And the third thing that kept them going was on Independence Day, in the days preceding it, the men would save, each night they were given a little ladle full of water. They would save a little bit of water, or maybe save a part of their hard tack, because that was, you know, non-perishable. And then with the dead, they would strip parts of their clothing off, and they had a little needle and thread. They made homemade flags. And what they did on Independence Day, when they would be allowed on the top deck for a short period of time, they would sing songs. And one time they were singing, and the guards ordered them to stop. And the men turned and faced the shoreline, and they said they were going to sing so loud that people in New York are going to hear us. And they sang and sang, and the guards said stop. And then there was a melee. The guards opened fire and drove the men below decks, hacking them to pieces. Then they didn't allow them back up for over 24 hours and didn't feed them or give them any water.

And when, of course, they open up the hatches, many men are dead. Amazingly, some men escaped. The hero, I guess, Thomas Dring. He's kind of a MacGyver figure. He was creative.

He found gadgets and ways of doing things. He was a junior officer on a ship, and that ship was captured by a British warship. So he and others were put below decks on the ghost ship. At any rate, they're going to escape. So they start clawing at, and with a little fork or a knife they steal, they dig a hole in the rotted ship. Now they're going to squeeze through and escape at night when it's raining, stormy. So that way nobody will hear them. So Dring, being the guy that he is, he lets the other four go first.

And as he sticks his head through the hole, he hears shots and screaming. Someone on board told the guards, and it was the Hessian guards that night. Why would somebody tell them? Imagine you're so thirsty that you're dying and they offer you a cup of water.

People are going to sell out their friends. And somebody did. We don't know the full story. But what we do know is they killed three of the four guys in the water. Dring never went overboard.

They brought the fourth back, opened up the hatch, took him downstairs, and hacked his arm off and threw him in the town. So all night long the men are hearing him groan until he dies. That's Dring's situation. Well, what Dring does is he goes to Sprout, the evil warden, and he says the war is about to end.

This is within the last full year of the war. He says something's going to happen. One of these days George Washington, his army, is going to ride into here, and you're toast. Or one of these days the war is just going to be over, and as you try to flee to get back to Britain, the mobs are going to tear you limb from limb.

Or we're going to rise up in desperation. So I suggest you let me off the ship to go negotiate a prisoner exchange. So Sprout actually agreed. He sent Dring and a surgeon to go meet George Washington.

The order from Sprout was if you don't come back within X number of days, I'll kill everybody. So Dring actually meets George Washington. And he tells him about the ship George knew about the ship. Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, others wrote letters about this.

They were appalled. Washington contacted British commanders and told them, Need I remind you that I have British prisoners, including officers? And I'm happy to say Washington never resorted to that type of barbarism. Washington won't do the prisoner exchange. He has to bite the bullet. He says if we do a prisoner exchange a thousand for a thousand, the British are getting a thousand soldiers back trained. I'm getting a thousand farmers who are untrained and they're corpses.

So to end this war we have to bite the bullet. Dring goes back on board the ghost ship. But happily Dring becomes his own captain, lives a long life, escaped and wrote his story. I had heard of this ship. I heard of these stories.

But I talked to many historians. Nobody had heard about it. It wasn't in textbooks.

It hasn't been made into a movie. I knew most of the men on board were young and they were from New England fishing villages. So I contacted archives up and down New England. And after months, a librarian in Providence, Rhode Island, called me and said, Are you sitting down? We found a diary that's been in the basement of this library for 200 years. It's a diary of a little 13-year-old boy named Christopher Hawkins who wrote his story. Two hundred years I said, I'm on my way.

So Christopher Hawkins not only told the story, he wrote down the names of everybody that escaped. So the Truman Library asked me to kick off a history happy hour for them several years ago. I go out to kick it off and the director says, There's this older man that calls every day. He has to meet you. He said, Do you want me to have security, not let him in? He keeps calling.

I said, Nah, don't worry about it. So I go a day early to do my research in the archives and one of the archivists comes down and says, The director said that this man keeps calling. He wants to see if he'll talk at the end of the day. I walk in and there's a very tall, kind man up there, really up there in years. His name's Woody.

And he sees me and starts crying. It's Woody Hawkins, Christopher Hawkins' great-great-great-great-grandson. And he had a bag of letters and he said, My dad tried to find out my great-great-great-grandfather's story, his father before him, his father before him, and they passed him down. He said, I read your book and my great-great-great-great-grandfather's on page 150, 270, and I'll be darned. So we got the letters, we donated at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, the National Archives, and I got to meet Christopher's descendant. And that is why we love history. And a terrific job on the production and editing by our own John Elfner himself, a history teacher in Illinois. My dad was a history teacher, and what great history does is bring us back in time, not to judge the people during that time, but to walk in their shoes.

And boy, did we learn that Americans suffered for the inheritance, the freedoms we have today. And a terrific job on the storytelling by Robert Watson. His book, The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn, buy one copy, buy two. You won't put it down.

Get it at Amazon, at your local bookstore, wherever you get your books. And my goodness, what hell on earth? And it was designed that way. The HMS Jersey retrofitted, hawked, and turned into a hell ship. And more men died again on that ghost ship than died in all the combat in the Revolutionary War.

The story of The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn here on Our American Stories. From football playoffs to basketball madness, TCL Roku TVs are the best way to stream your favorite live sports. With all the biggest sports channels, a sports zone with all available games in one place, and apps like iHeartRadio with sports podcasts such as The Herd with Colin Cowherd.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-22 17:03:07 / 2024-02-22 17:12:29 / 9

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