the prison ships: a grisly history

The Revolutionary War seems to not get attention with New York. It should. After all, New York City was the new nation's first capitol. It was also the home of the war's biggest battle.

The Battle of Brooklyn gets that distinction. The battle was a crushing blow to the Colonists in which a major retreat took place as the result. Dense fog covered the area as the colonial forces climbed aboard their boats to safety. The British captured about 1,300 prisoners. After the battle, New York remained in British hands, with several warships always anchored in the East River.

There was a very diabolical situation that gives New York a somber footnote in history. Those are the prison ships that were stationed to house colonial prisoners. About 11,000 prisoners died in these ships during the war. The conditions were terrible as one prisoner noted:

The heat was so intense that [the 300-plus prisoners] were all naked, which also served the well to get rid of vermin, but the sick were eaten up alive. Their sickly countenances, and ghastly looks were truly horrible; some swearing and blaspheming; others crying, praying, and wringing their hands; and stalking about like ghosts; others delirious, raving and storming, all panting for breath; some dead, and corrupting. The air was so foul that at times a lamp could not be kept burning, by reason of which the bodies were not missed until they had been dead ten days. One person alone was admitted on deck at a time, after sunset, which occasioned much filth to run into the hold, and mingle with the bilge water [1]

Every day, corpses were tossed overboard from the hulks—five to ten bodies a day from one ship alone. The remains were moved to a crypt in Fort Greene Park, about a half-mile south of Wallabout Bay. 
Prison Ship Martyrs Monument
The 110-year-old Martyrs Monument is a reminder of a time when it was unclear if the United States would survive at all. This monument was dedicated in 1908 and there are plans to incorporate it into the Fort Greene National Park.

              The Battle of Brooklyn