Brooklyn Daily Eagle
18 January 1873
 8 January 1888

The following article is a combination of the above. 
Where added information from 1888 is included, I have put an * before and after.


Removal of Their Remains from the Vault on Navy Street to the Mausoleum in Washington Park.

Some Account of the Prison Ships and the Tortures Endured by the Heroes on the Shores of Brooklyn Where They Have Rested for Ninety Years-- Description of the New Receptacle and its Surrounding, &c., &c. _______

One of the most eminent of modern English writers, referring to American literature a few years ago, took occasion to say that there was no poetry in the American character. This assertion he supported only in a very general manner, but had he been familiar with the local history of Brooklyn and New York he might have cited instances of ingratitude towards dead patriots which would have gone far with Europeans toward making round his position. Poetry and ingratitude never dwell together. One of the most disgraceful illustrations of neglect which has probably never been shown by a nation toward its dead heroes is that presented by the negligence on the part of local Americans which for years left the bones of the solider's who died in the British prison ships to bleach


and then after frequent appeals, with the penuriousness not less contemptible than the former neglect, stowed them away in miserable wooden boxes in a more miserable vault on Hudson avenue. In that vault, invaded alike by vermin and dock rats, these remains lay until this morning, rotting in the eyes of the passers by. As the readers of this Eagle were informed nearly a year ago, the Park Commissioners of the city in resolving upon plans for the improvement of Fort Greene, now called Washington Park, determined that among other features of attraction for this public should be a mausoleum for the martyrs of the prison ships. They obtained for the work an appropriation of $6,500. The construction was commenced last Fall and was completed practically a few days ago.


faces Myrtle avenue, on the Canton street side of the --elivity, rising immediately above the parade and play ground. The body is of Portland granite embellished with pillars and fret work of polished Aberdeen stone. It is about 10 feet high, 30 feet long and 15 feet wide. The style is partially Egyptian but there are so many touches to be denominated composite. The general appearance how ever is


A more fitting spot for the last resting place of men who gave their lives to the country could not have been well erected. Standing in the vicinity the eye takes in some of the most severely contested ground of the Revolution. In imagination one can see the squadrons that mingled in the battle of Long Island; Washington's weakened and defeated regiments can be traced as they marched off after the fierce struggle. The heights of the Hudson with their many memories of invasion and defense rise in view, and the bay once alive with hostile ships stretches off like a sheet of silver towards the ocean, bearing upon its unruffled breast the commerce of the continent. To this place before sunrise


under the direction of the Park Engineer the remains of the Prison Ship Martyrs were removed. There was no ceremony and there were no spectators. Ten Laborers with two large wagons did the work. The rude boxes were taken from the vaults, piled up in the wagons and taken to their final resting place. There were eighteen coffins in all, but to thirteen only is there decided historic interest attached. After depositing the remains in order and hermetically sealing the receptacle, the men drove off as they had come, and the transfer of the martyrs was accomplished. Upon each of the coffins was a metal plate, bearing the inscription setting forth the character of the dust and bones within. Upon the front of the tomb the following inscription is to be cut:


In Connection with what was done this morning the following account of


and the Prison Ship Martyrs is of interest: *A century ago Wallabout Bay and its immediate surroundings presented a very different appearance from what it does now. Where the United States Cob Dock now is, was a mud flat, as was the greater part of the section north of the Marine Hospital and the naval barracks in the Navy Yard. There were about but a dozen houses along the shore about the present line of Kent avenue to Flushing and on Flushing avenue to Navy street.* In August 1776, was fought the Battle of Brooklyn, and in the succeeding November Fort Washington was captured. These victories threw into the hands of the British about 4,000 prisoners, and the number was increased to about 10,000 by the arrest of private citizens of New York, suspected of having been friendly to the Americans The "New Jail" now altered and known as the Hall of Records, New York- and the "Bridewell," situated in the same locality, were the only prisons then existing; and Columbia College, the Hospital and several dissenting churches were seized and converted into prisons. The buildings were soon filled to overflowing by constant accessions, and the wretched prisoners were, in many instances


for want of sufficient room. The filth of the dungeons, the poor, putrid, and often uncooked food soon began to tell on the unhappy men confined as prisoners of war, and pestilence and death feasted and ran riot. Many prayed that, like some of their fellows, they might be taken thence at the midnight hour and hanged by the Provost, without a moment's warning. The naval prisoners, however, were subjected to-if possible-worse treatment than those in the New York prison pens. *They all lay in the channel between what is now the Cob Dock and the inner shore of the bay, the Old Jersey being at the west entrance to the yard.* They were distributed through several vessels, formerly the transport in which cattle and other supplies for the British army, which had been brought to America in '76, and anchored in Gravesend Bay. The prisoners taken in the Battle of Brooklyn were at first placed on board these vessels, but on the occupation of the city by the British, the soldiers were removed from them and they were especially devoted to the marine prisoners, who were largely increasing by the capture of numbers of American privateers by the British cruisers. The first prison ship anchored in Wallabout Bay was


She was moored near Remsen's Mill, *which was on the west shore of the bay, near Martyn's Point or Martyr's Hook, as it was subsequently called* or near what is now the foot of Navy street, about the 29th of October, 1775. This vessel was the most sickly of all the prison ships. Bad food, scanty at that, and worse water, were dealt the poor prisoners, and no medical men visited the sick. Hundreds, consequently, died, and the sand beach *between the ravine in the hill, where Little street is now, and the shore became filled with graves, in the course of two months* before the following May from this vessel. In May, 1777, two more large ships were anchored in the Wallabout, prisoners were transferred from the Whitbey to them ; but even on them death was busy, and on a Sunday afternoon in the following October, one of the ships took fire, and a number were burned. It was reported that the prisoners themselves fired the ship, preferring death by the fire fiend by a more lingering one by starvation and pestilence. In the month of February, 1778, the remaining ship was burned, when the prisoners were removed to the vessels of the fleet then wintering there. In 1779


and the Good Hope were used as prison ships. The last named was set on fire by a Connecticut prisoner named WOODBURY, in March 1780, and the Stromboli, Scorpion, and Hunter, were drafted into the business. These three pens were dignified by the title of Hospital ships. Immediately afterward, the Old Jersey, the John, the Falmouth, the Chatam, the Kitty, the Frederick, the Glasgow, the Woodlands, the Scheldt, and the Clyde, were converted into prison ships. The Old Jersey was universally known by the name of the Old Hell. Very often more than a thousand prisoners were confined in her at one time. The prisoners on the John were more than a month compelled to eat their scanty and bad provisions uncooked, so no fire was allowed them.

(An old etching illustrating the infamous British prison ship The Jersey)

The Old Jersey, the most notorious of the prison ships, was originally a 60 gun frigate of the British Navy, but in 1776 she was converted first into a hospital ship and was anchored in the East River until the winter of 1779-80, when she was converted into a prison ship. The filth and refuse from a thousand men cooped upon the Old Jersey was thrown overboard and the sluggish ebb tide carried it slowly away. In the impure water the provisions were cooked daily, and the coppers in which the food boiled were coated with the lining of verdigris, they had become so corroded.


and other diseases filled the hulk with filth of the most disgusting character, and it is said that the lower hold and the on top deck were such terrors that no man would venture onto them. Many went mad, and it was no uncommon thing for the prisoners in the darkness of the night--for no light was allowed in them--to hear a voice cry out; "Look out, there's a madman loose with a knife in his hands." Such was the life led by the poor martyrs to liberty who were immured on the Old Jersey, and the same was repeated on all the other prison ships in the Wallabout. *The horrors of those ships are a matter of history. The foul air, confinement, darkness, hunger, thirst, the slow poison of the malarious locality, the torments of vermin, the suffocating heat in the Summer, the excessive cold in Winter, the horrible brutality of the officers and the guards, who frequently fire among or bayonet the prisoners for some trivial or pretended offense, the almost total absence of hope, are things too sickening to dwell upon. And yet, with all their suffering and all their trials there is not on record the name of one who wavered in his loyalty to his native land or to escape these torments enlisted to serve against his country. At the expiration of the war the Old Jersey was abandoned where she lay. The dread of contagion prevented any one venturing on board, but it was not long until the worms, which had been at work upon her timbers, made a way for the water to rush in, and she went down into the waters of the Wallabout, carrying with her the record of the names of thousands of sufferers which had been inscribed upon her inner planks. This was only the existing record of her inmates, save the bones which have since been gathered up on the Wallabout shore. The dead from these ships were taken on shore and buried in trenches dug in the sand, scare covered, on the banks of the Wallabout, or strewn upon its shores, and the bleaching in the Winter's storm and Summer sun, and for years after the war their bones were found all along the bend in the bay, but more especially on the west side, and I am told by parties connected with the Navy Yard that even now in making excavations they find the bones of human beings, supposed to have been victims of these prison ships.* For years


bones of the prison ship martyrs were to be strewn through the falling banks of the Wallabout, and not until 1782, was any formal movement made toward their proper interment. At that time the citizens of Brooklyn, at an annual town meeting, resolved "that the bones disinterred and collected by Mr. John JACKSON *was a native of Queens County, and removed to Brooklyn soon after the Revolution. About 1791 he purchased what was known as the Remsen estate, situated on the Wallabout, which comprised about 30 acres of land and 35 of pond, together with the old Remsen mill and dwelling. This farm was partly on what was known as Martyn's Point or Martyr's Hook, owner of the farm. It was in making improvements on the farm that he found large quantities of the bones in cutting away the high banks which they formed the shore of the bay.* At a regular town meeting the citizens of Brooklyn resolved that the bones which had been disinterred and collected by Mr. JACKSON should be removed to and buried in the graveyard of the Reformed Dutch Church, and a monument erected over them. JACKSON, however, declined to have the bones removed from his farm, *as he had other plans in view. He was an influential member and a sachem of the Tammany Society, or Columbian Order, and he conceived the plan of turning the idea to a political use. He offered a piece of land upon his property in the Wallabout, at a point which is now at the east end of Front street, by the Navy Yard wall*, for the purpose of erecting thereon a suitable sepulcher, which was accepted, but no immediate measures were taken, and the matter rested. *In the meantime, Benjamin AYERIGG, shocked at the exposed condition of the remains, made a contract in 1805 with an Irishman living in the Wallabout, "to collect the bones as far as may be without digging," and deliver them to him at a stipulated price, which was done, and the remains thus collected formed a portion of those afterward placed in the tomb of the martyrs. In 1808 the Society, the Tammany Society appointed a committee. Through appeals to Congress and the nation, succeeded in stirring up the enthusiasm of the Government, and on Wednesday, April 13, 1808, the cornerstone of this vault was laid, by **Benjamin ROMAINE, Esq., Grand Sachem of Tammany. A procession, military and civic, was formed, under the direction of Major AYERIGG, Grand Marshall, and marched from the old ferry (now Fulton Ferry)through Main, Sands, Bridge, York and Jackson streets, to the vault, on


On the corner stone was the following inscription:

"In the name of the spirits of the departed free. Sacred to the memory of that portion of American seamen, solider's and citizens who perished on board the prison ships of the British, at Wallabout, during the Revolution."

This is the corner stone of the vault erected by


or Columbian Order, which contains their remains. The ground for which was bestowed by John JACKSON. Nassau Island, season of blossoms. Year of the discovery the three hundred and sixteen, of the institution the nineteen, and of American Independence this thirty-second, April 5, 1803. On the 26th of May following, the remains were removed to the vault, amid a civil and military pageant, unprecedented for splendor and impressiveness, witnessed by 30,000 people. A trumpeter on a black horse, dressed in black, relieved by red rode at the head of the procession, bearing a black silk flag edged with red and black crepe, with the following motto on it: Mortals Avannt! 11,500 Spirits Of The Martyred Brave, Approach the Tomb of Honor, of Glory, OF VIRTUOUS PATRIOTISM.

In the center of the procession were


filled with the remains of the prison ship dead, surrounded by the members of the Tammany Society in full regalia. The


was another feature of the procession. It was an oblong square stage, erected on a large truck carriage, elaborately festooned and adorned. On the stage was a pedestal, representing black marble. *The "Genius of America" stood on the pedestal and around it were nine young men representing, Patriotism, Honor, Virtue, Patience, Fortitude, Merit, Courage, Perseverance, Science, which were styled the

"Attributes of the Genius of America."*

The panels of which the following inscription:

{Front} Americans, Remember the British {Right side} Youth of My Country! Martyrdom Prefer to Slavery {Left side} Sires of Columbia: Transmit to Posterity The Cruelties Practiced On Board THE PRISON SHIPS. {Rear} Tyrante dread the gathering storm, While freemen freemen's obsequies perform.

The flags of the shipping in the harbor were at half mast, and minute guns were fired from all quarters. *Rev. Ralph WILLISTON offered up prayer and Dr. Benjamin DeWITT delivered the funeral oration. Some of which is extracted below: "Great God! are these the bones of my incarcerated countrymen? Are those the remains of more then ten thousand brave men who died in the cause of liberty? Have these relics of death continued for the space of thirty years uncovered with their native earth? And is there no rest for their sacred dust, even in the habitations of the dead? Is there no friendly hand to collect it--no friendly tomb to receive it? Oh, my country! While I mourn over this scene of human desolation, my soul sickens at thine ingratitude. Hast thou forgotten the sufferings of they patriotic sons who perished for thee in the dark days of thine affliction? Hast thou forgotten the dead because they can no longer serve the living?... This day, then fellow citizens, we are assembled to wipe away with out tears a stain from our country's glory, and to do honor to the departed patriots of the Revolution. Too long, alas! have the rites of sepulture been denied to the bodies of the valiant who died in the contest for freedom. But the time has come when they shall rest in the tomb of their fathers; here shall they be placed in the silent vault, and here shall the tear of sensibility flow for their sufferings... As they were victims of one common fate in life, one common grave shall be their lot in death. There shall they sweetly sleep together, until the great day of final retribution, when the archangel of heaven shall proclaim that time shall be no more."..... Years afterward, by the alteration of the grade of Jackson street, the walls of the vault were encroached upon, and finally the lot on which the vault stood was


and bought by Benjamine ROMAINE, *a true patriot, who had been a solider in the war, a former inmate of the prison ships, came forward and bought the lot and rescued the remains from desecration,* who erected an ante-chamber over the vault, with the appropriate adornment and inscriptions. This was in 1839. And also, to prevent any further desecration of the spot, appropriated the tomb to a burial place for himself and family. He was afterward buried in the tomb--on his death in 1844.

(The original monument for the Prison Ship Martyrs shown around 1840)

In 1842 the citizens of Brooklyn petitioned the Legislature to remove the bones, for the purpose of appropriate burial, but Mr. ROMAINE protested against it. *He said: "I have guarded these sacred remains, with a reverence which perhaps at this day all may not appreciate or feel, for more than thirty years. They are now in their right place, near the Wallabout and adjoining the Navy Yard. They are my property. I have expended more than $900 in and about their protection and preservation. I commend them to the protection of the General Government. I bequeath them to my country. This concern is very sacred to me. It lies near my heart. I suffered with those whose bones I venerate. I fought beside them--I bled with them."* and nothing was then done about it. In 1845 public attention was again called to the neglected condition in which the remains were, and the Military Committee of the House of Representatives recommended an appropriation of $20,000 for the purpose of purchasing a locality, and building a suitable tomb to the memory of the Martyrs. This, however, also failed, and for ten years more the matter was allowed to rest. In 1855, the "Martyr's Monument Association" was formed, in which each Senatorial District in the State of New York and each State and Territory is represented. They set to work and selected the lofty summit of Fort Greene, procured plans for a monument, solicited donations, and everything appeared to be in a fair way toward the completion of a suitable place of interment for the Prison Ship Martyrs, but from some unaccountable reason the movement, like that of its predecessors, died a natural death. *The Common Council of the City of Brooklyn having granted the association an appropriate lot on Fort Greene, or as it is now known, Washington Park, in 1873 the site was utilized. A brick vault, 25 by 11 feet, was completed in the side of the hill facing toward the junction of Myrtle avenue and Canton street, it being the nearest point toward the Wallabout. By this time the vault on Hudson avenue (formerly Jackson street) have become some dilapidated from neglect that the remains were in an exposed state, many of the old coffins being broken or defaced. Twenty two new boxes were procured, the old coffins placed in them and on the 17th day of June, 1873, all that remained of the mortal part of the 12,000 martyrs of the prison ships was quietly removed to the vault at Washington Park. There was no ostentation this time; it was simply a labor of love.*


From the: The Fort Greene Park Conservancy

The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in a 1911 postcard.

By the close of the 19th century, funds were finally raised for a grander more fitting monument for the Prison Ship Martyrs. The prestigious architectural firm of McKim. Meade and White was commissioned to design the large 148 ft. tower which stands today in the park. It was unveiled in 1908 with a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony presided over by President Taft. The monument originally housed a staircase and elevator to the top observation deck, which featured a lighted urn and beacon of light which could be seen for miles. The elevator was operational until the 1930's when it, and the monument, fell into disrepair due to a shortage of public funds, neglect and lack of community interest. The elevator was eventually removed by the city in the early 1970's. In January 2000 the tomb of the Martyrs was opened: Opening of the Tomb of the Martyrs For more information concerning the Prison Ships: "Martyrdom of thirteen thousand American Patriots aboard the monstrous Jersey and other British prison ships in New York Harbor." Originally appearing in "New York State - The battleground of the Revolutionary War," by Hamilton Fish. LL. D. Copyright 1976, Vantage Press **Benjamin ROMAINE (1764-1844) He served in the New Jersey militia in Bergen County and returned to New York City after the Revolution. He lived in New York City during the early American Republic and got involved in Democratic Politics through the Tammany Society. A fervent patriot, he also petitioned Congress to recognize the Americans who died as British prisoners of war in the Prison Ships in Wallabout Bay, Brooklyn. INSIDE THE CRYPT The exterior of the crypt is granite. The crypt's entrance lies between the two sets of stairs and is kept sealed. Inside the vault the floor is concrete while the walls and ceiling are built from a bisque-colored brick. One enters the crypt through a copper-clad door (which has a steel plate sealed over it for protection), three or so steps down, then a short passageway perhaps 15 feet into the hill. At the end of the passage is the brick-lined crypt, with approximately 15-20 feet square. There are a series of slate coffins inserted into a double-set of shelves on the right and left. Various bones are said to be sorted into different coffins, presumably because individual bodies could not be identified and re-assembled for burial. Condition of the crypt itself seemed quite good. There was minor dust and cobwebs. It is very plain -- an almost republican simplicity and austereness. I could see no visible inscriptions inside. The slate coffin identified as Benjamin Romaine's is located to the right, bottom row, center. American Prisoners of the Revolution: Names of 8000 Men Back to CEMETERY INDEX Back to CEMETERY INDEX Back to BROOKLYN Page Main