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“In this gloomy terrific abode were incarcerated at different periods many American officers and citizens of distinction awaiting with sickening hope and tantalizing expectations the protracted period of their exchange and liberation. Could these dumb walls speak, what scenes of anguish, what tales of agonizing woe, might they disclose !
“ Among other characters there were, at the same time, the famous Colonel Ethan Allen and Judge Fell, of Bergen County, New Jersey. When Captain Cunningham entertained the young British officers accustomed to command the provost guard, by dint of curtailing the prisoners' rations, exchanging good for bad provisions, and other embezzlements practiced on John Bull, the captain, his deputy, and indeed all the commissaries generally, were enabled to fare sumptuously. In the drunken orgies that usually terminated his dinners, the captain would order the rebel prisoners to turn out and parade for the amusements of his guests, pointing them out—* This is the damned rebel, Colonel Ethan Allen ; that a rebel judge, an Englishman,' etc., etc.”
Judge Fell was a man of station and character, living at Hackensack, New Jersey. He had been at the head of the Committee of Safety in that neighborhood, a rule which he had tempered with as much mildness as was practicable. His deputy chairman was a man named Buskirk, who had been still more earnest than he, but whose ardor very rapidly diminished the moment that Bergen County was overrun with British troops. After our military reverses in the neighborhood of New York he judged it no longer safe to adhere to the rebels, and cast in his lot with the conquerors at Paulus Hook as a lieutenant colonel. In 1777 Judge Fell was surprised and arrested, being then brought before Col. Buskirk. “ Times have changed since last we met," said the Colonel. “So I perceive," dryly answered the Judge. “Well,” continued Buskirk, “ you are now a prisoner, and going over to New York, where you will be presented to General Robertson, the commandant, with whom I have the honor to be acquainted. I will give you a letter of introduction to him." The Judge uttered his thanks and retired. When he reached the city he was taken before General Robertson, with whom it happened that he had been acquainted. They were associated together at Pensacola, in Florida, after the conclusion of the French and Indian war and the declaration of peace. The General received him warmly, shook him by the hand, deplored the sad necessity that compelled him to send the Judge to prison, and promised to do everything in his power to make his condition endurable. He inquired also whether Fell knew Col. Buskirk. The Judge replied that he did and said that he bore a letter of introduction from him, as they formerly had been very intimate. After the General had read the letter he placed it in the hands of his prisoner, who, to his surprise, read these words: “ Judge Fell is a notorious rebel and rascal, and I advise that due care be taken of him." The General laughingly said, “My old friend John Fell, you must be a very altered man and a very great rascal indeed, if you can equal this Colonel Buskirk." Robertson fulfilled his promise to Judge Fell, treated him with every kindness, recommended him to Captain Cunningham and visited him a number of times. He received great attention from his fellow prisoners in “ Congress Hall," and had, as was jocularly said, the softest plank to sleep on. Ile was not long after enlarged on parole and exchanged. When this happy day arrived he sent to those who had been imprisoned with him two hampers of porter and an English cheese, that they might regale themselves.
The provisions soon vanished, for they were all hungry. Colonel Allen and Captain Travis, a native of Virginia, had been accustomed to banter each other about Vermont and Virginia, and this time, heated with the porter, which was very heady for men so long on low diet, they got as far as blows. Allen was much stronger than the captain and pummeled him well. The latter then bethought him of a practice common in the Southwest at that time, but now happily obsolete, leaped upon his antagonist, twisted a lock of Allen's hair around his fingers and proceeded to gouge out his eye. This soon brought the captor of Ticonderoga to terms, and he cried for quarter.
The father of Col. Richard Varick, afterwards Mayor of New York, was also imprisoned there. His offense was that he had a son in the rebel army, who was secretary to Gen. Schuyler. His imprisonment lasted eighteen months, and during it he contracted a violent rheumatism which continued all the remainder of his life.
Many were nearly frozen to death here, in the winter of the fifth year of the war. The lash, too, was sometimes applied. Many officers were paroled at New Utrecht, Flatbush, and Gravesend.
This jail was built in 1757 and 1758. Those who look at our drawing can scarcely realize that the building is still standing. It is the present Hall of Records. Long after the Revolution, having in the meantime been the debtors' prison, it was transformed into
Grecian temple, and a writer in the Mirror sixty years ago characterizes it as a beautiful specimen of that kind of architecture. But in the unhappy times of the war, the jailor thought only of his own comfort and convenience. He cared little for the misery within its walls, nor whether men survived. Deaths happened several times a day. The dead were piled up in heaps before the door, like cord wood. Executions were frequent of those who had been condemned for crime or military offenses, and we are told that at times five or six were dragged to the gallows at once. Hangings took place north of the jail. The dead cart came every day. Bodies were thrown into pits near the Jews' burial ground, on Oliver street, and in an old redoubt in Lumber street, now Trinity place. Beggars dug these up and then stripped them. From other prisons a few were buried in Trinity Churchyard, and
in some cases in Brooklyn. But most of the latter interments were from the prison ships, anchored in the Wallabout and in the stream.
The Sugar House was at 34 and 36 Liberty street. This is on the south side, a little back of the present
Mutual Life Building. It was of stone, five stories with an attic, there being two rooms on each floor. In front of it there was a fence of ten feet high, with a wagon gate, and all around it there was space enough for a cartway. Here sentinels were always on duty. Sergeant Waddy, a creature after the Cunningham type, was in charge. His rough, unfeel
ing acts were long recounted by those who had been so unfortunate as to be immured there. New prisoners were constantly coming, and old ones dying. Very few escaped, but there was occasionally an exchange in the latter part of the war. In such a case those who had longest been confined were selected. This prison was dark, damp and gloomy, and was overrun with rats. Until its destruction there were to be seen everywhere names, initials, and dates carved upon the stones and bricks, with a jackknife or nail. They were the last efforts of prisoners to let their friends know what had become of them. Fever was always present here, sometimes in a very malignant form. The ventilation was very defective, and the windows in summer were filled by
captives desiring a breath of fresh air. When the jail fever was rife, twenty were let out at a time to breathe the fresh air, and inside squads of six took turns for ten minutes. The Sugar House remained
prison till the close of TRECERUNT DE GRAVE
the war, when it again became a sugar refinery, being occupied
by Seaman, Tobias & MATINS DE NEEDED
Co. It was built in 1769, and demolished in 1840.
The Middle Dutch Church, afterwards the Post Office, was one of the largest
jails, but was not thus occupied for the whole war. The last years it was a riding school for the cavalry. The floor was ripped up, and then tan bark was. laid all over the foundation. The glass was taken out of the
windows. There was also a bell here, which was stolen, the Americans supposed, at the beginning of the conflict. This was not true, however, as we learn from a letter of John Oothout to Frederic De Peyster. Mr. Oothout's father, of the same name, obtained permission from Lord Howe to take down the bell and put it in a place of safety. He did so, and it there remained until after the evacuation. When the church was demolished in 1844, it was hung in the Ninth Street Reformed Dutch Church, but in 1855 it was removed to the Church in Lafayette Place. The bell was cast in Amsterdam in 1731, silver coin being mixed with the bell metal by citizens of that city, so tradition says. Colonel Abraham De Peyster, a member of the Church, ordered it to be purchased by his will, and made a present of it to the church then being erected. The inscription on the bell is as follows:
“Me fecerunt De Gravæ et N. Muller, Amsterdam, Anno 1731. Abraham De Peyster, geboren den 8 July, 1657, gestorven den 8 Augustus, 1728. Een legaat aan de Nederduytsche Kerke Nieuw York.”
Among those who were here confined were William Clark and an older brother, Azariah. He was there four months, having been imprisoned on the 7th of June, 1778. When in the church an attempt was made to escape by removing part of the floor, digging under the foundation, and making a passage to the middle of the street. The plan was very similar to some which were successfully carried out in our civil war. In this case the earth and stones were carried to the gallery and secreted under the seats. There were then three hundred and sixty-eight persons in the prison. Something, however, put the authorities on their guard, the night that the escape was to have been put into operation. One of their own number was suspected of having given information, and it was resolved to make an example of him. A court was organized, a judge selected, and a jury empaneled, the accused then being brought to trial. He was found guilty, and sentenced to be hung. A rope with a slip noose in it was tied to one of the rafters, a table was brought under it, and the trembling wretch compelled to mount it and have the rope put around his neck. The table was then pulled away, the man dangling at the end of the noose.
A knife had, however, been provided and he was