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THE PROVOST PRISON.
"The miserable have no other medicine,
But only hope !"
“I have hope to live, and am prepar'd to die.” There is no spot on earth, it is said, but has supplied a grave; and it may be added, there is no acre of ground we tread upon, but has, if we knew all about it, some epic tale that would consecrate its memory, and excite our lasting wonder.. This doctrine was forcibly impressed upon my mind a few days since, as I was admiring the lights and shadows as they fell upon and between the Ionic columns of the finely proportioned Grecian building, on the east side of the Park, near the City Hall. As I stood gazing on the classic edifice, admiring its symmetry and beauty, a friend joined me, and on my informing him of the subject of my contemplation, he observed, I suppose you are acquainted with the fact that this building now turned to a Grecian Temple, was the old jail which was built many years before the revolutionary war, and was used as a provost prison, after the British took possession of the city of New York, until the war closed. If these walls had a tongue, said he, how many tales of horror could they relate of suffering and death. Among the sad stories of the place, of the old Sugar-house, and the Jersey prison-ship, there
is one which was related to me by a brave officer of the revolutionary army, lately deceased, and which has fixed itself on my mind more distinctly than any other. The officer belonged to the American army, which in the autumn of 1776 was at West Chester. He was acting as commissary to the troops of the Massachusetts line, and when the stock of provisions grew scarce, he took a party of light infantry, and went out to collect some grain in the neighborhood. Some delay occurring by the breaking down of a wagon, the Americans were overtaken by a large body of the enemy, both infantry and cavalry, and after a sharp conflict the Americans retreated to a vood near them, and made their escape. The commissary was an accomplished swordsman, and being well mounted, he did not attempt to reach the wood, but making a desperate struggle for life and liberty, he rushed
the cavalry, and cutting right and left, while his horse was in full speed, passed them with only a slight wound; but he had not galloped but a few rods, when another party of horsemen, coming from a cross road, made it impossible for him to escape, and he yielded himself a prisoner, which he did not consider much preferable to death, as all who were captured then were held as rebels, and liable to suffer death at the caprice of their captors; but that they might not proceed to extremities was all the consolation his case admitted of. British officers, among whom were many humane men, justified the severity then practised towards prisoners, on the plea that severity to a few would, in the end, be mercy to many, and stop the
effusion of human blood by bringing about a speedy reconciliation between the two countries; but those who reasoned in this way, knew nothing of the people they had to contend with. They were born in oppression, and grew by it; they had known no indulgence, and they expected no protection. In the constitution of every man was incorporated an indomitable opposition to usurpation, and the united forces of the world could not have cured them of their republican feelings.
The commissary was brought to the city and thrown into the provost prison. He had fought bravely, and this with Britons is always a passport to esteem. Some of his captors told the orderly who conducted him to prison, to see that he had as good a room as the prison afforded. But while they performed this order, they robbed him of every thing valuable about his person. He was to have the best room in the prison; but bad indeed was the best! It was a room in the south-western corner of the building, on the second floor-not more than twenty feet by sixteen in size. In this room were crowded eleven poor wretches—a selection of the best of the prisoners—those at least of the highest grades in society. All but one of them were sick, although they had been there but a few weeks. One prisoner in particular, attracted the commissary's attention. The sick man made one deep groan, hid his face, and was silent. At the time the commissary entered the prison, the inmates were only allowed one solitary tallow candle to assist them in their whole operation in taking care of the sick and dying.
The youth who was on the floor knew his neighbor and his father's friend, but he had made up his mind to die without a murmur or sigh, and in fact, without a disclosure of his name; but in the afternoon of the next day, as the rays of the sun fell through the grates into the room—there was no City Hall there at the time the commissary thought the countenance of the youth familiar to him, but when or where he had seen him he could not recollect. This often happens to those whose lives are spent in passing from one part of the world to another. As the surgeon, a good jolly looking fellow, entered the room on a visit of ceremony, merely to take an account of those who had died the last twenty-four hours, the commissary, a man whose appearance bore the spirit of command, in a tone not altogether familiar to the ears of the surgeon in a prison, directed him to attend to that youth, and to have him removed to the hospital.—Nonsense ! replied the leech, he was sent here to die. I satisfy my conscience, that is enough. But looking on the commissary with a slight degree of respect, he replied, if you
wish it, I will look at his case ; I think you were the officer who was taken yesterday, and brought to the city. I was taken yesterday, was the answer. Well, well, said the surgeon, I have just been to visit three of the number of those you wounded in the fight yesterday. What a terrific cut and thrust fellow you must have been to have given so many shocking wounds as you did in a running fight for life; I must inform you, sir, that one of the wounded officers ordered me to come and see you,
for he feared that you had received a sad wound in the abdomen, and required attention. I should have been run through the body, said the commissary, if the point of his sword had not been stopped by striking my watch ; this preserved my life. The surgeon, half propitiated, called out to the young man, then apparently senseless before him, Boy, open your eyes, and your mouth,-let me feel of your pulse. This was done in a mechanical sort of manner by the surgeon. The patient obeyed. When the former had been gone through with, the surgeon turning to the officer, said, there is nothing the matter with the lad, that does not arise from hunger and grief. A bowl of broth, and the sight of his mother, would cure him in a short time. I will try to do something for him. The young man now raised himself from the floor, and in the most courteous manner thanked the gentlemen for their kindness, and at the same time acknowledged that he had made up his mind to die in silence—for he had joined the army, he said, against his parents' advice, having run away from Harvard College for that purpose. The commissary soon recognized the son of the clergyman of his own parish, in the sick youth before him. The surgeon being made acquainted with the standing of his patient, was still more inclined to be his friend, as he himself was the son of a good vicar in his own country. In a short time refreshments arrived, and the youth was at once on a mend. ing hand, and continued so, taking courage from the commissary's firmness. On the evening of the eleventh day after his capture,