A new book by Robert P. Watson, The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn (Cornell University Press, 2017) tells the story of a prison ship employed by the British during the American Revolution.
Moored off the coast of Brooklyn until the end of the war, the derelict ship, the HMS Jersey, held thousands of Americans either captured by the British or accused of disloyalty.
Crammed below deck – one thousand men at a time – without light or fresh air, the prisoners were scarcely fed food and water. Disease ran rampant and human waste fouled the air as prisoners were held at the mercy of British and Hessian guards.
Throughout the colonies, mention of the ship incited fear and hatred of British troops. It also sparked a backlash of outrage as newspapers everywhere described the horrors aboard the British ship. This event, much like the better-known Boston Massacre before it, ended up rallying public support for the war.
The book reveals hundreds of accounts culled from old newspapers, diaries, and military reports. Watson follows the lives and ordeals of the ship’s few survivors in order tell the story of the ship that killed thousands of Americans, while also helping to secure victory in the fight for independence.
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