Forgotten Hero's "Voices from the Past"

By Ron Vido — 2nd North Carolina Regiment

Reprinted from the March 1995 issue of "The Regimental Dispatch," the official newsletter of the Second North Carolina Regiment

Many of us have either heard of or read accounts of American prisoners of war held by the British in the North or in England, yet few have read of the suffering of Continental prisoners held in the South.

Some time ago, while reading muster roles of Loyalists that served in the southern campaigns, I came across the eyewitness statements of five Continental prisoners held in Charlestown, South Carolina, during 1781. The statements had been collected by Continental officers and sent to General Lafayette in order to bring the suffering of the prisoners to light.

The most interesting thing about these statements is that two are from men in our own regiment [the Second North Carolina Regiment]. The following statements are theirs. I have left out only their oaths that their statements were true.

Sergeant Ransom Savage, 7 August, 1781

"Early last March, being then a prisoner of war on board the prison ship SUCCESS-INCREASE, lying in Charlestown harbour, a certain Sergeant Brown came on board said ship with a number of captains of transports and immediately ordered all the prisoners on deck; Brown told the captains to make choice of such men they liked, which they did; on one of the men refusing to go, Sergeant Brown caned and kicked him very severely and forced him, with a number of others, into the boats; the prisoners were told by Brown that they must either enlist in Lord Charles Montagu's Corps going to Jamaica, or be impressed on board men-of-war."

Private Thomas Duffey

"Last March being a prisoner of war on board the SUCCESS-INCREASE in Charlestown harbour, Captain Cook, British commissary of Prisoners, attended by a Sergeant Brown and four or five captains of transports, came on board and asked the prisoners if any would go to London in the fleet, where they would be set free. The prisoners declined his offer, upon which Captain Cook told them if they did not go voluntarily they would be forced on board; the captains of the transports then made choices of the men, upon their appearing very much adverse to go into the boats, Sergeant Brown beat and abused them in the most barbarous manner; particularly one of the men, whom he threw from the gunwale of the ship into one of the boats. I was among those who were thus forced on board the boats and was sent on board a transport brigatine with the others, where I was kept for five days with a few other prisoners who were distributed among different vessels, I went to Charlestown on promising to enlist in the British Cavalry; I heard Captain Cook declare, to the above transaction, that if the prisoners did not enlist in thirteen days in the British service, they would all be sent to the West Indies, where they would be put on board ships-of-war."

The statements of these men are corroborated by three other Continentals captured at Charlestown. When you read about the treatment of American POWs held on land and sea, it is easy to see why some undoubtedly chose enlistment, and life in Crown forces rather than a slow death in a stinking, rat-infested prison. Yet it is stories like those above which cast doubt on the tales that large numbers of Continentals changed sides under their own free will.

A complete search of the muster rolls of all known Loyalist forces serving in the south has failed to locate the names of our two regimental brothers. What their fate was after they were placed on board ship remains lost for now. As for the loyalist unit that Sergeant Savage made mention of, Lord Charles Montagu's Corps (better known as The Duke of Cumberland's Regiment), it is known that it was composed of POWs from Charlestown and Camden numbering 294 men and officers. The unit was sent to Jamaica in August 1781 and disbanded August 24, 1783. The men were then sent to settle in Nova Scotia, far from the homes and families they once knew.

Further information about American POWs can be found in the following books:

Herbert, Charles — A Relic of the Revolution, The New York Times & Arno Press, 1968. (This book contains the personal account of the sufferings of the Americans taken on the high seas.)

Lindsey, William R. — Treatment of American Prisoners of War during the Revolution, The Emporia State Research Studies Kansas State Teaching College, Emporia, Kansas 66801. Vol XXII Summer 1973, Number 1.

(This work gives insight into the treatment of prisoners held in North America on land and prison ships, and those held in England.)

Souces used:

Clark, Murtie June — Loyalist in the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War, Vols I, II, III, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1981.
ISBN# 0-8063-0924-5.

Katcher, Phillip — King George's Army 1775-1783: A Handbook of British American and German Regiments, Stackpole Co. 1973.
ISBN# 0-85045-157-4.

Copyright © 1995 Ron Vido. All rights reserved.