The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument offers chilling testimony that American independence was purchased by patriots at the price of hideous human suffering.
The 150-foot-tall Doric column at Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, New York, towers over the footprint of a colonial garrison of the American Revolution.
It’s dedicated to the estimated 11,500 American soldiers, sailors and privateers who died in hellish conditions aboard British prison ships on the East River during the American Revolution.
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More Americans died on prison ships during the American Revolution than were killed in combat.
An estimated 6,800 died in battle during the six-year conflict, according to the American Battlefield Trust.
“This is hallowed ground.”
“It is estimated at that least six lives were lost each day on a single prison ship.”
The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Brooklyn, New York — a tribute to Revolutionary War dead — was dedicated in 1908 in a ceremony led by President William Howard Taft. (Kerry J. Byrne/Fox News Digital)
They were offered release from their misery if they renounced American independence and proclaimed fealty to the Crown of England.
None accepted the offer, according to popular lore.
“Famed historian David McCullough has said the crypt is no less significant than the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery,” reads one inscription inside the park’s small visitors center.
The Prison Ships Martyrs Monument was dedicated in a ceremony led by President William Howard Taft in 1908.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia opened in 1921.
“Prisoners roasted in sizzling temperatures … starved, and quarreled with vermin, lice, impending madness, dehydration and contagious disease.”
The HMS Jersey, a massive warship converted for prison purposes, was the most notorious among them.
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“I soon found that every spark of humanity had fled the breasts of the British officers who had charge of that floating receptacle of human misery,” wrote 18-year-old American patriot Alexander Coffin Jr., a prisoner aboard HMS Jersey.
The remains of the prison ship martyrs were exposed when their poorly dug graves eroded. Others washed up on Brooklyn beaches for years after the war.
The bodies, mostly bones, were dutifully gathered by grateful local residents of the newly independent United States.
The site where so many Americans suffered aboard British ships during the American Revolution built many of the mightiest warships in the history of the U.S. Navy.
The USS Missouri, upon which Japan signed the surrender that ended World War II, was built in Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The former shipyard is an industrial park today.
Celebrated landscape architects Franklin Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux designed it, complete with a crypt to house remains of the martyrs.
It was restored in 2008 to celebrate a centennial of honoring American and allied heroes in the fight for independence.
“The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument is a gruesome reminder of war,” Greg Young, co-host and producer of “The Bowery Boys” podcast, a popular chronicle of New York City history, told Fox News Digital.
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The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Brooklyn, New York, was dedicated on Nov. 14, 1908, in a ceremony attended by President William Howard Taft. (Kerry J. Byrne/Fox News Digital)
They may or may not be aware that so many patriots, largely unknown, lay beneath their feet.
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“The prisoners who were held on those ships were central to the effort to win American independence,” said Purdue professor Jones.