REVOLUTIONARY WAR, Prison ship Jersey
Lot 5252
REVOLUTIONARY WAR—P.O.W. ARCHIVE. Archive of 14 documents relating to William Russell, seaman in the Continental Navy and prisoner of war on the British prison ship Jersey,
Sold for US$ 31,250 inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
REVOLUTIONARY WAR—P.O.W. ARCHIVE.
Archive of 14 documents relating to William Russell, seaman in the Continental Navy and prisoner of war on the British prison ship Jersey, comprising:
1. RUSSELL, WILLIAM. 1748-1784. 9 Autograph Letters Signed ("Wm Russell," "R—"), 8 pp, folio, and 3 pp, small 4to (recto and verso, conjoined leaves), Mill Prison (Plymouth, England), "On Board the Jersey Prison Ship, New York," New Haven, and Halifax (Nova Scotia), March 2, 1781-May 16, 1783, to his wife Mary (7), his mother-in-law Mary Richardson, and the printers Messrs Edes & Sons.
2. --. Autograph Manuscript, 1 p, 120 x 140 mm, [Massachusetts], June 14, 1774-March 19, 1776, being brief entries, possibly part of a diary.
3. CRAFTS, THOMAS, Colonel of Artillery. Autograph Letter Signed ("T. Craft"), 1 p, 8vo, [Boston, c. December, 1778], to Russell, giving orders relative to the sergeant major on the "Guard Ship."
4. GORDON, WILLIAM, Lieutenant of Artillery. Autograph Letter Signed ("Wm Gordon"), 1 p, 130 x 270 mm, "Castle Isle" [Boston], December 18, 1778, to Russell, referring to an exchange of troops.
5. YOUNG, JAMES, AND RALPH MITCHELL, British Justices of the Peace. Manuscript Document, 1 p, folio, Devon, December 19, 1779, being a warrant to the constables of Stoke Damerel near Plymouth and the keepers of Old Mill Prison, requiring them to confine Russell.
6. HEWLINGS, THOMAS D., British Deputy Commissary of Naval Prisoners at New York. Document Signed ("Tho. D. Hewlings"), 1 p, folio, New York, March 21, 1783, partially printed and accomplished in manuscript, being a "true Copy" of a three-month parole for Russell and a Samuel Thompson.
Light toning and foxing, occasional strengthening at folds.

William Russell was a Boston schoolteacher who joined the Sons of Liberty and participated in the Boston Tea Party. During the Siege of Boston and the lead-up to the Battle of Bunker Hill, he evacuated his family, only returning in March of 1776 after "George's Butchers left the Town of Boston" (item 2). He joined the Massachusetts artillery, and in 1779 signed up as clerk on the Jason, lately captured from the British.
Less than 3 months later, the ship was captured and Russell was confined to Mill Prison (item 5), where he taught classes for the younger members of the captured American crews. Of the Prison, he writes to his wife, "The Usage we receive, (If I am a judge) is very good.... besides we have comfortable Lodgings &c, I have never been in the black hole once, nor on half Diet." As time went on, he became disconsolate, however, owing to "my long Confinement in this Disagreeable Prison.... my spirits are deprest and I grow Mallancholly by thinking what situation you must be in." He was freed on June 24, 1782 in an exchange of prisoners, and almost immediately rejoined the navy.
That November, he was recaptured by the British, and incarcerated in the notorious prison ship Jersey at New York: "My Dear, I take My pen in hand with a akeing Heart to inform you of My Miserable Condition, I'm now in the Worst of places & must suffer if confin'd here the Winter, for I'm short of Clothing, And the provisions is so Scant that it is not Enough to Keep Soul And Body together." This was no exaggeration at all since dozens of men died every day on the Jersey; neither the British nor the Americans had adequate space, manpower, funds or provisions to look after their prisoners. "It is one of the Wost places in the World and the Prisoners are Suffering, Sickly and dying daily." Russell makes frequent attempts to get himself paroled or exchanged, asking his brother-in-law Moses Richardson "not to let any stone lay unturnd till I'm Liberated," but these attempts prove fruitless since "Adml. Digby is so inveter'd against Privateers that he'l not allow any Paroles."
Finally his lobbying pays off, and his "situation is greatly alter'd, I'm Aft with a Gentl. were I want for nothing.... in short I'm used like a Gentl. in every respect.... I'm happy in getting from bettween Decks, out of that Horrid pit, were nothg but Horrorr is to be seen." At last, in March of 1783, he is freed and "once more in the Land of Freedom And Independency." Desperate to repay debts and provide for his family once more, he immediately endeavors to "try my luck at a Mercht. Voyage.... I recover my Health sloley, and hope the Salt Water will doe, what the Phissitian could not Effect." By May he is writing that "the fever left me so low I could not stand the feteagues of so long a Journey," and within a year he died of consumption.
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