Title: Brooklyniana, No. 5.---Continued.
Creator: Walt Whitman
Date: January 11, 1862
Publication information: Brooklyn Standard 11 January 1862: .
Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue. Gaps from damage to the original have been supplied by consulting Emory Holloway, ed. The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman, 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1921. pp. 240–245.
Whitman Archive ID: per.00348
Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney, Janel Cayer, Liz McClurg, and Sarah Walker
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A Series of Local Articles, on Past and Present
[In continuation of what we presented last week, we present our readers with what was crowded out at that time—and also some additional incidents in the history of the Prison Ships.]
But on the 26th of May following a still larger demonstration [the second part] was made. This was in the form of a procession to escort the relicts of the Martyrs to their place of burial, and deposit them there. Various societies and military companies met in the Park, in front of the City Hall, in New York, in the forenoon, under the direction of Brigadier-Generals Jacob Morton and Gerard Steddiford, and of Garret Sickles, Grand Marshal. A very lengthy and imposing procession was then formed with much ef heraldic device and, it must be confessed, theatrical accompaniment. This lengthy procession was preceded, for instance, by a trumpeter, dressed in deep black, on a black horse, with trailing plumes, and a black silk flag on his trumpet, with the following motto:
"Mortals, avaunt! 11,500 spirits of the murdered brave, approach the tomb of honor, of glory, and of patriotism!"
Of course the "cap of liberty" bore a conspicuous part in the show. In the 10th section of the cortege were thirteen coffins, significant of the martyrs from the old Thirteen States. These were attended by one hundred and four Revolutionary characters, as pall-bearers. This must have been the most impressive part of the procession. In another and following section was a "grand national pedestal," bearing the American flag, on the top of which staff was a globe, on which sat a bald eagle, enveloped in black crepe. This pedestal was rather a formidable affair; in front it had the inscription, "Americans, remember the British." On the right side, "Youth of my country! Martyrdom prefer to Slavery." On the left side, "Sires of Columbia! transmit to posterity the cruelties practised practised on board the British Prison Ships." On the rear,
"Tyrants dread the gathering storm
While freemen freemen's obsequies perform."
In another part of the procession were Gov. Daniel D. Tompkins,1 with members of the Legislature and Congress—and in another, the Mayor of New York, Dewitt Clinton,2 with members of the Common Council. The Freemasons, the Tammany Society, the Clergy, the Shipwrights, the Hibernian Society, the Societies of Tailors, Hatters, Coopers, etc., etc., all had places in the line. It must have been a very great affair indeed, for those days—for New York had not then seen any of the mighty turn outs, such as these characteristic of modern times.
All the above procession crossed to Brooklyn, by slow degrees in barges, and then re-formed and marched up through Sands street to the location of the vault, where it now is on Hudson avenue. The music of the bands, when the skeleton relics were taken in the line, was of the most mournful description. The sentiment of the occasion became overwhelmingly sorrowful and impressive. Many a one was in tears.
On the ground, after the relics were deposited, an oration was delivered by Dr. Benj. Dewitt. The huge coffins containing the remains were then gazed upon in silence by the immense crowd, who soon slowly and gradually dispersed.
Of the vault thus canonized by a great and expensive ceremony, it appears to have remained ever since without anything further being done—except that, some time afterward, the title falling into the hands of Mr. Benjamin Romaine, before alluded to, [who had himself, when a young man, been one of the American prisoners in the Old Jersey,] he had a temporary "Ante-Chamber," of wood, constructed, with an inscription, at considerable length, to commemorate the facts set forth in the foregoing article. This wooden structure, in a ruinous condition, still exists, and may be seen as above engraved. We have been informed that such was the deep feeling which Mr. R. had about these relics, and the reminiscences connected with them, that he expressly provided in his will that his own remains should be deposited with them in the vault—and that they now rest there, his executors having obeyed his wishes.3
At one time and another, there have been movements made for putting up some memorial worthy of the martyrs of the Prison Ships, in Brooklyn. The one most likely to be carried out, when a favorable period occurs, is that for raising an appropriate monument on the highest point of old Fort Greene, Washington Park.4 If this is ever done, we hope it will not be spoilt by adopting any such absurd designs as by some adverse fates have been fixed udon all other American monnments ---the Washington monument at the Capital---the Worth monument, in 5th avenue, New York---and even the chimney-shaped Bunker Hill monument, in Boston.5
The engraving given above presents the appearance of the little old wooden "temple," the only existing memorial of the martyrs of the Prison Ships, sufficiently well to give our readers an inkling of its condition; except that this "temple" has really a much more dilapidated look than appears in the picture. It is in Hudson avenue, [formerly Jackson street] between the line of the street and the Navy Yard wall.
Since the preceding part of our article on the prison ships was written, we have gleaned one or two additional items, that we dare say our readers will find of interest on this subject.
The water that supplied the Jersey, and the other old hulks used as prison ships at the Wallabout, 1776–'82, was brought from a spring near what is now Kent avenue, but a few rods from the well-known residence of Barnet Johnson—at that day approached by a creek much nearer than at present. Between this spring and the hulks, a water-boat was kept constantly plying, as thirst was indeed the greatest torment of the crowded prisoners.
On the Jersey, it is recorded, that a resolute guard, with drawn cutlasses, was kept over the water-butts constantly, the regulation being that no prisoner should be permitted to help himself to more than a pint of water in his turn.
5TH OF JULY, 1782.
We alluded in the first part of this article to the attempt of the prisoners at the Wallabout in 1782, to commemorate the 4th of July. The British guards and officers were so enraged at this, that they drove the prisoners below at four o'clock in the afternoon, instead of leaving them their usual privileges on deck till sunset. This treatment irritated the Americans to such a degree, that they kept up their patriotic songs and cheers down in their close and hot confinement. An hour or two after dark, the guard came down, attended by some holding lanterns; and with fixed bayonets they charged right and left on the compact mass of prisoners, after which cowardly exploit they returned again to the upper deck.
This must have been a most lamentable night. It was described afterwards by Thomas Dring,6 one of the prisoners who lived through it, in the following terms:
"Of this night," he says, "I can hardly describe the horrors. The day had been very sultry, and the heat was extreme throughout the ship. The unusual number of hours we had been congregated together between decks, the foul atmosphere and sickening heat, the additional excitement and restlessness caused by the wanton attack which had been made—above all, the want of water, not a drop of which could we obtain during the whole night to cool our parched tongues; the imprecations of those who were half distracted with their burning thirst; the shrieks and wailings of the wounded, with the struggles and groans of the dying, together formed a combination of horrors which no pen can describe.
"At length the morning light began to dawn, but still onr torments increased every moment. As the usual hour for us to ascend to the upper deck approached, the 'working party' were mustered near the hatchway, and we were all anxiously waiting for the opportunity to cool our weary frames, to breathe for awhile the pure air, and above all to procure water to quench our intolerable thirst. The time arrived, but still the gratings were not removed. Hour after hour passed on, and still we were not released.
"Our minds were at length seized with a horrible suspicion, that our tyrants had determined to make a finishing stroke of their cruelty, and rid themselves of us altogether. But about 10 o'clock that forenoon the gratings were removed.
"We hurried on deck and thronged to the water cask, which was completely exhausted before our thirst was allayed. So great was the struggle around the cask, that the guards were turned out to disperse the crowd.
Not until long after the usual hour were our rations delivered to us. During the whole day, however, no fire was kindled in the galley. All the food which we consumed that day, we were obliged to swallow raw.
"The number of dead found that morning was ten."
Such is the words of one who was afterwards a citizen of the United States, gives a specimen night and day aboard one of these Wallabout prison ships, the old Jersey, during the Revolutionary war. This old Jersey held about 1000 prisoners at that time. Sometimes fifty or sixty would be carried off by death in the course of the week.
OF THE "TEMPLE."
When Mr. Romaine had the temporary mansoleum built, of which we present above an engraving, he had it covered with such inscriptions as the following, now rendered almost illegible:
"In 1778, the Confederation proclaimed thirteen British colonies, United States—E Pluribus Unum. In 1783 our grand National Convention ordained one entire Sovereignty, in strict adhesion to the equall sacred State Rights."
"The Constitution of the United States consists of two parts—the Supreme Sovereignty, and the undulterated State Rights, one and indivisible."
"In the city of New York, 1783, Washington began the first Presidential career---the wide spread eagle of Union waited the order, then instantly raised his flight in the heavens, and like the orb of day, speedily became visible to half the globe."
We have remarked in what a ruinous and sluttish condition the only existing memorial of the Martyrs now exists. Just at present is not the time for inaugurating any expensive enterprise, but we hope that when the affair and business of the country return to the usual prosperous channels, some effective means will be taken to redeem the disgraceful neglect that has too long continued in regard to putting up some enduring and appropriate memorial to the Martyrs of the Prison Ships.
1. Daniel D. Tompkins, who had only been in office for a few months at the time of the 1808 ceremony, was reelected as governor three more times in 1810, 1813, and 1816. He gave up his post as governor to serve as vice president of the United States under President James Monroe (1817–1825). [back]
2. DeWitt Clinton served as mayor of New York City from 1803 until 1815. He later served as governor of New York (1817–1822). He is best known for supporting the building of the Erie Canal in 1815. [back]
3. Two years before Benjamin Romaine's death, some citizens had petitioned to remove the prison ship remains to another location. Romaine fought for and succeeded in keeping the remains in the vault near Wallabout Bay and was buried there upon his death. [back]
4. A brick monument and mausoleum was constructed in Washington Park in 1873. In 1908 this was replaced by a 149-foot tall column designed by Stanford White. [back]
5. All three of these monuments are obelisks. The Washington monument in Washington, D. C., was begun in 1848, but construction halted in 1854 when about 1/4 complete. Work finally resumed in 1876, and the monument was dedicated in 1885, an occasion which Whitman marked by publishing "Ah, Not This Granite Dead and Cold." The monument to Major General William Jenkins Worth, a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, was dedicated in 1857, and the Bunker Hill Monument was dedicated in 1843. [back]
6. Dring's manuscript recollections of his experiences aboard the Jersey were edited and published by Albert Greene as Recollections of the Jersey Prison-Ship (1829), the volume from which Whitman quotes, with minor changes. [back]