"THE MOST NOTORIOUS OF BRITISH PRISON SHIPS" IN THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: VERY SCARCE FIRST EDITION OF OLD NEW JERSEY CAPTIVE, REVOLUTIONARY SOLDIER THOMAS ANDROS' DRAMATIC ACCOUNT OF HIS IMPRISONMENT ON THE JERSEY
(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) (ANDROS, Thomas). The Old Jersey Captive: or a Narrative of the Captivity of Thomas Andros, (Now Pastor of the Church in Berkley,) on Board the Old Jersey Prison Ship at New York, 1781. In a Series of Letters to a Friend… Boston: Published by William Peirce, 1833. Small octavo (3-3/4 by 6 inches), original half brown sheep, original yellow paper boards, printed green label; pp. (1-3), 4-80. $2500.
First edition of an extraordinary account of "death and despair that reigned" on the infamous British prison ship stationed in New York's harbor, where captured Revolutionary soldiers such as Andros were brutalized and viewed by the English "as rebels and traitors… in an unjust and wanton civil war," rare in original boards.
"Revolutionary soldiers incarcerated aboard British prison ships in New York Harbor aroused patriotic outrage. Lodged in converted hulks, American prisoners faced meager rations, poor ventilation, deadly diseases and abusive captors." The British "unceremoniously deposited the corpses in shallow graves… grim reminders of war's brutality. Perhaps as many as 11,000 people perished, more than the number of Americans killed in battle. Both Washington and the Continental Congress deplored the prisoners' treatment, yet without British navy personnel to exchange, they could do little to ameliorate their countrymen's suffering… abuses suffered aboard the Jersey… the most notorious of the prison ships, [it] inspired Americans to refer to the prisoners collectively as the Jersey victims or Jersey dead." In the early 1800s, "survivors' testimonies reaffirmed the gruesome descriptions… [as] prison ship veterans drew upon vivid memories to pen autobiographies" (Cray, Jr., Commemorating the Prison Ship Dead, 565-70). One of the most memorable is Old Jersey Captive, authored by Thomas Andros, who joined the Revolutionary army as a teenager, fought in the Battles of Long Island and White Plains, and in 1781 enlisted as a privateer, soon to be captured by the British and imprisoned on the Jersey.
In this rare work, Andros records the suffering of hundreds who were packed below deck and forced eat bread "full of living vermin… worms and all"—or starve. The ship's "dark and filthy external appearance perfectly corresponded with the death and despair that reigned within… in the view of the English," he notes, "we were rebels and traitors—we had risen against the mother country in an unjust and wanton civil war… [yet] if there was any principle among the prisoners that could not be shaken, it was the love of their country. I knew of no one to be seduced into the British service" (emphasis added). After his imprisonment and terrifying escape, recorded here in a series of five "Letters," he finally reached home, only to become deadly ill and bedridden. In 1788, after his recovery, Andros was ordained a minister in Berkeley, Massachusetts. First edition. Front free endpaper excised, liketly to remove owner signature. Sabin 1527. Howes A270. Front board with "Old Jersey Captive" in very faint cursive.
Interior fresh with faint occasional dampstaining, mild soiling to boards, joints starting but sound. Rare in contemporary sheep and original paper boards.