It’s a little known fact that the War of Independence was one of the most atrocity-free wars in history. That is, on the part of the Americans.
The British on the other hand, commonly looted or burned homes, assaulted defenseless women, stole or killed livestock belonging to civilians and treated clergymen with contempt because of their role in fomenting the revolution.
One preacher in Trenton, New Jersey was stabbed with a bayonet. A dead American soldier was hacked to pieces by British cavalrymen. But one of the greatest atrocities committed by the British and their Hessian allies was their treatment of American prisoners.
Most prisoners held by the British in the northern colonies ended up the dark, stinking, filthy holds of prison ships. These floating penitentiaries were quite effective at containing prisoners. Because they were surrounded by water, no one could tunnel out. And they were economical too, because the prisoners quickly died and were carried away. It has been reported that more Americans died in the holds of prison ships than on the battlefield due to starvation, exposure and filthy living conditions.
Two sons of Signer Abraham Clark, American officers, were captured and held on the Jersey, one of the most notorious of all such ships. One of them, Thomas was kept in solitary confinement and fed nothing by the British. He was expected to die quickly and would have done so, had it not been for the compassion and cleverness of some fellow prisoners who managed to pass him some tiny bits of food through a keyhole!
The British sent a message to Abraham Clark that his sons would be released if only he would recant his signature on the Declaration of Independence and swear allegiance to England. He refused to break his word.
Finally, Congress threatened to treat a captured British officer as Thomas Clark was being treated unless Thomas’ conditions were immediately improved. Fortunately, the British backed down and Thomas Clark survived the war.
Abraham Clark continued to serve in the Continental Congress until just before his death in 1794.
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