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‘The Gaol Distemper’
Part 3 of 4: Impressions of A Narrative of Ethan Allen’s Captivity, 1779, pages 64-94
© 2023 James LaFond
Concerning the latter portion of his captivity.
One would think an island under military occupation would be hard to escape. Here the same dynamic of slaves being forced to guard slaves, being worked harder and fed little or no better, contrived to issue a steady stream of escapes:
“The sick were taken to the hospital, and the Canadians who were effective, were employed in the king’s works; and when their countrymen were recovered from the scurvy, and joined them, they all deserted the king’s employ…”
Runaways and deserters tended to make off in military units under a sergeant and according to their ethnic identity.
“Several of our English American prisoners, who were cured of the scurvy at the hospital, made their escape from thence, and after a long time reached their habitations.”
What follows is another example that the American Revolution was a revolt of the elite and their picked men, not a mass uprising of the underclass as in France a decade later, and had more similarity to the acts of enclosure in England.
“ Halifax, who in addition to those that were imprisoned before, made our number about thirty-four, who were all locked up in one common large room, without regard to rank, education, or any other accomplishment, where we continued from the setting to the rising of the sun; and as sundry of them were infected with the gaol and other distempers: the furniture of this spacious room consisted most principally of excrement tubs. We petitioned for removal of the sick to the hospital, but were denied.”
Here, Allen insistence that an officer should not be lodged with the private solider is shown to have had a survival logic, doing more for the officer [the public soldier] than preserve his status via segregation.
The black plague in 1666 had been described by DeFoe as a distemper. Such a disease seems to have required respiratory affliction and fever to be so classed. [Editor, please correct.]
To be “infected with the gaol” might have been related to crowding, malnutrition or sanitation, perhaps tuberculosis. The gaol distemper infected Allen and caused him to lose his appetite, even for good food. [Allen would die at age 52 in early retirement] The arrival of other Continental officers brought better treatment for that class of men as it became obvious to the British that they would need save them for exchange to regain their own captive officers. Continued revolt in America was thus fueled by fidelity to co conspirators who had been captured. For if the revolt had fizzled out right off, captive officers would have simply been hanged and the soldiers impressed into the king’s service. Officers were served with good hot meals by local women daily.
A sergeant Moore was a stud who had been able to restrain the boatswain of the Solebay from striking him, and “laughed him out of the conceit of using him as a slave.”
So Allen describes the status of a slave, a person who must take a beating from his master, like a child from a parent, to include apprentices, sailors and soldiers who were regularly beaten. In October, the prisoners were sent on board a man of war. Note that the man of war, due to its sleek form and cleanliness, lack of human storage space and plenty of armed men, was much healthier for a captive than a gaol, prison sloop or merchant vessel.
Captain Smith of this war ship was kind and polite to Allen, permitted him to dine at his table, and it was good he was. For among the 30 prisoners was a rough soul named Burk, a captain, who had involved the prisoners and a fair portion of the crew, many of whom may have been impressed Americans, to mutiny. A point of dishonor for Allen was that this ship bore silver for army pay and the men wanted it. This reeked too much of piracy for Allen and he declined to lead the mutiny. It may have been best for him as well. For a captain of the Continental army who took part in a mutiny aboard a warship in the Bahamas, in which the Captain was killed, would be repatriated to England for execution by order of George Washington himself. Again, class solidarity plays deep in these Revolutionary American politics.
Captain Smith had said to Allen, “This is a mutable world, and one gentleman never knows but that it may be in his power to help another.”
Both Smith and Allen declined to punish the un-realized conspiracy from their uneasy perch of mutual gentility.
Some officers were exchanged, one for a governor. A certain British Captain befriended Allen and even wagered over a siege outcome, naming Honor as their common human thread and that since they might fight each other in battle one day, this was the time to practice friendship.
Once the prisoners were landed in New York they would be guarded by rival English Americans, Tory thugs who would make sure that some 2,000 rebels died in captivity, a huge ratio considering the small size of the contending armies. Sergeant Moore, like many a Hessian sergeant in British service, made a break with 26 of the 31 English American soldiers with Allen, 2 dying and 3 being exchanged. The method of killing the privates, as the officers were paroled or given lodgings together in taverns, was to lodge these men in filthy churches. Here, under the imagery of heaven in God’s house, these men had to pee and poo and vomit on the floors. It was such a horror show that Allen, at last concerned about the health of private soldiers, was only able to bare entry into these houses of horror once. He was not permitted to feed or relieve his men.
This was a systematic killing of prisoners such as practiced by by Grant at Point Lookout, Maryland in 1863-4, and under Eisenhower, against General Patton’s objections, in Germany in 1945-6. Killing common men via starvation and neglected confinement was the centerpiece of English social control and there is no reason to expect it not to be extended into the military sphere.
Allen, being one of the few American officers concerned with the survival of the privates of their faction would come into cruel confinement himself, though not so horrid as the church prisons. Since the Magna Carta, when God was set aside as a witness rather than above as judge, [1] as Captain Smith has sagely communicated, the world had become “mutable,” with the morality ruling mankind subject to the will of those holding the reigns of power.
The disgusting and blasphemous practice of the English American Tories, under Lord Howe, who approved and directed this, is indicative of a general evil infecting the collective soul of the Anglo elite. Under this bitter spirit, the will to Government as God so grandly exhibited in the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in ancient pagan style, by American patriots, shows itself in a deeper loyalist darkness as places of worship were transformed into intentionally murderous and filthy prisons.
This transition of worship from God to Government, was also demonstrated by Allen’s epigram commanding the surrender of Ticonderoga, “In the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.”
No act by British forces demonstrates better, that as morally challenged as the men who signed the mostly false declarations of The Declaration of Independence [2] were, they offered a more humane course than permanent continuation of Plantation Society.
Allen sketches a telling self profile:
“I soon projected means to live in some measure agreeable to my rank… The enemy gave out that I was crazy, and wholly unmanned, but my vitals held sound, (nor was I delirious any more than I have been from my youth up, but my extreme circumstances at certain times, rendered it political to act in some measure the madman…”
Allen recovered his health after six months and relates how Rebel officers were murdered under Howe, to include General Woodhul cut to pieces with light cavalry sabers and Captain Fellows bayoneted. At this point in the narrative it becomes obvious that one reason for Washington to continue fighting more aggressively was to gain captives that could be exchanged for Americans held on Manhattan Island, which served as Howe’s POW camp. Only 1/3 of American sided with the Patriots, 1/3 against and 1/3 neutral. Political genocide was logical.
The dead hauled from the filthy church floors were cursed by the Tories. The bread of these men had been condemned as unfit even for British soldiers, and was actually poisonous. Allen began advising privates to accept the offer by Howe to serve in the British service and to desert at the first chance. The Tories were upbeat about killing captives as they had been promised the property of rebels after the war. The regular British soldier was obviously interchangeable with the American POWs and did not demonstrate the lust for cruelty that the Tories [would be Plantation nobility] and light horsemen [actual lower nobility] showed towards members of their own class in New York.
Poor women of the city tried to bring food to the soldiers but were turned back by guards to facilitate Howe’s little political genocide. Washington’s victory at Trenton saved hundreds of POWs who were exchanged for those captured by Washington.
The 2,000 murdered by Howe’s orders, “...fell a sacrifice to the relentless and scientific barbarity of Britain.”
The treatment of these rebel soldiers was no different then of Irish, Scottish and Tribal POWs in earlier revolts and indeed varied little from the use of common English servants from Barbados to Boston over 200 years. [3]
-1. See The Lies That Bind Us by this author.
-2. See The Greatest Lie Ever Sold by this author.
-3. See Cracker boy, the appendices, for an estimate of the forced laborers who died in their toil and neglect in English North America from1607 through 1804.
To support Plantation America research and examine annotated and summarized primary source texts go to:
‘God Damn Ye’
plantation america
‘Dark Mansion of Fiends’
song of the secret gardener
sons of aryаs
under the god of things
logic of force
blue eyed daughter of zeus
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