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Footesteps of Pasco Foote
Caleb Foote and the British Prison
Ships During the Revolution

By Harriet Rockwell

a British prison ship

While researching early descendants of the immigrant Pasco Foote of Salem, I came across another historically interesting story that I'd like to share with the members of FFAA

The research for this one started with Caleb Foote who was a 3rd great grandson of the immigrant Pasco of Salem: Pasco (1), Isaac (2), Samuel (3), Isaac (4), Enoch (5), Caleb (6).This Caleb Foote was born July 6, 1750 in Andover, Massachusetts and married Mary Dedman.

They had a daughter, Mary; and four sons, Caleb, Alexander, William, and John.

Caleb senior was a sea captain who served in the Revolutionary War, though it is not clear whether he served aboard one of the fledgling Continental navy's 64 warships or aboard one of the many privately owned merchant ships armed and commissioned as privateers which supported the small Continental navy in harassing the much larger and more powerful British navy and in capturing, raiding, and destroying British merchant ships.

The actual damage done to the British navy by the American Navel forces is said to have been almost negligible. Nevertheless, because these naval forces managed to keep sea lanes open to continental Europe and to divert tons of supplies taken from British ships to Washington's" poorly equipped continental army, it is believed that the Revolution would I have failed without them"

Records show that the American merchant-privateer ships captured 2283 British ships and the Continental navy captured 198, while the British captured 1323 of the American merchant-privateer ships in addition to a disputed number of the Continenyal navy's 64 ships.

 Turn out your dead
In 1780 the British formed a flotilla of 12 to 16 prison ships anchored in Brooklyn New York's Wallabout Bay. Captured American seamen were offered the choice of joining the British Navy or Imprisonment. The overwhelming I majority chose imprisonment rather I than turning against their countrymen and were subsequently Incarcerated in the prison ships within sight of their country's shore.

Caleb Foote was one of the seamen captured by the British and confined In one of the notorious prison ships. Unfortunately, pitifully few of these seamen survived the conditions there. The prisoners were neglected, abused, and given very little food or medical! attention in order to convince them to change their minds and join the King's navy. The ships were filthy and! disease was rampant.

The corpses of those who died on board - reportedly between 11,500 and 12,500- were either rowed to shore and placed in shallow graves or unceremoniously tossed overboard by their British captors. The worst of these prison ships was the H.M.S. Jersey, a 64-gun war ship that had been virtually stripped except for its flagstaff. It floated rudderless 100 yards offshore of what is now the Brooklyn Navy Yard, with its portholes replaced by 20 square holes crossed by iron bars.

Aboard the Jersey, about 1,100 prisoners were crowded together between decks. About a dozen of these are said to have died each night from dysentery, typhoid, smallpox, yellow fever, food poisoning, starvation and torture.

Prison ship martyrs monument
There were ways to get off the prison ships if you were lucky; some American prisoners were eventually exchanged for British prisoners; some prisoners whose families had enough money could buy their freedom; and others, like Caleb Foote, managed to escape.

But for vast numbers of the prisoners, there were only two possibilities-death or the end of the war, whichever came first. It has been reported that more Americans died in the British prison ships than in all the battles of the Revolutionary War.

The death rate amounted to 75 percent as compared with the 33 percent death rate for Andersonville and Elmira prisons in our Civil War. Those are staggering statistics. When the Revolution ended in 1783, there were only 1,400 survivors aboard the entire prison fleet, all of them ill and emaciated.

When the newly-formed U.S. Navy began dredging New York's Wallabout Bay to build new drydocks, the remains of thousands of the prisoners were found in the Bay's muddy bottom. As much of the remains as possible were reburied on the grounds of the nearby John Jackson estate. In 1873 the remains were transferred from this estate to a vault in Fort Greene Park, which was the site of Fort Putnam during the Revolution. And in 1908 the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument was erected in the park where it is still standing today.

Caleb Foote is said to have died of consumption in 1789. According to one source, Caleb kept a journal which documented hisimprisonment and subsequent escape. One of his grandsons, Caleb III, who became editor of the Salem Gazette and Mercury (Salem, Massachusetts) is said to have inherited this journal. But unfortunately, I haven't been able to determine where Caleb's journal is now or whether there are any copies available to the public.

If anyone who has more information about Caleb Foote and/or his journal, please contact me. My mailing address is 1177 Fearrington Post, Pittsboro, NC 27312. My email address is hrockwell@earthlink.net. As always, I welcome any comments about my articles as well as suggestions for future articles. Let's share those interesting stories.

To help make the Foote Family Association inclusive of more of the Foote lines; Harriet Rockwell -has graciously volunteered to research and author this series of articles about Posco Foote and his descendent.

If you have more information please contact Harriet at:

Harriet Rockwell
122 Crosshair Court
Azle, TX 76020
hrockwell@earthlink.net



Main Sources for this Article:
  • Franklinville
    New York Genealogy and Local History,

  • Pioneer Profiles
    research by Joie Wilson;

  • New York State
    The battleground of the Revolutionary War by Hamilton Fish;

  • History: Prison Ships:
    www.eastrivernyc.org/ehistory/prison.shtm;

  • The Wretched Prison Ships:
    www.Newsday.com/ community/guide/lihistory/ny-history-hs425a,O,1220405;

  • The Navy:
    The Continental Period, 1775 -1890 - by Michael A. Palmer


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