HMS Jersey (1736)

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HMS Jersey Prison Ship 1782 (cropped).jpg
The Jersey Prison Ship as moored at the Wallabout near Long Island, in the year 1782
Royal Navy EnsignGreat Britain
NameHMS Jersey
BuilderPlymouth Dockyard
Launched14 June 1736
FateAbandoned and burned to prevent capture, 1783
General characteristics [1]
Class and type1733 proposals 60-gun fourth rate ship of the line
Tons burthen1,065 long tons (1,082.1 t)
Length144 ft (43.9 m) (gundeck)
Beam41 ft 5 in (12.6 m)
Depth of hold16 ft 11 in (5.2 m)
Sail planFull-rigged ship
  • 60 guns:
  • Gundeck: 24 × 24 pdrs
  • Upper gundeck: 26 × 9 pdrs
  • Quarterdeck: 8 × 6 pdrs
  • Forecastle: 2 × 6 pdrs

HMS Jersey was a 60-gun fourth rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, built to the 1733 proposals of the 1719 Establishment of dimensions at Plymouth Dockyard, and launched on 14 June 1736.[1] She saw action in the War of Jenkins' Ear and the Seven Years' War, before being converted to a hospital ship in 1771. In 1780, she was converted again, this time to a prison ship, and was used by the British during the American Revolutionary War.

Early career[edit]

A 1733 ship plan in the Royal Museums Greenwich

Jersey was built in 1736 during a time of peace in Britain. [2] Her first battle was in Admiral Edward Vernon's defeated attack on the Spanish port of Cartagena, Colombia, around the beginning of the War of Jenkins' Ear in October 1739. She was badly damaged in battle in June 1745, with her captain's log recording the loss of all sails and:

The braces, bowlines shot away several times, also the staysail halyards. The running rigging very much shattered. The main topsail yard shot ... the foremast shot through about the collar of the mainstay, and another wound in the after part of the mast ... the mainmast shot about two thirds up from the deck and divided [to] the starboard. Ship making 11 inches of water an hour occasioned by two shots in the counter, under the water line.[3]

Jersey next saw action in the Seven Years' War and also took part in the Battle of Lagos under Admiral Edward Boscawen on 18–19 August 1759.

American Revolutionary War[edit]

Interior of the old Jersey prison ship, in the Revolutionary War.

In March 1771, the aging Jersey was converted to a hospital ship[1] In the winter of 1779–1780, she was hulked and converted to a prison ship in Wallabout Bay, New York, which would later become the Brooklyn Navy Yard.[4] The conditions in which the American prisoners were kept were harsh. Many soldiers were held in the Jersey from different races and ethnicities. German mercenaries, American soldiers, and African American soldiers were all held in the Jersey and experienced its harsh conditions, many dying in the cruelty enforced by the British army.[5] Men were crammed below decks where there was no natural light or fresh air and few provisions for the sick and hungry. Continental Army soldiers were held under inhumane situations under the deck because they were not recognised as people by the British Army[citation needed] and wouldn't even be considered as political prisoners who could be traded.[6] As many as 1,100 men were imprisoned at a time in a ship designed for 400 sailors,[4] and as many as 8,000 prisoners were registered on Jersey over the course of the war.[7] Sailor and future abolitionist James Forten was one of those imprisoned aboard her during this period after being captured in a privateer.[8] Political tensions only made the prisoners' days worse, as the prisoners were targeted for mistreatment by angered guards. As many as eight corpses a day were buried from the Jersey alone before the British surrendered at Yorktown on 19 October 1781.[9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18]

Christopher Vail, of Southold, who was aboard Jersey in 1781, later wrote:

When a man died he was carried up on the forecastle and laid there until the next morning at 8 o'clock when they were all lowered down the ships sides by a rope round them in the same manner as tho' they were beasts. There was 8 died of a day while I was there. They were carried on shore in heaps and hove out the boat on the wharf then taken across a hand barrow, carried to the edge of the bank where a hole was dug 1 or 2 feet deep and all hove in together. It is reported that 11700 and odd was buried at this place and in this manner.[19]

In 1778, Robert Sheffield of Stonington, Connecticut, escaped from one of the prison ships, and told his story in the Connecticut Gazette, printed 10 July 1778. He was one of 350 prisoners held in a compartment below the decks.

The heat was so intense that (the hot sun shining all day on deck) they were all naked, which also served the well to get rid of vermin, but the sick were eaten up alive. Their sickly countenances, and ghastly looks were truly horrible; some swearing and blaspheming; others crying, praying, and wringing their hands; and stalking about like ghosts; others delirious, raving and storming,—all panting for breath; some dead, and corrupting. The air was so foul that at times a lamp could not be kept burning, by reason of which the bodies were not missed until they had been dead ten days.[7]

Other accounts of imprisonment on HMS Jersey are American Heritage Magazine (August 1970/Volume 21/#5) and, on prison ships in general, American Heritage Magazine (April/May 1980/Volume 31/#3).

The Department of Defense currently lists 4,435 US battle deaths during the Revolutionary War. Another 20,000 died in captivity, from disease, or for other reasons. Estimates of deaths aboard the New York prison ships vary around 8,000. Prisoner exchanges were hardly possible for two reasons: the British often captured far more prisoners than the Americans did, and George Washington did not favor exchanging veteran British soldiers for ragtag American troops, as it would only put his army at a greater disadvantage.[20]

When the British evacuated New York at the end of 1783, Jersey was abandoned and burned.

Rediscovery of Jersey[edit]

During October 1902 as the keel of the ship USS Connecticut was under construction at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that HMS Jersey had been found. While pile driving a new dock, the wood from the ship was encountered, precisely where the burned hulk was reported to lay after the British abandoned the ship and she was set on fire.[21][22]


The remains of those that died aboard the prison ships were reinterred in Fort Greene Park after the 1808 burial vault near the Brooklyn Navy Yard had collapsed. In 1908, one hundred years after the burial ceremony, the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument was dedicated.



  1. ^ a b c Lavery, Ships of the Line vol.1, p171.
  2. ^ "Ships from the Age of Sail database listing".
  3. ^ Log of HMS Jersey, 19 June 1745. Cited in Willis, Sam (2008), Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare, p. 158, ISBN 9781843833673
  4. ^ a b Burrows, Edwin G. Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War. Basic Books 2008. ISBN 9780465020300
  5. ^ Skrill, Howard. HMS Jersey: Absences and Memory from the Battlefields of Brooklyn.
  6. ^ Mifflin, Houghton. HMS Jersey." Ships of the World.
  7. ^ a b Dandridge, Danske. American Prisoners of the Revolution. Retrieved 22 July 2009.
  8. ^ Winch, Julie (2002). A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 46. ISBN 0-19-508691-0.
  9. ^ Stiles, Henry Reed. Letters from the prisons and prison-ships of the revolution. Thomson Gale, 31 December 1969. ISBN 978-1-4328-1222-5
  10. ^ Dring, Thomas and Greene, Albert. Recollections of the Jersey Prison Ship (American Experience Series, No 8). Applewood Books. 1 November 1986. ISBN 978-0-918222-92-3 (Author)
  11. ^ Taylor, George. Martyrs To The Revolution In The British Prison-Ships In The Wallabout Bay. (originally printed 1855) Kessinger Publishing, LLC. 2 October 2007. ISBN 978-0-548-59217-5.
  12. ^ Banks, James Lenox. Prison ships in the Revolution: New facts in regard to their management. 1903. ASIN: B0008BOCOG.
  13. ^ Hawkins, Christopher. The life and adventures of Christopher Hawkins, a prisoner on board the 'Old Jersey' prison ship during the War of the Revolution. Holland Club. 1858. ASIN: B000887ON0
  14. ^ Andros, Thomas. The old Jersey captive: Or, A narrative of the captivity of Thomas Andros...on board the old Jersey prison ship at New York, 1781. In a series of letters to a friend. W. Peirce. 1833. ASIN: B00085RDI4.
  15. ^ Lang, Patrick J. The horrors of the English prison ships, 1776 to 1783, and the barbarous treatment of the American patriots imprisoned on them. Society of the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick, 1939. ASIN: B0008BI27E.
  16. ^ Onderdonk. Henry. Revolutionary Incidents of Suffolk and Kings Counties; With an Account of the Battle of Long Island and the British Prisons and Prison-Ships at New York. Associated Faculty Press, Inc. June 1970. ISBN 978-0-8046-8075-2.
  17. ^ West, Charles E. Horrors of the prison ships: Dr. West's description of the wallabout floating dungeons, how captive patriots fared. Eagle Book Printing Department, 1895. ASIN: B000885ACW.
  18. ^ The Destructive Operation of Foul Air, Tainted Provisions, Bad Water, and Personal Filthiness, upon Human Constitutions; Exemplified in the Unparalleled Cruelty of the British to the American Captives at New-York during the Revolutionary War, on Board their Prison and Hospital Ships, Medical Repository, volume 11, 1808
  19. ^ Sands, J. O. (1976), "Christopher Vail, Soldier and Seaman in the American Revolution", Winterthur Portfolio, 11: 71, doi:10.1086/495841, JSTOR 1180590, S2CID 162362470
  20. ^ "The HMS Jersey". Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Martyr's Death Ship That Was Found After Century of Vain Search". The Saint Paul globe. 30 November 1902. p. 18. Retrieved 10 January 2016.


  • Dandridge, Danske (1911), American prisoners of the Revolution, Charlottesville, Virginia: The Michie Co.
  • Lavery, Brian (2003) The Ship of the Line – Volume 1: The development of the battlefleet 1650–1850. Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-252-8.

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