Monday, May 26, 2008

{genealogy} Samuel Ward

On this Memorial Day, I would like to introduce you to my 4th great-grand uncle Samuel Ward. I chose him because now I know that Memorial Day is a day to memorialize those who died while performing military service. (My choice from last year, I now find is inappropriate...I should have used Veterans Day for Ray Derham.)

Given Samuel's early death and common name, most of this biography is unsourced and only comes from various family histories given to me by distant cousins or found on the Internet.

Samuel was likely born within 5 years of the year 1758, which is the known date when his brother John was born. Their father's name was also Samuel. The DAR reports that John was born in Connecticut, but this is debatable, as many histories for the 2 brothers place them in Massachusetts before John is found in Connecticut at the time of his enlistment. It is likely that the DAR assumes that John was born in Connecticut because that is where he was married to Abigail Phelps when he returned there from war.

The unpublished book A History of the Town of Massachusetts, 1670-1850, credited to Edward Church Smith and supposedly printed in 1924, is transcribed on the Internet. According to the transcription, it was known that John and Samuel served together in the Revolutionary War as dispatch bearers. A family history from the Jordanville (NY) Historical Society, sent to me by a distant cousin, also indicates that John and Samuel served together. John's pension record indicates that his title was Private.

John's pension record also indicates that he was taken prisoner by the British, a fact that is corroborated by the Jordanville Historical Society, who also report that his brother Samuel was taken prisoner at the same time.

The 2 brothers were held by the British on ships in the New York harbor, which was very common during the Revolutionary War. At the time, the ships' location was called Wallabout Bay. Today it is the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The conditions of those prison ships is well-documented by diaries and other records that survive to this day. Words commonly used to describe these prisons and the treatment of the American prisoners are: "ghastly", "horrid", and "wretched". It is said that 75% of the prisoners died from torture, starvation, or disease aboard these ships; Newsday reports that more Americans died on the prison ships than on the battlefields of the Revolutionary War. Family histories indicate that Samuel Ward died on a prison ship, with one unsourced family history placing his death date as December 1778.

He and his fellow Prison Ship Martyrs, as they are called today, were thrown overboard or buried in shallow graves on shore. As time passed, their bones were exposed. The bones were collected by Brooklyn residents and interred in the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument in Fort Greene, NY. The monument was built 100 years ago (they are getting ready to celebrate its centenary), though it has fallen into disrepair and is being rebuilt for at least the 4th time.

There were many ways to get off of the prison ships. It was possible to escape or be exchanged. But the most common way to get off the prison ship was to swear allegiance to Britain and join the British Army. It was quite simple and the DAR reports that this was a very common method of escape, as typically the soldier would immediately desert the British army and rejoin the revolutionaries again. This is how John Ward escaped imprisonment. But the precise dates of John and Samuel's imprisonment, and John's escape, are not known, so I can only presume that Samuel was ill or injured and was not in a condition to escape his imprisonment, and that the ship's grisly conditions hastened his death.

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