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August 15, 2013

Americans imprisoned

Cooperstown Crier

---- — From the Otsego Herald

for Saturday, August 14, 1813

Compiled, with comments



Facts are daily transpiring tending to show the extent and enormity of this practice upon the seamen of our country. No man not lost to every sense of shame, can resist the mass of testimony which is daily unfolding; or longer view with indifference, unless his bosom has become callous as well to every impulse of humanity, as to the glow of patriotism.

The last Salem Register furnishes the names of 127 impressed American seamen, now on board the British prison ship San Antonio, at Chatham, England, who having refused to fight against their country after being repeatedly flogged, have been discharged from the British service, and are now being held as prisoners of war ... 20 of these seamen are natives of New-York — two have been in slavery 18 years — and seven 15 years — and 41 others from 5 to 15 years ... They were discharged from less than 50 ships, and left on board ... one hundred and seventy-seven American seamen, still retained in bondage! ...

There were on board the other Chatham prison ships, 320 discharged in like manner, and an immense number on board the prison ships at Portsmouth, at Plymouth and other places. Four hundred Americans were discharged from the Toulon blockading squadron alone.

John Nichols [see below]

These facts are studiously kept from one half the nation, and lest they should excite in Americans a spirit worthy of their fathers, they are denied, palliated and justified with a pertinacity and hardihood disgraceful to our country, and insulting to the understandings of our citizens.

COMMENT: The seizure (or “impressment”) of American seamen by the British navy, on the grounds — often false —that they were really British, was one of the major causes of the American declaration of war in 1812. Now some such seamen had their status changed to prisoner-of-war, when they refused to fight against their country.

“I, John Nichols, a native of Durham, State of Massachusetts ... say, that I ... was taken by a press gang ... I gave the Lieutenant my Protection ...

I then asked the lieutenant for my Protection; he answered “I will give it to you with a hell to it,” and immediately tore it up before my face ... I was drafted on board the Aboukir 74 [guns], where I remained three years and ... was in the grand battle between the Russians and the French in the month of June, 1812.

“The American Consul ... applied for my discharge, which was granted...but kept from me until the war broke out. I then determined to give myself up as a prisoner of war, let the consequence be what it would ...

“[T]he Captain told me I was an Englishman ..., and kept me in irons 24 hours, after which I was taken to the gangway and received one dozen with the cat on my bare back. The captain then asked me if I would go to duty and I told him no — I would sooner die first ... [T]he same was repeated four days successively, and I received four dozen on my naked back. After the fourth day I was a prisoner-at-large ... John Nichols ... Salem Register, July 17, 1813.”


In the afternoon of the 15th [July] was witnessed at Red Hook, N.Y. a most astonishing and awful phenomenon, occasioned, as is supposed by the bursting of a cloud. It presented itself in the form of a tremendous whirlwind, descended to the ground, and for the space of 4 or 5 miles swept every thing before it — houses, barns and trees (some of which were between 2 and 3 feet diameter) were prostrated in its course. It is not ascertained that any lives were lost, but the threatening aspect it assumed, and the destruction it effected are truly deplorable and indescribable [sic].


In this town, on the 9th [August] of the typhus fever, Mr. Ira Thurston, aged 22 [possibly an Ira Thurston (1791-1814 —died Oct. 28, 1814) from Springfield, NY.)

Great Rainfall

Charleston, (S. C.) July 3. From Wednesday night last till yesterday morning, it rained almost incessantly. During that time there has fallen twelve inches, two quarters and five tenths of a quarter of water — a greater quantity than has fallen in the same space for many years before. Previous to this rain, there had been a drought for several weeks continuance, which had done great injury to vegetation; and it is to be feared that this unusual quantity of rain will be equally destructive as the drought.


About commencing the Editorial care of this paper, the undersigned will for once dispense with an ancient established custom, by giving it to the public without a — PROSPECTUS — or in other words, a long list of fair PROMISES and PROFESSIONS, which may hereafter be thrown in his face for having failed in fulfilling them. His political principles are well known, therefore they need no explanation here. The course he is about to take will be unfolded as he proceeds in his labors, which he means to pursue by “managing his own affairs in his own way, unembarrassed by too much regulation.”

The improved appearance of the HERALD, it is hoped, will be an additional inducement to those who have hitherto so liberally patronized it to continue their favors, which will be thankfully received and duly appreciated. I. W. CLARK.

COMMENT: Israel W. Clark (ca. 1789-1828) only published the Otsego Herald for one year; Clark also published “The Watchtower” from 1813-1817, a weekly paper founded in Cherry Valley in 1813 but moved to Cooperstown the next year. He was a Presidential elector from New York in 1816 (when James Monroe was elected). In 1817 Clark purchased the “Albany Register” and hired politician-to-be Thurlow Weed (1797-1882), an old friend from Cooperstown days, to become its foreman.