On Saturday, May 8, the Fort Greene Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, in commemoration of its 125th anniversary, held a Prison Ship Martyrs walking tour. The chapter is one of the oldest affiliates of DAR, which has chapters in all 50 states.
Who were the Prison Ship Martyrs? They were the thousands of captives held by the British aboard derelict ships anchored in Brooklyn’s Wallabout Bay during the Revolutionary War. They were sailors, soldiers and merchant mariners who suffered under horrendous and almost subhuman conditions for their failure to swear allegiance to the British crown. When they died, they were tossed overboard or placed in shallow graves along the sandy mounds of the bay.
The actual remains of 11,500 brave patriots were recovered from the bay and shoreline and placed in a vault on Jackson Street (now Hudson Avenue) and reinterred in a permanent crypt 40 feet under the 149-foot Prison Ship Martyrs Monument on top of the hill in Fort Greene Park.
The tour guide was Dr. Alyssa Looyra, a historian, urban archaeologist, member of the Fort Greene DAR Chapter and a life member of the Society of Old Brooklynites. Also joining the tour were FG Chapter Regent Kim Howard-Thomassen and Ted General, first vice president of the Society of Old Brooklynites. The DAR, the society and Brooklyn Daily Eagle editor Walt Whitman lobbied and fundraised for the monument, which was dedicated in 1908 by President-elect William Howard Taft.
Despite the on-and-off rain, the tour proceeded enjoyably. Dr. Looyra did an excellent job explaining the historical relevance of each stop, including Fulton Ferry, Wallabout Bay, Hudson Avenue, Fort Putnam and the Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park.