Remembering America’s first prisoners of war

On Saturday morning, Aug. 26, the Society of Old Brooklynites will hold its annual memorial tribute to the Prison Ship Martyrs.

These are the sometimes forgotten sailors, marines and soldiers captured during the American Revolution and jailed aboard British prison ships anchored in the waters of Wallabout Bay. They were incarcerated in dungeon-like spaces on decrepit old sailing vessels under the most horrendous conditions. When they died, many were tossed overboard and others were buried in shallow sandy graves only to have their bones and skulls exposed by waves washing ashore.

The Prison Ship Martyrs monument in Fort Greene Park.

A public ceremony will take place on these sacred grounds at the base of the 149-foot-tall monument on the hilltop in Fort Greene Park. Entombed in a large crypt under this historic towering monument are the remains of 11,500 patriots from the Revolution, making it the largest burial ground in the nation for these war veterans known as the Prison Ship Martyrs – America’s first POWs.

The somber program gets underway with the presenting of the colors by the FDNY Ceremonial Honor Guard, the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star-Spangled Banner” performed by a prominent opera singer, and an invocation.

Melinda Allison.

The keynote speaker will be Melinda Allison, vice regent of the Fort Greene Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It was a joint effort by the Society of Old Brooklynites, founded in 1880, and the Fort Greene DAR Chapter, founded in 1896, to have erected this nationally recognized monument, which was dedicated in 1908 by President-elect William Howard Taft.

A Prison Ship Martyrs medallion.

The proceedings will continue with a musical interlude, a maritime piping ceremony, with “Taps” and the striking of eight slow bells on a Navy brass bell, followed by a wreath-laying accompanied by the playing of the “Navy Hymn.”

Michael Spinner, second vice president, will serve as the master of ceremonies. Also participating in the event will  be Dr. Fred Monderson, the society president, a highly decorated U.S. Army Vietnam veteran.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.