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Flatbush + Main Episode 24: Brooklyn’s Revolutionary War Prison Ships

By Julie Golia

Posted on April 11, 2018

In Episode 24 of Brooklyn Historical Society’s podcast Flatbush + Main, co-hosts Zaheer Ali and Julie Golia discuss a Revolutionary War tragedy: the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans inside prison ships during the British wartime occupation of New York from 1776 to 1783.


03:22 – Histories and Ideas
23:43 – Into the Archives
46:10 – Voices of Brooklyn

For complete show notes, go to

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Segment 1: Histories and Ideas

In segment 1, Zaheer and Julie explain how it came to be that the occupying British Army began converted ships into makeshift prisons during the Revolutionary War. They discuss the context in which the ships came to be, including the disastrous American loss during the Battle of Brooklyn and the question of whether and why New Yorkers were “patriots,” “loyalists,” or something in between. They also consider the horrific conditions on the ships in the context of today’s understanding of human rights and the history of public health.

Many of the stats and figures that Julie and Zaheer mention in this segment come from the terrific book by Ted Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War.

Segment 2: Into the Archives

In the decades after the American Revolution, survivors of the prison ships began publishing their recollections of imprisonment. Zaheer and Julie examine one of these books, Recollections of the Jersey prison ship: from the manuscript of Capt. Thomas Dring prisoner, by Thomas Dring and Albert Greene, revealing how these personal narratives cannot be separated from the politicization of the Revolutionary War and the growing political factionalism in American politics in the decades after the Revolution.

The Othmer Library at Brooklyn Historical Society holds this book in our collections; access the catalog record here.

You can also read Dring’s account as an e-book available on Internet Archive.

Segment 3: Voices of Brooklyn

Zaheer and Julie listen to an excerpt from the oral history of Alice Terson, from BHS’s AIDS/Brooklyn Oral History Project collection. Alice Terson was an HIV positive Latina lesbian born in 1952; her oral history was taken in 1992. Terson discusses her time in prison, her struggles with drug addiction, and her interactions with an HIV positive woman imprisoned with her before Terson’s own diagnosis.

You can listen to the full interview on BHS’s Oral History Portal here.

Segment 4: Endorsements

Both Julie and Zaheer endorsed programs in connection with BHS’s new long-term exhibition, Waterfront, at BHS DUMBO.

Julie endorsed the public program “Invisible Water, Invisible Watersheds: The Gowanus Canal as a Case Study.” This panel uses the Gowanus Canal as a case study for a discussion of urban ecology, stressed city ecosystems, and innovative design solutions. Jarrett Murphy of City Limits moderates a discussion with panelists Eric Sanderson, senior conservation ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and director of the Manahatta Project; Kate Orff, MacArthur Award-winning landscape architect whose firm, SCAPE, has designed a visionary plan for the Gowanus Canal; and Andrea Parker, executive director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy.

The panel takes place at BHS’s Pierrepont location on Wednesday, April 18. 2018 at 6:30pm. Tickets are $5, and free for members. Reserve them here.

Zaheer endorsed the public program “Roasted: The History of Coffee in NYC.” From Arbuckle Coffee to Brooklyn Roasting Company, coffee has been at the center of Brooklyn life for well over a century. Join BHS Director of Public History Julie Golia, coffee impresario and owner of Gillies Coffee Company (which was founded in 1840) Donald Schoenholt, Brooklyn Roasting Company’s Jim Munson, and Erin Meister author of New York City Coffee: A Caffeinated History for a conversation about the love affair that wakes us up every morning.

The panel takes place at BHS’s Pierrepont location on Thursday, April 26, 2018 at 6:30pm. Tickets are $10, and $5 for members. Reserve them here.

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