We must now conduct our readers back to the Provost Prison in New York, where, for some time, Colonel Ethan Allen was incarcerated. Dr. Elias Cornelius, a surgeon's mate, was taken prisoner by the British on the 22nd of August, 1777. On that day he had ridden to the enemy's advanced post to make observations, voluntarily accompanying a scouting party. On his way back he was surprised, over-powered, and captured by a party of British soldiers.
This was at East Chester. He seems to have lagged behind the rest of the party, and thus describes the occurrence: "On riding into town (East Chester) four men started from behind a shed and took me prisoner. They immediately began robbing me of everything I had, horse and harness, pistols, Great Coat, shoe-buckles, pocket book, which contained over thirty pounds, and other things. The leader of the guard abused me very much. * * * When we arrived at King's Bridge I was put under the Provost Guard, with a man named Prichard and several other prisoners." They were kept at the guard house there for some time, and regaled with mouldy bread, rum and water, and sour apples, which were thrown down for them to scramble for, as if they were so many pigs. They were at last marched to New York. Just before reaching that city they were carried before a Hessian general to be "made a show of." The Hessians mocked them, told them they were all to be hung, and even went so far as to draw their swords across their throats. But a Hessian surgeon's mate took pity on Cornelius, and gave him a glass of wine.
On the march to New York in the hot summer afternoon they were not allowed to stop even for a drink of water. Cornelius was in a fainting condition, when a poor woman, compassionating his sad plight, asked to be allowed to give them some water. They were then about four miles from New York. She ran into her house and brought out several pails of beer, three or four loaves of bread, two or three pounds of cheese, and besides all this, she gave money to some of the prisoners. Her name was Mrs. Clemons. She was from Boston and kept a small store along the road to New York.
Cornelius says: "We marched till we come to the Bowery, three quarters of a mile from New York. * * * As we come into town, Hessians, Negroes, and children insulted, stoned, and abused us. * * * In this way we were led through half the streets as a show. * * * At last we were ordered to the Sugar House, which formerly went by the name of Livingstone's Sugar House. Here one Walley, a Sergeant of the 20th Regiment of Irish traitors in the British service, had the charge of the prisoners. This man was the most barbarous, cruel man that ever I saw. He drove us into the yard like so many hogs. From there he ordered us into the Sugar House, which was the dirtiest and most disagreeable place that I ever saw, and the water in the pump was not better than that in the docks. The top of the house was open * * * to the weather, so that when it rained the water ran through every floor, and it was impossible for us to keep dry. Mr. Walley gave thirteen of us four pounds of mouldy bread and four pounds of poor Irish pork for four days. I asked Mr Walley if I was not to have my parole. He answered 'No!' When I asked for pen and ink to write a few lines to my father, he struck me across the face with a staff which I have seen him beat the prisoners." (with)
On the next morning Cornelius was conveyed to the Provost Guard. "I was then taken down to a Dungeon. The provost marshal was Sergeant Keith" (Cunningham appears to have been, at this time, murdering the unfortunate prisoners in his power at Philadelphia).
"There was in this place a Captain Travis of Virginia, and Captain of a sloop of war. There were also in this dismal place nine thieves, murderers, etc. A Captain Chatham was taken sick with nervous fever. I requested the Sergeant to suffer me to send for some medicine, or I believed he might die, to which he replied he might die, and if he did he would bury him.
"All the provisions each man had was but two pounds meat and two pounds bread for a week, always one and sometimes both was not fit to eat. * * * I had no change of linen from the 25th of August to the 12th of September."
It seems that the father of Cornelius, who lived on Long Island, was an ardent Tory. Cornelius asked Sergeant O'Keefe to be allowed to send to his father for money and clothing. But this was refused. "In this hideous place," he continues, "I was kept until the 20th of September; when Sergeant Keath took Captains C., and Travis, and myself, and led us to the upper part of the prison, where were Ethan Allen, Major Williams, Paine and Wells and others. Major Williams belonged at Maryland and was taken prisoner at Fort Washington. * * *