List of prisoners who died in Halifax Hospital (1777) believed to belong to the frigate Hancock

The following list of forty-eight prisoners who died in Halifax Hospital between late July and the end of September 1777 and believed to belong to the Continental Navy frigate Hancock taken with the prize ship Fox by the British 44-gun Rainbow and 32-gun Flora after a thirty-nine hour chase was likely composed by Dr. Samuel Curtis, Hancock’s surgeon. The list was transcribed by Joseph Ross from a photograph of the original document appearing online at: http://www.eldreds.com/auctions/detail/item/189306/sale/777/dept/43. One of several historically important hand-written documents sold at Eldred’s Marine Art & Antiques Auction in July 2013 associated with the Naval surgeon which also included another list of fifty-four persons Dr. Curtis apparently inoculated in the Halifax Prison in July 1777.

The resolution of the photograph is less than ideal so that names and dates of death are transcribed only with difficulty and certain knowledge that some mistakes have been made. The writer invites corrections and it is our hope that the successful auction bidder will at some point make a clear copy available for a more accurate transcription. Nevertheless, it is our desire to capture as much of the data as may be available based on the material accessible.

The title of the list reads, ” A List of the American Prisoners Who Died in Halifax Hospital 1777″. A second notation adds “Ship Hancock on this Page” leading this writer to deduce that other associated manuscript lists originally existed which documented frigate Hancock deaths between early October 1777 and early January 1778 when the majority of the crew was released from confinement and returned by cartel. It also suggests that the doctor may have kept a separate list of deaths at Halifax Prison not associated with the crew of the Hancock during his time there.

This list has been edited to note those men(with parenthesis) who also appear on the accompanying list of fifty-four persons Dr. Curtis apparently inoculated in the Halifax Prison in July 1777. Their quality or rate on the ship is noted [in brackets] where known. A second alphabetical organization of the list is included with a complete spelling of the abbreviated Christian name in order to assist with internet browsing.

William Smith, July 29th
Peter Guliburd, 30th
James Boss Gray, 30th
Joseph Feddimann, 31st
Roland Batten, Aug 2nd (Inoculated)
William Lovejoy, 2nd (Inoculated)
Isaac Dickman, 9th
James Milton, 9th
William Putnum, 10th
Joseph Dudley, 14th (Inoculated)
Elias Robinson, 14th
Nathan ?????,14th
Isaac Osgood, 14th
Sam’l Lawrence, 16th
Nath’nl Arnold, 18th (Inoculated)
William Jacobson, 18th
George West, 19th [AB Seaman]
Caleb Brimhull, 20th
Stephen Horn, 20th
James Clark, 23rd
Nath’nl Niles, 24th (Inoculated)
Charles Jones, 24th
Philip Bass, 25th
Thomas Luden, 26th
Sam’l Cochran, 28th
Sam’l Goodwin, 29th
Jacob Winter, 29th (Inoculated)
Benjamin Barnard, 30th
Joseph Saunders, 30th (Inoculated)
James Mellon, Jun’r, Sept 2nd
Sam’l Denning, 3rd
Isaac Niles, 4th [Boy] (Inoculated)
Joseph Grafton, 5th
Francis Galley (French man), 4th
James Goodwin, 5th
Wm Arnold, 5th
Levi Woodman, 5th
Zephaniah Briggs, 12th
John Huff???, 12th
Thomas Shepard, 12th
John Hodge, 13th
Caleb Farr, 17th (Inoculated)
Daniel Silloway, 19th
John Davity (French), 22nd
Thos Winter, 27th [Boy] (Inoculated)
Francis Day, 29th (Inoculated)
James Sawyer, 30th [Carpenter’s Mate]
Thos Berry, 30th [2nd Lt. of Marines Servant]

Nathan ?
Nathaniel Arnold
William Arnold
Benjamin Barnard
Philip Bass
Roland Batten
Thomas Berry
Zephaniah Briggs
Caleb Brimhull
James Clark
Samuel Cochran
John Davity
Francis Day
Samuel Denning
Isaac Dickman
Joseph Dudley
Caleb Farr
Joseph Feddimann
Francis Galley
James Goodwin
Samuel Goodwin
Joseph Grafton
James Boss Gray
Peter Guliburd
John Hodge
Stephen Horn
John Huff
William Jacobson
Charles Jones
Samuel Lawrence
William Lovejoy
Thomas Luden
James Mellon, Jr.
James Milton
Isaac Niles
Nathaniel Niles
Isaac Osgood
William Putnum
Elias Robinson
Joseph Saunders
James Sawyer
Thomas Shepard
Daniel Silloway
William Smith
George West
Jacob Winter
Thomas Winter
Levi Woodman

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4 Responses to List of prisoners who died in Halifax Hospital (1777) believed to belong to the frigate Hancock

  1. Brian McMurdo says:

    Hi. I found your postings on the crew of the Hancock to be very interesting. I have been for a while researching a man who I believe may have been a crew member imprisoned at Halifax. He appears on the documents that you reference, although you didn’t list him. His name was Jonas Wood. He was the older (by not quite three years) brother of my ancestor Silas Wood. They were from Concord, Massachusetts, although it appears that Jonas moved to Marlborough. According to family tradition, Jonas Wood was a surgeon. There are two fates assigned to Jonas Wood, both dealing with being a prisoner of the British, kept at Halifax. One story says simply that he died in prison at Halifax, in 1777. The other says that he sailed for the east Indies and that the ship he was on sank. These two stories never seemed to make sense together to me until this set of documents appeared, and they led me to find a few probate documents for Jonas. Interestingly the man charged with executing the probate of Jonas Wood was your Dr. Samuel Curtis. In the documents, he lists money or prize money owed to Jonas Wood for six months’ service on the frigate Hamilton [Hancock]. When I had looked at the documents you showed, I noticed that Jonas Wood was referred to singly in the lower left of the display of four documents. Also, on the third to the right document where Curtis lists the men he inoculated, Jonas Wood was listed as either number seven or eight. The fact that Wood is mentioned twice in Curtis’s documents, and that Curtis a year or two later is handling his probate affairs, makes me thing they knew each other well. And that since he wasn’t on the list of dead Curtis kept would make me think that as of late 1777 Wood was alive. It’s been a few months since I looked into this, but in reading about the prisoners at Halifax, I seem to remember that some of them were shipped to the East Indies to work on plantations. I have wondered if Wood may have been one of this group, and that he either died en route, or the ship did sink, or he spent his life in a form of slavery in the east Indies. I don’t know if any of these are true, but in light of the story about his being lost at sea to the East Indies, it might fit. Do you know anything about this story (the prisoners being sent to the East Indies). Jonas Wood’s family were very involved in the early revolution, his mother a daughter of the Hosmer family, his cousin Abner one of the two American men killed at Concord Bridge, and his uncle Joseph Hosmer the second in command of the Americans at the bridge, and another uncle Ephraim Wood one of the town’s committee of correspondence. The Wood and Hosmer homesteads were both searched by the British army that morning for materiel, which they didn’t find (but which were in fact hidden). I hope to hear back from you. Here’s a link to the Jonas Wood probate documents that involved Samuel Curtis:

    https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B3mZ6XoVwgRaUEJJYXgzanVfZU0&usp=sharing

    Hope you found this interesting. Best, Brian McMurdo

  2. Joe says:

    Brian,

    I found your note intriguing and looked carefully again at the Curtis documents which sold at Eldred’s Marine Art & Antiques Auction in July 2013 and also the three probate document images you forwarded to me. I believe you are absolutely correct to identify Jonas Wood as both a friend of Dr. Curtis and as a fellow officer of the frigate Hancock. You correctly note he is among the 54 crew members listed as inoculated for smallpox but not among the 45 dead. I point out however that the list of Hancock’s dead appears to pertain only to those who died in Halifax Hospital between July and the end of September 1777. You have also astutely observed the note in the lower left-hand corner of Dr. Samuel Curtis’ itemized invoice for services from the Surgeon’s time of entry on the Hancock on 24 March 1777 until 25 January 1778, the presumed date of his return to American soil after incarceration. The note reads, “Jonas Woods Acct made up from 24th March to 20th October 1777- 6 months & 26 days”. This notation suggests to me two conclusions which you may find interesting and particularly supportive of one of your family traditions. Firstly, that Jonas Wood was closely associated with Dr. Samuel Curtis and secondly, that his date of death coincided with his last date of service on 20 October 1777. The accounting of Hancock’s dead on the other document ended about three weeks earlier. The notation also indicates Wood was entered on the ship’s book just four days after Dr. Curtis.

    It is my belief that Jonas Wood was himself a physician, well known to and perhaps in association with Dr. Samuel Curtis at Marlborough and was recruited by Curtis to be his assistant on the vessel as Surgeon’s Mate. The fact that Dr. Curtis served as the administrator of Wood’s estate in 1779 indicates an intimate relationship between the two, supported by Curtis’ receipt of Wood’s wages and prize money for service on the Hancock, something typically only done by a spouse, close family member or friend acting under power of attorney. The probate documents clearly attest to Jonas Wood’s profession as a physician and his place of residence as Marlborough. I have not been yet able to demonstrate that the two were both Harvard College alum but Wood almost certainly would have received a formal education. Jonas Wood was three years younger and logic suggests he may have been graduated with the Class of 1769 or 1770 and possibly practised under Curtis prior to hostilities. I have carefully examined the pension record of your ancestor, his younger brother Silas Wood, and find no mention of Jonas’ wartime service or death. As you probably already know, Silas entered service in Captain Abishai Brown’s Company of Colonel John Robinson’s Regiment on 7 July 1777, the day before his brother’s vessel was taken at sea.

    According to “A genealogy of the lineal descendants of William Wood who settled in Concord, Mass. in 1638” compiled by Clay W. Holmes (1901), “Jonas Wood was a surgeon in the Revolution. He was taken prisoner, carried to Halifax and died there in 1777. This is traditionary record. No official record could be found to verify it.” I believe you have found solid evidence supporting this family tradition. Holmes suggests in the same source that Wood was married. If true, I have found no such evidence and would conclude based on the probate documents, Jonas Wood had no wife or children at the time of his death. You are correct to regard the tradition recorded in “Genealogy of the Descendants of John White of Wenham and Lancaster, Massachusetts” by A.L. White (1900) which suggests that Jonas Wood sailed for the East Indies and that his ship was sunk with suspicion. I agree that it makes no sense and do not believe you will find historical evidence of American sailors being transported from Halifax for the stated purpose of working on East or West Indian plantations. Thanks for your interest and unveiling for the historical record frigate Hancock’s Surgeon’s Mate Jonas Wood. You have done your ancestor’s brother and family a valued service. Joe Ross

  3. Brian McMurdo says:

    Hi, Joe,

    I just saw this Labor Day Weekend. I apologize for not responding earlier. Since I had contacted you originally, I have looked a little further into this story. If you remember I was trying to learn what might have been the fate of Jonas Wood. In one family geneaology, he was referred to as having died in 1777 at Halifax (Nova Scotia), and in another passing comment about him, it was written that he sailed for the East Indies and died when his ship sank. I found an interesting birth record for Acton, Middlesex County, Massachusetts from 1772 for a child named Jonas Wood, born to a woman named Rebecca Wheeler. There is no reference to a father on this town record. While Acton seems to be about twenty miles from Marlborough, the limits of the city are only about a mile and a half from where the Wood and Hosmer homesteads were in the mid 1700’s. In 1771-2 Jonas Wood would have been about 21 or so. I wonder if this fatherless child was his, which would lead some credence to the idea that he had a family. I also found no marriage record for Dr. Jonas Wood.

    On the issue of sailing to the East Indies, and your skepticism that this would have been an outcome for American prisoners from the Hancock at Halifax, amazingly, I found a record–a book–written by a man named John Blatchford, who had been a cabin boy on the Hancock when it had been captured in 1777. He also was taken to Halifax, and had attempted an escape but was betrayed by an American midshipman among the prisoners. In his story, Blatchford records that about 80 prisoners from Halifax were impressed to either serve on British ships, and /or were sent to England to stand trial and were sent on to the East Indies to work in the “pepper gardens” of Sumatra as slaves, in the service of the British East India Company. He was kept there until he escaped after many months captivity. He writes that he was the only one or one of only a small group (I haven’t read this in a few months) to escape from slavery. They dodged the British troops on Sumatra (there was a fort there) and eventually found some Dutch, who sent them back to America, arriving there in the early 1780’s.

    Blatchford bio from Williams College in Massachusetts:
    http://sites.williams.edu/searchablesealit/b/blatchford-john/

    So as before, it doesn’t seem like Jonas Wood had died by the autumn of 1777 when Curtis’s documents were written, but he was apparently known to be dead or assumed dead by the time Curtice presented his probate at Concord in September of 1779. In that time, I would imagine if you’d been put into slavery and sent to the East Indies you were probably considered as good as dead. I don’t know about the story of the ship sinking.

    But a thought recently came to me to contact the British National Archives at Kew, England and see if they could provide some light upon the transport of prisoners at this time. I do know that the issue of the mistreatment of American prisoners and their enslavement was actually a prominent issue between the Americans and British at this point in the American Revolution. I am wondering if they would have kept lists of prisoners, or if they would have a record of ships carrying American prisoners to the East Indies that had sunk. A few years ago I was able to pretty much reconstruct my great grandfather’s maritime career (he was a master of British sailing barques in the 1850’s and early 1860’s ) to a surprising extent, down to cargo records, records of his ships being spoken to at sea with navigational coordinates and weather, as well as ship damages in some cases. The British were excellent record keepers. I wonder if they were a few decades earlier. I’d actually thought about sending this story to PBS’s History Detectives, but they were cancelled.

    Anyway, thanks so much for writing back and providing more information. These guys were very brave and have a remarkable story. It’s great that you have chosen to help preserve it. I will pay better attention to check back and see if you’ve posted anything in reply! Best, Brian

  4. Joe says:

    Brian,

    I have read Blatchford’s story and consider it as described on the Williams College website- extraordinary. His sentence to serve in Sumatra appears to be related to the crime he committed while in the King’s service and is not typical of captured American prisoners. Based on the Curtis documents, I am convinced Jonas Wood died at Halifax. There doesn’t seem to be any weighty substantiating evidence for Wood’s death in the East Indies or at sea.

    I have been to Kew and reviewed many ship musters there. If you can identify the British warship one was impressed on or carried in, either as a supernumerary or prisoner; their name, time and disposition at arrival and time and disposition at departure from the vessel is likely in the record. They were excellent bookkeepers and the ship’s account was reimbursed by the crown for food rations provided the crew and passengers based on the muster roll. The records are “sanitary” and do not shed much light on actual treatment of the prisoners. For that you must rely on eyewitness accounts recorded by American prisoners, which one can assume also carry a certain bias. I believe this is an area wide open to serious study. To my knowledge, not much research has been done to analytically compare the death records of the Old Jersey, whose records are very complete, with the anecdotal evidence of mortality rates suggested by American prisoner/survivors. In any event, the prisoners at Halifax had much to be thankful for in the competent medical care that Dr. Samuel Curtis and presumably Jonas Wood provided to them while incarcerated. I’m certain that this care extended also to the spiritual care required by many on their deathbed. Joe

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