The Prison Ship Martyr's Monument is a dedication to roughly 11,500 American prisoners of war who died while being held captive by British forces during the American Revolutionary War. Most of these deaths occurred on British ships that were used as holding areas for prisoners of war off the coast of the New York Harbor. It is said that more Americans died on these ships than in actual battle with the British.


  • A picture of the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument.
    A picture of the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument.
  • Another picture of the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument.
    Another picture of the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument.

     While many of us know about the Revolutionary War to some extent, we rarely consider the prisoners of war that were captured during the fighting. The British, fighting a rebellion several thousand miles away, used their ships and some makeshift jails along the shores to hold all of the revolutionary soldiers they managed to capture during the war. Conditions in these holding areas were brutal, and as a result, most prisoners died. Not caring for the area nor the people, the British threw corpses overboard and into the sea. As a result, many bodies were washed up on shore and left there. The exact number of men who died on these ships is impossible to determine, but estimates range from 11,500 to 18,000, a number higher than the number of men who died in battle.

     Unfortunately for these men, many years passed before anyone gave them much thought. After the war, a naval yard was constructed at the site of these British jails, but the men simply picked up bones they saw and placed them in boxes. It wasn't until the late 1700s, when a conflict between Federalists and Republicans arose, that the idea for a memorial was suggested. It came up when the Republicans questioned Federalists building a monument in honor of George Washington. Despite the idea being suggested, a monument was still put off for a few more years until the British started causing problems for the new nation around 1806. Finally, in 1808, Republicans used anti-British sentiment to push for the creation of a monument to honor the dead. 

     After finally overcoming the obstacle of gaining support for the monument, the monument would face the challenge of father time. The first attempt at a monument was a vault built to honor the dead, but it soon fell to damage caused by neglect. In 1873, another attempt was made to create a monument. It was built in Fort Greene Park. The bones of the dead were moved there. Then, with the discovery of more bones in the early 1900s, the monument was approved to be rescaled to a larger size. Over the next 100 years, the monument took significant damage from theft, vandalism, and natural decay due to more neglect. Once more, in the early 2000s, the monument underwent a new makeover and was restored to its former glory.

Fort Greene Park. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2014, from http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/fort-greene-park/monuments/1222

 Introduction. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2014, from http://www.prisonshipmartyrs.com/Introduction.html

Giddens, E. (2011, September 3). Memorials and the Forgotten. Retrieved November 24, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/nyregion/when-memorials-outlast-the-sentiment-behind-them.html?pag...