Generally Speaking: Tribute to America’s first POWs at Brooklyn Battle Week

August 29, 2014 Theodore W. General
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The Society of Old Brooklynites, which was founded in 1880 when Brooklyn was an independent city and the third largest in the nation, once again paid tribute to the Prison Ship Martyrs. Those were the men, mostly sailors, who were among this young nation’s first freedom  fighters who were captured by the British and jailed aboard dungeon-like prison ships — in reality, decrepit wooden hulks that were once seagoing vessels.

So horrendous were the conditions that the men suffered from all types of sickness, disease, pestilence, starvation, hypothermia and inhuman treatment. As they died, they were tossed overboard or buried in shallow graves along the sandy perimeter of Brooklyn’s Wallabout Bay.

After the war, their bones and remains were collected and placed in a vault until a more permanent crypt and monument were established in Fort Greene Park. On the hilltop in the park is a 149-foot tall monument and 40 feet below it, a burial chamber containing the remains of the estimated 11,500 patriots interred in 13 slate containers.

During the 238th anniversary of Brooklyn Battle Week, the Society of Brooklynites held  its 106th annual memorial ceremonies. Opening remarks were by Brooklyn Borough Historian Ron Schweiger, also the society’s president. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem sung by soprano Jennifer Sin, an invocation and later a benediction by  Brother Becket Ryan from the Our Lady of Angels friary in Bay Ridge.

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Next came the solemn maritime piping ceremony which included Taps and the striking of eight slow bells. Society First Vice President Michael Spinner read the names of all the prison ships the martyrs were incarcerated aboard and emceed the day’s program. The keynote speaker was Congress Member Hakeem Jeffries.

Among others giving brief remarks were Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. While then Navy hymn played, former New York City Commissioner Myrtle Whitmore, a society director, and Society Treasurer Sherman Silverman placed a wreath beneath the large bronze plaque from the society that is affixed to the monument. After the ceremonies, the wreath was placed in front of the door to the crypt.


On Sunday, the Brooklyn Battle Week commemoration continued in Green-Wood Cemetery with re-enactors on horses, firing muskets and a cannon, plus a colonial type encampment.

Later in the day, there was a parade winding up to Battle Hill led by the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy marching band, known as “George M. Cohan’s Own.”  On this hilltop, the Battle of Brooklyn Memorial Society held its annual commemorative ceremony. According to New York State Assemblymember Jim Brennan, who has been attending this annual event for more than three decades, this year’s was the best attended ever.

The National Anthem, Taps, “Amazing Grace” and other numbers were performed by the Band which is based at the Academy grounds in Kings Point, Long Island. The keynote speaker was historian and author Barnet Schecter.  The special guest was Brooklyn Beep Eric Adams.

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