Prison Ship Martyrs remembered by Society of Old Brooklynites
Fort Greene Park the Site of Saturday’s Battle of Brooklyn Commemoration
Members of the Society of Old Brooklynites, along with members from the Fort Greene chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, hosted the 108th annual rededication ceremony of the Revolutionary War Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park on Saturday.
The event was held in conjunction with the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn, which was celebrated throughout the borough this past week.
“If we keep the history alive, our memory alive, if we keep the youth educated on our history, it will never die,” said Councilmember Laurie Cumbo. “It is so important what we are doing today because when people talk about the Battle of Brooklyn, they aren’t talking about this — they are talking about real estate. But I think if people knew the sacrifice that was made here, and the level of diversity of sacrifice that was made, people would have a greater appreciation for each other.”
The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, which stands 148 feet tall and was built in 1908, honors the confirmed 11,500 American prisoners of the Revolutionary War who were captured by the British. Conditions aboard those prison ships were said to have been horrible with almost no food, no medical supplies and a lack of sanitary conditions.
Saturday’s solemn memorial event featured speeches by Cumbo as well as by state Assemblymember Walter T. Mosley, St. Francis College Professor Howard Skrill, Charles Jarden of the Fort Greene Park Conservancy and Wilhelmina Rhodes Kelly. The keynote speech came from Norman Goben, an American Revolutionary War reenactor.
There was also a musical performance by Madison Marie McIntosh and a dance performance by Craig Gabrian of the Young Dancers in Repertory. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams sent a proclamation on behalf of his office and Myrtle Whitmore and Sherman Silverman laid a wreath at the site.
“Here in the colonies many years ago, we were separated by rivers, mountains, religion and politics, but a common cause and health were the great unifier,” Goben said. “Our common cause here today is not to have the lamp of our history flicker, but to brightly shine a path into our future. From our veins, our ancestors live; from our mouths, they are heard.”
A few speakers pointed out that those who sacrificed and fought in the war actually led similar lives to those who live in the area today. Of course, day-to-day activities are not the same, but the speeches painted a picture of people who weren’t soldiers, but rather ordinary people trying to get through their lives.
“The skateboarders [of today] experience joys and freedoms denied the earlier youth, yet the latter’s untroubled abandon would not have transpired without the suffering and sacrifice of the former,” Skrill said.
“As I watch today’s youths frolic and play, I am fairly certain that had the young patriot youth been floating above the monument, he might have had the wistful desire to join them in their joyful American lives. After all, he was a child,” Skrill continued. “Having the opportunity closed to him by his sacrifice, he might have said of that sacrifice, ‘well done.’”
Jarden also pointed out that those who held Fort Greene Park against the British weren’t dissimilar to those who tend it today.
“If you look over to your right, you’ll see a replica of what the fort would have been — it’s sunken, a muddy hole,” Jarden said. “You picture a fort with big banners and stone fortresses. No. This was a group of 6,000 people who put together a little fortification to repel some 30,000 British. These are the same common people we have today who help manicure the park, who pull the leaves, rake the walkways.”
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