The Revolutionary-war era British prison ships were dark and foreboding, a place of terror and insanity and starvation. A place to be feared. A veritable death sentence.
And there was the Jersey, the worst of British prison ship of them all. Those who didn’t starve to death could expect to go mad.
Thomas Clark and Andrew Clark, officers of the Continental Army, were both on the infamous Jersey.
It all started with treason. An oath, a signature, a declaration.
When Abraham Clark signed his name beneath the words, “…for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor,” it’s highly unlikely he recognized the extremely high price he would have to pay for this treason.
Because yes, it was treason. Abraham Clark was evading the power of the British Empire, the empire over which the sun never set. And of course, Britain wasn’t very happy about it.
First the British burned his home. But that wasn’t enough to cow Abraham Clark. More drastic measures were required.
The British siezed two of his sons, Thomas and Andrew, and threw them on the Jersey. Denying them food and water, the British turned to Abraham Clark. We’ll return your sons, they said, if you will recant your signature. That’s all it would take. A recantation, and then his family would be reunited and happy.
Abraham Clark, and his wife, Sarah Hatfield Clark, were both devout Presbyterians. As Abraham and Sarah pondered their options, they probably prayed – earnestly. What should they do? What did God want them to do?
Abraham and his wife did have confidence in God and His power: In 1776, Abraham wrote to a certain Elias Dayton: “This seems to be a trying season, but that indulgent Father who hath hitherto Preserved us will, I trust, appear for our help, and prevent our being Crushed; if otherwise, his Will be done.”
Ten days later, he wrote to the same Elias Dayton, “Our fates are in the hands of An Almighty God, to whom I can with pleasure confide my own; he can save us, or destroy us; his Councils are fixed and cannot be disappointed, and all his designs will be Accomplished.”
Abraham and his wife told the British that they would do anything, give anything, other then signature. Wealth, property. But not the signature. No, the British said, the only thing we will accept is that signature.
Abraham and his wife returned to the British: we can’t do that.
They walked away from their sons, left them to the British, left them in the Jersey.
What courage that would take! What conviction in the founding principles! What faith and trust in God!
Thomas Clark was released and then died in 1789 from health conditions caused by his stay on the Jersey. Not much is known about Andrew other than the fact that he was thrown on the Jersey, it’s highly likely that he died on the Jersey.
Abraham, Sarah, and their two sons are true heroes of the American Revolutionary war. They are often forgotten, but should be lauded. So many of the heroes of the past are being forgotten, ignored, or vilified. It’s time to start remembering the heroes and recognizing the good that happened in the past.