James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Fellows, [ca. 29 March] 1813

From John Fellows

[ca. 29 March 1813]


The treatment of American prisoners by the English, particularly in the West India Islands, is shockingly barbarous. They are not only supplied with unwholsome provisions, hard bran bread, for instance which had been half destroyed by worms, but are also deprived of that common priviledge of nature, air. Being crouded into the holes of prison ships, as they call them, where they are almost wholy excluded from that element so essential to life. I have seen several who have been exchanged that are extremely emaciated, arising, as they say, from this mode of treatment. They are fully of opinion that a very considerable portion of those who remain as prisoners, in that climate in the summer season, must expire. Being intimate with a gentleman, a Mr. Sandford, who has a son imprisoned at Jamaica, I have had an oppertunity of learning the number of prisoners now at that place; which is above two hundred. They complain bitterly that no Cartel is sent to thier relief. Young Sandford was one of the eight who lately cut a hole through the prison ship, made their escape from her, & swam to a guardship taking a boat from along side, and putting to sea, with an expectation of reaching Cuba. They were however intercepted and brought back. What must be the condition of prisoners who would deliberately run such a risque? Could not an arrangement be made with the English Government for keeping prisoners on shore, by an American Agent’s Stipulating in behalf of our Government for thier safe keeping? And if they will not comply with this demand, should not we confine our prisoners in the same manner as they do? In any event, I beg leave to suggest the propriety of sending Cartells often to the West India Islands, and particularly one to Jamaica soon as possible.1

Having no other object in writing you this letter than to serve the cause of justice & humanity I am confident you will not take it amiss. I am Sir Very Respectfully Your Most Obt. Servt.

Jno. Fellows
mil. store keeper

RC (DNA: RG 94, War of 1812, Records Relating to Prisoners, entry 127-A, box 10, folder 1, bundle 178). Undated; conjectural date assigned on the basis of evidence presented in n. 1 and the postmark, which reads, “New-York 29 Mar.”

1By 3 Apr. 1813, William Jones had taken steps to “procure a Vessel suitable for a Cartel to proceed to Jamaica and bring home the Prisoners there” (Dudley, Naval War of 1812, 2:87). On 18 May 1813 the Daily National Intelligencer reported that Great Britain and the United States had reached an agreement, whereby “two cartel vessels … shall be constantly kept by each government in the service of removing prisoners of the two nations, to be released on account or exchanged,” and that the U.S. cartels Analostan and Perseverence had sailed for Jamaica and Barbados, respectively, for this purpose.

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