Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Livingston Sugar House Prison

    In 1754 the Livingston's of Livingston Manor had a sugar house constructed in New York City to refine sugar cane shipped from their plantations in the Caribbean. The building was stone and stood six stories tall although the floors were very low. It stood on Crown Street, now Liberty Street.
The Livingston Sugar House on the left

    When the British seized New York City in 1776 the building was seized, because it belonged to the patriot Livingston family. It was turned into a makeshift prison to hold captured Americans.
    Levi Hanford, who was captured in 1777 said the prison initially held 40 to 50 prisoners but was soon crammed with 400 to 500 prisoners. One estimate puts the number of men stuffed into Livingston Sugar House at 800.
    Conditions in this prison and prisons like it throughout the city were atrocious. Food consisted of salt pork and ship's biscuits, hard unchewable bread that would have to be soaked in water before it could be eaten. Rations were usually at least partially rotted and full of insects and worms. The close quarters of the building combined with the terrible rations led to the spread of disease like scurvy and fevers that killed men at astonishing rates. Of the 2,600 men captured at the Battle of Fort Washington in 1776, 1,900 died in captivity. Somewhere between 17,500 and 18,000 men died in captivity in New York City throughout the war. Hanford reported that up to 15 men died every day in the Sugar House Prison. Although there never seemed to be an end of American prisoners to replace the dead. For example the men captured at Fort Montgomery and Fort Constitution were sent to the Livingston Sugar House and the VanCortlandt Sugar House.
    The bodies were picked up every morning at 8:00 AM.There are some reports that the bodies were thrown into a trench at Trinity Church, where a monument to them now stands although their is some dispute whether or not the church accepted the bodies.
Memorial to Unknown Soldiers at Trinity Church

  
    After the war the Livingston Sugar House was again used to refine sugar by the Livingston family. It was torn down sometime between 1840 and 1846.
    At the end of the 19th Century it was decided to memorialize the prisoners who died at the Sugar House Prison. Two barred windows were saved from the recently demolished Rhinelander Sugar House, which ironically was not used as a prison during the Revolution because it was run by a loyalist named Cuyler. One window was mounted on New York City Police Headquarters at One Police Plaza
in Manhattan and the other was reconstructed in VanCortlandt Park in the Bronx.
The memorial window at One Police Plaza


The memorial window at VanCortlandt Park


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