What Came of These Prisoners?
In the year 1778, while our country and Britain were engaged in mortal combat, the large armed and hostile British frigate Somerset had the hard luck to be blown ashore and wrecked off Provincetown. Most of her men succeeded in reaching shore safely, only to find themselves prisoners of the men of Cape Cod.
The Cape Codders could not keep them, so before long they were lined up, led by a Provincetown blacksmith and guarded by a number of Cape Cod men, they started off on the long trek to Boston. The way lay over rude roads and through wild forests, with no restaurants or inns to offer refreshments, especially to despised Britishers.
We can imagine these hardy fellows as they set out for Boston, lined up in rough and ready fashion and perhaps singing sea songs as they first trod along. No doubt they would far rather have been at sea on a rolling, pitching deck of a British man-o-war than to be the unwilling hosts of the Cape Codders. What lay ahead of them besides possible dangers lurking in the wooded way to Boston? Prison undoubtedly. Trial, possibly. Even swinging from trees on Boston Common or from the lofty yardarms of some American warship. At best, confinement in a prison ship until the war should end unless they might choose to join the American ships against their own country.
When the long trek to Boston commenced, the company of prisoners numbered 480 men. When they reach Boston, this number was reduced to only 217 men. What happened to the 263 who did not arrive at Boston?
“Britains never will be slaves” was England’s proud boast and these men were determined, apparently, not to walk themselves into trials and further tribulations if they could help doing so. The thick woods and wild country about them invited them to escape. They were not likely to be pursued by their captors, who might shoot at them (possibly hoping to miss!) but could scarcely follow them into the woods while leaving the remaining prisoners insufficiently guarded.
Anyway, the 263 who did not reach Boston vanished, and only in the 20th century, thanks to the research of Edwin Rowe Snow, has it been learned what probably became of them. Snow’s study convinced him that the Cape Cod men themselves grew tired of the wearisome hike, and that apparently some of the prisoners took a chance and completed the journey alone. But the others seem to have dropped out of the march somehow and to have eventually settled in and about area of what is now the City of Quincy, on the South Shore. The men and women who are the descendents of the 263 missing British prisoners are perhaps still living in that area.
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