Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Disappearance of the Prison Ship Pack Horse

The Disappearance of the Prison Ship Pack Horse
by G.G. Stokes, Jr.

A sultry day in August, 1782, Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. The cargo of humanity chained and sweltering in the hold of the prison-ship, Pack Horse, stirs and sits erect on their mattresses of mildewed and filthy straw. They cast anxious glances at one another as the sounds of the anchor being weighed fills the air. Their eyes, questioning and wondering, roam across the planking overhead where the pounding of bare feet on wood can be heard as British crewmen scurry along the deck and up into the rigging to unfurl the dingy, long unused sails of the prison schooner Pack Horse. Muffled orders, shouted from the bridge by an unknown Captain, float on the oppressive air of the harbor. Suddenly, there is the unmistakable feel of movement as the ship gets under way. A sense of dread fills the hold. After more than a year, the Pack Horse is moving. Under the escort of a British frigate, and as a part of a convoy of merchant ships, the Pack Horse sails quietly across Charleston Harbor, slips over the bar, and scurries out to sea. The convoy is heading for New York.

Three days later, as night falls, the prison ship quietly blends into the darkness and disappears from history. Not until August 20, 1852 does it resurface in a report made to the Senate of the 32nd Congress by a Mr. James. The next year, 1853, it appears in articles in The New York Times and The Charleston Courier before it again slips away from the national consciousness. In 1860 the story resurfaces in a pamphlet entitled A Brief Memoir of the Life and Revolutionary Services of Major William Hazzard Wigg of South Carolina. The pamphlet is an effort by the grandson of one of the prisoners to obtain compensation for the Revolutionary War losses of his grandfather, Major William Hazzard Wigg. Some of those losses involve slaves. Quietly, as Civil War threatens the nation, the memory of the Pack Horse once again sinks from sight....

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