HMS Jersey was a 60-gun fourth rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, built to the 1733 proposals of the 1719 Establishment of dimensions at Plymouth Dockyard, and launched on 14 June 1736. She is perhaps most noted for her service as a prison ship during the American Revolutionary War.
Christopher Vail, of Southold, who was aboard Jersey in 1781, later wrote:
'When a man died he was carried up on the forecastle and laid there until the next morning at 8 o'clock when they were all lowered down the ship sides by a rope round them in the same manner as tho' they were beasts. There was 8 died of a day while I was there. They were carried on shore in heaps and hove out the boat on the wharf, then taken across a hand barrow, carried to the edge of the bank, where a hole was dug 1 or 2 feet deep and all hove in together.'
In 1778, Robert Sheffield of Stonington, Connecticut, escaped from one of the prison ships, and told his story in the Connecticut Gazette. He was one of 350 prisoners held in a compartment below the decks.
'Their sickly countenances and ghastly looks were truly horrible,' the newspaper wrote on 10 July, without identifying the ship. 'Some swearing and blaspheming; some crying, praying, and wringing their hands, and stalking about like ghosts; others delirious, raving, and storming; some groaning and dying—all panting for breath; some dead and corrupting air so foul at times that a lamp could not be kept burning, by reason of which the boys were not missed till they had been dead ten days.'
The Department of Defense currently lists 4,435 US battle deaths during the Revolutionary War. Another 20,000 died in captivity, from disease, or for other reasons. Estimates of deaths aboard the New York prison ships vary around 8,000. Prisoner exchanges were hardly possible for two reasons: the British often captured far more prisoners than the Americans did, and George Washington did not favour exchanging veteran British soldiers for ragtag American troops, as it would only put his army at a greater disadvantage.