Much has been written about the American War of Independence from Great Britain in 1776, as well as the birth of the U.S. Constitution and creation of the Bill of Rights. However, there has been very little emphasis in the history textbooks regarding the fate of the American soldiers/sailors/Marines who were captured by the British forces during the American Revolution.
Thousands of Continental American troops were actually captured by the British forces during the American War of Independence, and many of the captured American enlisted troops were treated brutally, and with utter contempt. The treatment that some of the American enlisted troops received were comparable to a WWII concentration camp. (The American officers were generally treated well, because they were used as either ransom or for prisoner exchanges by the British.)
The main reason for this brutal treatment, is because the British forces at that time generally did not see the Continental American troops as a part of any military, and they saw them all as "traitors". (Being disloyal to the king meant a automatic hanging offense under British law during the 18th century.) This also took place before the Geneva Convention regarding the proper treatment of prisoners of war was first drafted in 1864. Since the Continental American troops were not considered to be "prisoners of war", their British captors treated them in any manner as they saw fit.
Many American prisoners of war were stripped of their uniforms, and given filthy rags to wear. Many deliberately were staved to death, and heir bodies were either fed to the local swines/pigs or left for the wild animals to feed on. Many of them were also not given adequate shelter or clothing, and many froze to death during wintertime. When 230 American officers and 2,607 American soldiers surrendered to the British forces at Fort Washington in November 16, 1776, only 800 prisoners of war remained alive eighteen months later.
Many of the American prisoners of war were either sent to "prison ships" which were basically derelict ships, or converted prison buildings. In one of the most infamous & notorious converted prison ships, the "HMS Jersey", 11,000 American prisoners had died from starvation & disease or they froze to death from 1780 to 1783. The "HMS Jersey" was located in in Wallabout Bay, New York, which would eventually become the Brooklyn Navy Yard. (The bodies of the American POWS in those prison ships were dumped into the ocean, or buried in shallow graves in the beach.)
One of the most notorious prison wardens was the Provost Marshal, William Cunningham, who went out of his way to starve Americans to death, or saw to it that they would die from the elements during his supervision of the prisoners in Philadelphia & New York. He originally came to New York in 1774 from Ireland, and brought with him several indentured servants that he had kidnapped. He sold all his indentured servants soon after his arrival, and this act did not endear him to the local population. (William Cunningham escaped to England after the war ended, and there were conflicting accounts that he either died penniless, or was hanged for committing a crime in London.)
During the early part of the American Revolution, William Cunningham was also in charge of hanging the American patriot, Nathan Hale in 1776. (Nathan Hale was most famous for his final speech of “I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country.”) When Nathan Hale asked for a Bible, Cunningham refused his request, and destroyed his final letters to his mother and an officer.
Two of America's founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, labored hard for the release of American prisoners of war, but unfortunately, the Continental Congress at that time did not have enough money to adequately purchase their release. (Continental money was considered worthless in New York City until toward the end of the American Revolution.)
In 1782, the British parliament eventually recognized the Americans prisoners as legitimate "prisoners of war", instead of being "traitors" to the crown. (Their decision was helped by the fact that, General George Washington had defeated the British forces of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown in October 1781.)
You can read more here about the ill treatment & poor conditions that the American POWS received in the infamous prison ship, the "HMS Jersey":http://franceshunter.wordpress.com/2009 ... rs-of-war/http://www.thedearsurprise.com/?p=2554http://www.whatwouldthefoundersthink.co ... -g-burrowshttp://www.history.com/topics/the-hms-jersey