This song commemorated the taking of prisoners on 22 July 1781 near the town of Middlesex, Connecticut. A party of "Refugees" left Lloyd's Neck on Long Island and landed on the shores of Connecticut in the evening of the 21st. They hid themselves in the woods near the meeting-house for the town of Middlesex, and the following day, about two-o'clock in the afternoon, the people of Middlesex assembled and took them prisoner.
The ballad, Descent On Middlesex was written by 'schoolmaster St. John, of Norwalk', and detailed the miserable conditions he and his fellow prisoners had to endure following theit capture.
July the twenty-second day, The precise hour I will not say, In seventeen hundred and eighty-one, A horrid action was begun.
While to the Lord they sing and pray, The Tories who in ambush lay; Beset the house with brazen face, At Middlesex, it was the place.
A guard was plac'd the house before, Likewise behind and at each door; Then void of shame, those men of sin, The sacred temple enter'd in.
The reverend Mather closed his book, How did the congregation look! Those demons plunder'd all they could, Either in silver or in gold,
The silver buckles which we use, Both at the knees and on the shoes, These caitiffs took them in their rage, Had no respect for sex or age.
As they were searching all around, They several silver watches found; While they who're plac'd as guards without, Like raging devils rang'd about.
Run forty horses to the shore, Not many either less or more; With bridles, saddles, pillions on, In a few minutes all was done.
The men from hence they took away, Upon that awful sacred day, Was forty-eight, besides two more They chanc'd to find upon the shore.
On board the shipping they were sent, Their money gone, and spirits spent, And greatly fearing their sad end, This wicked seizure did portend.
They hoisted sail, the Sound they cross'd, And near Lloyd's Neck they anchor'd first; 'Twas here the Tories felt 'twas wrong, To bring so many men along.
Then every man must tell his name, A list they took, and kept the same; When twenty-four of fifty men Were order'd to go home again.
The twenty-six who staid behind, Most cruelly they were confin'd; On board the brig were order'd quick, And then confin'd beneath the deck.
A dismal hole with filth besmear'd, But 'twas no more than what we fear'd; Sad the confinement, dark the night, But then the devil thought 'twas right.
But to return whence I left off, They at our misery made a scoff; Like raving madmen tore about, Swearing they'd take our vitals out.
They said no quarter they would give, Nor let a cursed rebel live; But would their joints in pieces cut, Then round the deck like turkeys strut.
July, the fourth and twentieth day, We all marched off to Oyster Bay; To increase our pains and make it worse, They iron'd just six pair of us.
But as they wanted just one pair An iron stirrup lying there, Was taken and on anvil laid, On which they with a hammer paid.
And as they beat it inch by inch, It bruis'd their wrists, at which they flinch; Those wretched caitiffs standing by, Would laugh to hear the sufferers cry.
Although to call them not by name, From Fairfield county many came And were delighted with the rout, To see the rebels kick'd about.
At night we travell'd in the rain, All begg'd for shelter, but in vain; Though almost naked to the skin, A dismal pickle we were in.
Then to the half-way house we came, The "Half-way House" 'tis called by name, And there we found a soul's relief; We almost miss'd our dreadful grief.
The people gen'rously behav'd, Made a good fire, some brandy gave, Of which we greatly stood in need, As we were wet and cold indeed.
But ere the house we did attain, We trembled so with cold and rain, Our irons jingled ~ well they might ~ We shiver'd so that stormy night.
In half an hour or thereabout, The orders were, "Come, all turn out! Ye rebel prisoners, shabby crew, To loiter thus will never do."
'Twas now about the break of day, When all were forc'd to march away; With what they order'd we complied, Though cold, nor yet one quarter dried.
We made a halt one half mile short Of what is term'd Brucklyn's fort; Where all were hurried through the street, Some overtook us, some we met.
We now traversing the parade, The awful figure which we made, Caus'd laughter, mirth, and merriment, And some would curse us as we went.
Their grandest fort was now hard by us, They shew'd us that to terrify us; They shew'd us all their bulwarks there, To let be known how strong they were.
Just then the Tory drums did sound, And pipes rang out a warlike round; Supposing we must thence conclude, That Britain ne'er could be subdu'd.
Up to the guard-house we were led, Where each receiv'd a crumb of bread; Not quite one mouthful, I believe, For every man we did receive.
In boats, the ferry soon we pass'd, And at New York arriv'd at last; As through the streets we pass'd along, Ten thousand curses round us rang.
But some would laugh, and some would sneer, And some would grin, and others leer; A mixed mob, a medley crew, I guess as e'er the devil knew.
To the Provost we then were haul'd, Though we of war were prisoners call'd; Our irons now were order'd off, And we were left to sneeze and cough.
But oh! what company we found, With great surprise we look'd around, I must conclude that in that place We found the worst of Adam's race.
Thieves, murd'rers, and pickpockets too, And every thing that's bad they'd do One of our men found to his cost, Three pounds, York money, he had lost.
They pick'd his pocket quite before We had been there one single hour; And while he looked o'er and o'er, The vagrants from him stole some more.
We soon found out, but thought it strange, We never were to be exchang'd By a cartel, but for some men Whom they desir'd to have again.
A pack with whom they well agree, Who're call'd the loyal company, Or "Loyalists Associated," As by themselves incorporated.
Our food was call'd two-thirds in weight Of what a soldier has to eat; We had no blankets in our need, Till a kind friend did intercede.
Said he, "The prisoners suffer so, Tis quite unkind and cruel too; I'm sure it makes my heart to bleed, So great their hardship and their need."
And well to us was the event, Fine blankets soon to us were sent; Small the allowance, very small, But better far than none at all.
An oaken plank, it was our bed, An oaken pillow for the head, And room as scanty as our meals, For we lay crowded head and heels.
In seven days or thereabout, One Jonas Weed was taken out, And to his friends he was resign'd, But many still were kept behind.
Soon after this some were parol'd, Too, tedious wholly to be told; And some from bondage were unstrung, Whose awful sufferings can't be sung.
The dread smallpox to some they gave, Nor tried at all their lives to save, But rather sought their desolation, As they denied 'em 'noculation.
To the smallpox there did succeed, A putrid fever, bad indeed; As they before were weak and spent, Soon from the stage of life they went.
For wood we greatly stood in need, For which we earnestly did plead; But one tenth part of what we wanted Of wood, to us was never granted.
The boiling kettles which we had, Were wanting covers, good or bad; The worst of rum that could be bought, For a great price, to us was brought.
For bread and milk, and sugar, too, We had to pay four times their due; While cash and clothing which were sent, Those wretched creatures did prevent.
Some time it was in dark November But just the day I can't remember; Full forty of us were confin'd In a small room both damp and blind,
Because there had been two or three, Who were not of our company, Who did attempt the other day, The Tories said, to get away.
In eighteen days we were exchang'd, And through the town allowed to range; Of twenty-five that were taken, But just nineteen reach'd home again.
Four days before December's gone, In seventeen hundred eighty-one, I hail'd the place where months before, The Tories took me from the shore.