BITS OF INFORMATION
Alvin Burroughs Sweet
Below is a letter written by Alvin B. Sweet to his parents in Herkimer County, N. Y. It was written from Hobart Town in 1840 and published in several newspapers in New York State.
The Western Argus, Published Every Wednesday Morning, at Lyons, Wayne County, N. Y. By Charles Poucher, New Series....Vol 1 - No. 11, Wednesday, July 7, 1841, WHOLE NO. 500 (found on Old Fulton NY Newspaper site.)
AMERICAN’S PRISONERS AT
VAN DIEMAN’S LAND
The following is a copy of a letter handed
us for publication, from one of those unfor-
tunate men, who engaged in the “Patriot
War” in Canada, to his parents in Winfield,
Van Dieman’s Land.
Hobart Town, March 20, 1840.
My Dear Parents -- You have probably been expecting for some time a letter from me, and you may be assured I would have written had not my unhappy state prevented. I wrote a letter to you when passing through the St. Lawrence and sent it back by the Pilot. Our voyage was a long one; we sailed from Quebec on the 27th of September, arrived at Rio Janerio, in South America, South America, Nov. 30th, where we stopt (?) five days for water and provisions. We had a very quick passage from Rio Janerio to the Cape of Good Hope which we passed on the first of January, and arrived here and cast anchor on the 14th February 1840. There was no sickness on board the vessel that was of a contagious nature and only one death during the whole voyage; a man by the name of Asa Priest, from Auburn, State of New York, who was one of the Prescott prisoners, died about four weeks after we first sailed. Our treatment on board the vessel was very good, everything was done that could be for our comfort and convenience. The commander was a very fine man; and the surgeon was very kind and attentive to us all. My health has been quite poor and is much the same at present; I have not been able to do any labor since our arrival here. We came ashore on the 15th February and were taken on the barracks which were in readiness for us. Our clothes were all taken from us the same day; on the 17th the Governor came to our station and told us what our fate was to be; “that we were transported to this place for life, and that we were to be put at government work on the road for two years, and then to be put out at mastery (?) for the term of six years and at the expiration of that time if there was no charge of fault recorded against us during that time, that we would be permitted by a ticket of leave to work and shift for ourselves, but not to leave the island.”
I will now give you a brief detail of our fare and treatment here. In the morning we are called up by the ringing of the bell, get our tools and are marched to our work on the road; at eight our breakfast is brought to us, which consists of one pint of water gruel, having our bread dealt out to us before we leave the station, supposed to be two pounds of coarse dark bread, which is to last for the day; at twelve we get our dinner, consisting of one pound of fresh mutton or beef, a half a pound of vegetables with the soup, which is the only meal we get; at night when we get home to our station we get another pint of water gruel for supper and at dusk we are all locked up in our huts for the night. Sunday we go to church in the forenoon, in the afternoon we generally have a preacher come to our station and preach to us. We have to work five and a half days per week, being exempt Saturday afternoon to wash and repair our clothes. -- Our clothing consists of (two suits) one leather cap, round jacket waist-coat, and pants, two cotton shirts, and three pair of coarse shoes, all of the poorest kind; we have no stockings, handkerchiefs, nor mittens; only one suit of such things as we do get is allowed us at a time, so that we are without a change. If there is christianity in this, then I am no judge, but allowing me to be a judge with respect to the proceedings in Canada and the disposition of us and others, I think their proceedings are equal to that which led to the rebellion in Canada.
I do think that if our cases were fully made known to the authorities in England, the way and manner in which the most or all of us were got into the expedition, that they, the home government, would take the thing into consideration, and if not grant us a free pardon that they would allow us the liberty of the Island that we might at least share in some degree some small portion of their humanity. Therefore I hope my friends, if I have any, will make every effort in their power for our benefit; now is the time, because it is now that we stand in need.
April 4, 1840.
Since I commenced this letter one more of our unfortunate sufferers has been taken from us by the hand of death. He was a very fine man but of a weakly constitution--was taken ill at work on the road--was taken to the hospital, where the epidemic was raging and he soon became infected, which proved fatal in a very few days. He left a wife and two children residing in Ogdensburg, was by trade a tanner and a (unclear word - currier ?)
I hope my dear parents, brothers, sisters, and friends will give themselves no unnecessary trouble on my account and that you may all hope for the best, ever trusting in the All-wise disposer of events for a happy issue out of all our troubles, and looking to him for a speedy deliverance from my present afflictions and restore me suddenly to the bosom of my family and friends. I hope you will not fail of writing to me at your earliest convenience and direct your letter to this place.
With the greatest pleasure I subscribe myself, your dutiful son,
ALVIN B. SWEET.
This next item was shared by K. Lee Elmer of MN. It's a photo of his/her ancestor, Henry Elmer, and Alvin B. Sweet a Patriot War participant. Taken at Wells, MN in the very early 20th century.
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