Monday, November 11, 2013

Military Monday: Jacob Isaac Osman

On this Veterans Day 2013, is it fate, coincidence or just plain ironic that I learned about a patriot ancestor that I knew nothing of before?  Another veteran in my family tree for which to be thankful.

I have a "new" cousin to thank for this information.  Ted actually sent me the info two or more years ago, but I just now sat down and took a good look at it today.  I know, shame on me.  So again, I ask you, was it fate or coincidence?  I tend to not believe in coincidence.

Jacob Isaac Osman was my 5th great-grandfather.  He was born in 1732 in Southold, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York.   (I did not know I had roots in New York either!)  Isaac was a Private in the Revolutionary War.  

Forts Montgomery and Clinton were located just south of West Point, New York on the Hudson River and were built for the defense of the Hudson Highlands.   Isaac Osman and his family lived in Smith's Clove, New York, which was in the Town of New Cornwall on the other side of Long Hill west of Fort Montgomery.  

On the afternoon of October 6, 1777, approximately 3,000 Loyalists, Hessians, and British regulars attacked both forts simultaneously.  The forts were largely garrisoned by the local militia.  This militia of the district, about 600 in number, had been hastily called in the day before.  One of the regiments there that day was Col. Jesse Woodhull's regiment from Cornwall, of which both Isaac and his brother, Israel, also a private, were members.  In addition, Isaac and Israel's younger brother, John, a sergeant, was a member of Lamb's Artillery, and was also at the fort that day. 

After a few hours of intense fighting, Lieutenant Colonel Mungo Campbell and several British regulars approach Fort Montgomery waving a "white flag of truce."  The American forces, lead by Brigadier General George Clinton, sent out Lieutenant Colonel William Livingston to meet the enemy.  The British officers demand the rebels surrender and promise that "no harm will come to them."  Livingston refuses their offer of surrender and likewise invites Campbell to surender and promises him and his men "good treatment."  Outraged by Livingston's remarks, the British resume the battle.

The British closed in on all sides of the twin forts.  Lt. Colonel Campbell is killed in a violent attack on the north side of Fort Montgomery.  It is here that the British and Loyalist Troops overwhelm Clinton and the Orange County Militia, who are defending Fort Montgomery.  After a fierce resistance lasting until nightfall, the British overrun the Americans and gain control of Fort Montgomery and Fort Clinton, and lead the courageous Militiamen from the fort at the point of their bayonets.  The American Patriots who were not killed in battle or did not escape were shipped off to the Sugar House Prison in New York City.  Among those were Isaac and Israel Osman. 

Now I am not very schooled in the Revolutionary War.  I had never heard of these Sugar House Prisons.  So of course I checked Wikipedia and found that during the 18th century, a large part of commerce in New York City was trade with the British West Indies.  Destined for refineries, sugar and molasses were imported and stored in warehouses built by merchant families.  Three of these large structures - Livingston's, Rhinelander's, and Van Cortlandt's sugar houses in Manhattan - were known for being used by the British Army to house prisoners of war during their occupation of New York City.  They also housed prisoners in British ships anchored in New York Harbor.

The Livingston sugar house (on the left) on Liberty Street in Manhattan, circa 1830.

 The treatment of these prisoners were horrific.  The fledgling American government or the prisoners' families were expected to furnish food and supplies.  However, it was discovered that the Provost Marshal of the Prison, William Cunningham, had been selling the food and supplies that were sent for the prisoners.  In addition, conditions were not sanitary due to overcrowding, etc.  During the occupation of New York City by the British, it is estimated that 17,500 prisoners perished on the ships and in the prisons from starvation, smallpox, dysentery, typhus, and yellow fever, more than double that of casualties from battle. 

Both Isaac and his brother, Israel, died in the Sugar House Prison.  They were buried in unmarked graves somewhere in New York City, possibly in the Trinity Churchyard. 

In Lower Manhatten at the corner of Broadway and Wall Streets in the Trinity Churchyard, there is a memorial where Patriots of the American Revolution are remembered.  This monument was erected by church leaders in 1852.  It honors not only my ancestors, Isaac and Israel Osman, but all of the unknown American soldiers and sailors of the Revolutionary War who were imprisoned, died, and buried in unmarked graves.  

            Monument to Revolutionary War prisoners at Trinity Church, Manhattan. Photograph by Joshua Ruff.
 And what became of their younger brother, John, you may ask?  When I started writing this post, I did not know.  During the course of my research, I found his name on a list of 8,000 men who were prisoners on board "The Old Jersey," or the "Hell," as she was called, a prison ship anchored in the East River.  Often more than a thousand prisoners at a time were confined in her, and they endured terrible suffering.  Her nickname came from its inhumane conditions and the obscenely high death rate of its prisoners.  

John was one of the fortunate few who survived that experience.  I do not know how, but he did.  He lived to be 71.  

So three brothers went to war and fought for the new country they believed in.  Only one came back.  I am sure he was not the same man who left.  

To say that I am proud of the sacrifices my ancestors made for this country would be an understatement.  I am humbled by their courage and perseverance.  


  1. Happy Blogiversary! Great article. I had a distant ancestor who was in the battle at Fort Montgomery. He said he was on the ship "Jersey," but I could not find his name on the list. His name was Henry Cramer.

    Regards, Grant

  2. We have about the same number of followers. Maybe we should follow each other. I wouldn't want you go get more than me. :-)