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Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War Hardcover – November 11, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


Washington Post Book World
“[A] pathbreaking examination of the treatment of American prisoners during the Revolutionary War… Burrows's book is a landmark whose significance far outweighs recent, popular biographies of the Founding Fathers. His sparkling prose, meticulous research and surprising findings recast our understanding of how the new nation was brought forth… Burrows masterfully explores a subject that had been left nearly untouched for more than two centuries.”

Seattle Times
“[Burrows] offers riveting accounts of what prison life was like in New York…It is as if, more than 200 years later, fitting tribute has finally been paid.”

About the Author

Edwin G. Burrows is Distinguished Professor of History at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He is the co-author of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, which won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for History, and has received awards also from the Municipal Art Society, the St. Nicholas Society, and the New York Society Library, among others. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani named him a “Centennial Historian of New York.” For the past five years Burrows has been a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians, and he serves on the board of the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum in Manhattan. He lives in Northport, New York.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (November 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465008356
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465008353
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,131,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 43 people found the following review helpful By David M. Dougherty VINE VOICE on November 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a book displaying the best in American historical scholarship! Frankly I have been put off lately by political tomes revising American history to support some agenda -- usually Marxist -- and "proving" that the United States is not the shining light among nations that so many of us believe it is. Yes, our history is studded with evil acts and misguided policies, but eventually the will of a free and democratic people re-asserts itself time and time again in the face of specious propaganda, feckless politicians, and unbridled greed. But I digress.... (I read another book touted by Eric Foner this week.)

Author Burrows deserves the highest praise for this book. Most often the Revolutionary War is dismissed as one with relatively few casualties since the "official" killed in action number is only 4,435, a number that woefully understates the sacrifice in the war. Burrows gives 6,824 based on recent scholarship, but that number still misses the some forty percent of the wounded that later died from their wounds. The official number for wounded is 6,188, but since the wounded to killed ratio was likely around five to one, the wounded was more likely 20,000 of whom probably 8,000 died of their wounds and were permanently lost to the Continental Army and patriot cause.

The author estimates that up to 32,000 American prisoners were held around New York at some point during the war of which up to 18,000 died in captivity. But those released or exchanged were greatly enfeebled and often died within a few months after release. Combining these estimates with those deaths in captivity elsewhere by the British and adding the deaths from sickness while in service estimated at 10,000, and one arrives at deaths from all causes to be over 40,000.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Whippis on February 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. Firstly let me say that it is well written and very readable. The chapter "Dead Reckoning" is well reasoned and very compelling- worth getting the book for that alone.

However my real issue is personal- I wanted a more comprehensive look at the POW issue. I realize that most of the POWs were in NY but this book really ONLY covers NY. It mentions the POW issue elsewhere but doesn't really cover them in any detail. Also, For a 250 pg book the final 2 chapters are on the historiography of POWs not about the actual POWs themselves.

His source criticism is great and as I said it was very readable. It was maybe a bit to narrative and anecdotal for my tastes. When I first read on a new aspect of the Revolution I just want a nice dry tome giving me all the facts in detail. I know that puts me in the minority.

Forgotten Patriots is not a mass market, popular history book and certainly not hard academic text. I'd call it an accessible almost scholarly narrative.

The last line was terrible and annoying and almost undid the prior 247 pgs. It was like what they tell you to do in a grammar school essay: relate your topic to the present. That alone is enough to cost in ½ star in my book. Combined with the narrative feature and scant coverage of non-NY POWs is what keeps this book from rising to the level of a being a 4-5 star book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Scott R. Driver on June 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm only aware of one other book that's treated the issue of Patriot POWs -- "American Prisoners of the Revolution" by Danske Dandridge (1910). Dandridge's book is fine for a general audience, but it's somewhat sensationalistic and spends much time transcribing and summarizing primary narrative without adding critical analysis. A number of specific assertions have been disproven by later scholarship.

Burrows relies much more on reasoned discussion to cull through the lore, pointing out what could not, and what must, be true. He also supplies much-appreciated background discussion of relevant issues, when such wouldn't necessarily be otherwise understood by a general audience.

Considering that the prisoner issue was such a large portion of the total American sacrifice, it's a wonder that the issue has been left on the back burner for so long. As a descendant of a Continental officer who spent most of the war as a paroled POW on Long Island, it's an issue of particular interest for me.

I'll point out one fault: I believe that the Continental Army's failure to exchange its captured officers was less attributable to the reasons suggested by Burrows, and more to do with a problem universal to wars of all time -- a tendency to blame the vanquished. The few officers captured at Ft Washington (for example) who were quickly released or exchanged, largely found themselves frozen out of further assignments in the Continental Army. I believe the many who languished for years as POWs, did so as scapegoats for the defeats they suffered. I would have welcomed a discussion of this issue by Burrows.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By AmericanRevolutWarAddict on November 2, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Whoa. When I started reading the first chapter of this book, I started crying for the following reasons: Reason one because I did not know the full story of the suffering of these brave patriots that gave their lives in a prison cell in the name of freedom and independence. Two, because I was ashamed at myself as an American for letting them lie forgotten and unwept in a unmarked grave. Many people are unaware of the fact that when they walk around New York City, they are walking around on what should be sacred ground. The other thing that made me think was the speculating of the human toll of the American Revolution, the thought that over 40, 000 Americans lost their lives in the American Revolution, and most of them in a prison cell; caught my heart. This book brings to life a ugly story that should be known, yet it is not known, and Edwin G. Burrows masterfully showed how and why people try to forget this horrendous crime against humanity. I know now why some historians and teachers want this story to be forgotten. It is because it is a story of ultimate patriotism. Pick up this book if you want to gain an understanding of the sacrifice that it took to earn our freedom, and to appreciate the freedom we have in America. It certainly did not come free.
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