Protestant Prisoners in Danger at Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER IV...continued

The garrison scarcely expected that Rosen would carry out his cruel and unmanly threat; they supposed that he merely meant to intimidate them into an acceptance of Hamilton's proposals. But they soon found that he meant what he said, and that his threat was to be carried out to the letter. All the Protestant non-combatants who could be found within ten miles of the city, decrepid old men, pregnant women, and infant children, were gathered and driven before the muskets of the soldiery under the walls. Two hundred of them arrived on Monday evening, and the next morning ten hundred more. The garrison, seeing the advancing multitude coming down the hill opposite to Butcher's Gate, did not recognize them at first, and fired upon them, supposing them to be some new legion of enemies, but it was afterwards discovered that none of them were hurt; the shot killed some of the soldiers only, who were driving them forward at the point of the sword.

When they came somewhat nearer, the garrison found to their dismay that the crowd consisted of their own parents, and sisters, and children, and friends. It would have drawn tears to the eyes of the most savage barbarian to hear the cries of these helpless and unoffending people, as they found themselves forced between the fires of the two contending hosts. What was the garrison to do? To admit them would be to consume in a single week all the provisions yet remaining, and to compel a surrender out of sheer hunger; to refuse them admittance would be to see them starve and die under the walls before their eyes. In this dilemma, the poor people themselves came to their relief, for with a devotedness which cannot be too much admired, they implored the garrison not to surrender out of pity to them, adding that if the city had once surrendered, they knew well that they all would be put to death together. They were accordingly put outside the lines at the Windmill Hill, where they passed the night. The citizens turned this in some respects to their advantage, for they took into the city some of the strongest and most useful of the men, and sent out into the crowd some of the weakest and most useless of the garrison. Some of these, however, the enemy detected by their ragged dress and emaciated faces, and ordered them back into the town.

The Governor and officers of the garrison seeing that matters had now come to extremities, ordered immediately a gallows to be erected on the Double Bastion, situated at the south-west corner of the walls, in sight of the enemy's camp, and commanded all the prisoners in their hands to prepare for instant death. Hitherto these prisoners had been treated as kindly as their circumstances permitted; those of them that were common soldiers were employed in burying the dead, and the officers were allowed to receive provisions, medicine, and medical advice, sent them from the camp. But now they were assured that every man of them would be put to death without mercy, if these poor wretches lying outside the lines were not allowed to return to their homes. The prisoners, in these circumstances, asked and obtained leave to inform General Hamilton of their danger, and to bring back his reply. They wrote to him in the following terms:—

"MY LORD,—Upon the hard dealing the protected (as well as other Protestants) have met withal in being sent under the walls, you have so incensed the Governor and others of this garrison, that we are all condemned by a court-matial to die to-morrow, unless those poor people be withdrawn. We have made application to Marshal-General de Rosen; but having received no answer, we make it our request to you (as knowing you are a person that does not delight in shedding innocent blood) that you will represent our condition to the Marshal-General. The lives of 20 prisoners lie at stake, and therefore require your diligence and care. We are all willing to die (with our swords in our hands) for His Majesty; but to suffer like malefactors is hard, nor can we lay our blood to the charge of the garrison, the Governor and the rest having used and treated us with all civility imaginable.—We remain,

"Your most dutiful and dying friends,

"NETERVILL, (Writ by another hand, he himself has lost the fingers of his right hand).
E. BUTLER, G. AYLMOR,———MAC DONNEL,
———D'ARCY, etc., in the name of all the rest.[39]

"To L. G. Hamilton."

Along, with this letter a verbal message was sent for a priest to come and shrive the prisoners, but, says Walker, with a little affected simplicity, "none came." In due time, however, the messenger returned, bringing with him General Hamilton's answer:—

"GENTLEMEN,
"In answer to yours; what those poor people are like to suffer, they may thank themselves for, being their own fault, which they may prevent by accepting the conditions which have been offered them; and if you suffer in this it cannot be helped, but shall be revenged on many thousands of those people (as well innocent as others) within or without that city. "Yours,                R. HAMILTON."

The besiegers, notwithstanding the tone of this letter, did relent. The harsh treatment of the unoffending people was certain to bring death on the prisoners; it stirred up dissensions among the Protestants and Roman Catholics in the Jacobite camp; and, let it be hoped, excited pity among the very men who had employed it as a stratagem of war. From whatever motives, they allowed the poor people on Wednesday to return to their homes, and, as if to compensate them in some degree for their sufferings, they gave them both provisions and money before sending them away. Seeing that the men, women, and children were thus permitted to return, it is almost needless to add that the garrison did not carry out their threat; the gallows on the bastion was taken down, and the prisoners remanded to their quarters. The besiegers did not derive any advantage from this stratagem of war. Some of the people who had been treated so harshly, had previously received protections from King James's army, and yet, in defiance of this promise, were driven in, like so many sheep, to perish under the walls. From this the garrison drew the inference that were they to surrender, any promises given them would be no better observed. This made them all the more resolute to defend the city to the last.[40]

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NOTES

[39] Walker, July 2nd. Mackenzie denies that D'Arcy's name was to this letter, inasmuch as he left the city in May.—Invisible Champion, p. 9.

[40] Walker, June 30th, and July 2nd; Mack., June 30th; Londerias, vi. 9; Ash, June 26th, July 3rd and 4th; Leslie, p. 138.


Fighters of Derry: Their Deeds and Descendants, Being a Chronicle of Events in Ireland during the Revolutionary Period, 1688–91

William R. Young's Fighters of Derry has for decades been one of the most overlooked works on the Siege of Derry and as a local genealogical resource. First published in 1932, the book was the product of ten years’ research which the author undertook when suffering from ill-health in the latter part of his life.

Fighters of Derry

The book is essentially divided into two parts: the first contains 1660 biographical entries relating to the defenders of Derry and the second has 352 on the Jacobite side. Apart from individual accounts of eminent protagonists in the siege, such as David Cairnes, Rev. George Walker, the Duke of Schomberg, Patrick Sarsfield, etc., and the not so eminent too, there is also background given to many of the most influential families involved in the conflict.


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