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Prisoners of the Spanish Main

A few years ago I came across the following account of a Richard Cree who had been taken prisoner in the 1600s by the Spanish on Providence Island, which lies midway between Costa Rica and Jamaica.

America and West Indies - October 1668

"Deposition of Robert Rawlinsone, Isaac Webber, and Richard Cree, before Sir Thomas Modyford, concerning the Spaniards' dealings with the English upon Providence Island. The 1st August 1666, having espied six sail of Spanish men-of-war, the Governor, Major Samuel Smith, commanded the inhabitants, "we were but one and fifty men," to keep in five or six forts on the Lesser Island ; they fought the Spaniards four days, until four forts being taken they surrendered on condition of having a small barque to transport them to Jamaica. But when they had laid down their arms the Spaniards refused them the barque, and carried them slaves to Porto Bello, where they were chained to the ground in a dungeon 12 foot by 10, in which were 33 prisoners. They were forced to work in the water from five in the morning till seven at night, and at such a rate that the Spaniards confessed they made one of them do more work than any three negroes, yet when weak with want of victuals and sleep they were knocked down and beaten with cudgells, and four or five died. Having no clothes, their backs were blistered with the sun, their heads scorched, their necks, shoulders, and hands raw with carrying stones and mortar, their feet chopped, and their legs bruised and battered with the irons, and their corpses were noisome one to another. The daily abuses of their religion and their King, and the continual trouble they had with friars, would be tedious to mention.

Certified to be a true copy by Sir Thos. Modyford, 5th Oct. 1668."

Today, 26 March 2013, I came across an account of "A New Voyage Around the World", written by the famous explorer William Dampier and published in 1703. In it was the following:

Year: 1685. "One Mr Cree also, a very curious Person, who spoke Spanish well, had been a Privateer all his Life, and 7 years a Prisoner among the Spaniards at Portobel and Cartegna, yet upon his enquiry could not find any of them that understood it.......We there might have had Turtle enough for food, and store at Vinello's. Mr Cree first shewed me those at Boccatoro."

William Dampier had also been a "privateer" at some time during his career. The man that Dampier met in 1685 could well have been the same Richard Cree who had returned to the area later in life or it could have been another Cree who had suffered the same fate. Somehow I seem to remember that I read about two Cree being prisoners being taken but at present I cannot find the article in my records. 


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I have now located the additional reference which confirms that a Thomas Cree was also a prisoner in addition to the Richard Cree previously discussed. Whether or not they were brothers I do not know.

13. Deposition of William Lowe before Sir Thos. Modyford Deponent with 11 others prisoners in Cartagena, made their escape the 19/29th June last, and left behind them 27 English prisoners; viz., Henry Bragg, John Elliott, Hugh Long, Robt. Cooker, Edward Browne, Roger Cann, Richard Wight, Emanuel Manchy, Haman Howman, Hugh Hunter, George and his wife, Richard Glascow, Richard Trelawny, Jno. Brewen, Thomas Holland, Godfry, Jno. Woodham, James —, Arthur Certis, Paul Hopely, Mathew Rider, Edwd. Gamen, Thomas Cree, Wm. Beates, William Pike, and John Richardson. All which were cruelly used, and put to hard labour daily from 4 in the morning till 7 in the evening, each being in irons of the weight of 26 lb., many days without any allowance and at best but half a rial a day, often times beaten cruelly by the overseers and soldiers, and upon complaint to the Governor of the smallness or no allowance of provisions, had this return, "starve for hunger, and go to hell." After escape they took some Spaniards prisoners, who informed them that the above 27 were in irons, and it's thought they will be starved, if relief be not obtained. 1 p. [Col. Papers, Vol. XXIV., No. 87.]

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