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During the conflict, prisoner-of-war camps and ships housed captured enemy combatants, including those accused of spying.  Inmates lived in deplorable conditions, with feted food, inadequate clothing, poor sanitation, and a lack of medical attention contributing to the high mortality rates associated with these facilities. Once incarcerated, the lack of prisoner exchanges meant most inmates were destined to remain behind bars with little chance for release.  This harsh reality led to the adoption of highly organized exfiltration missions—“clandestine rescue operations designed to bring a defector, refugee, or an operative and his or her family out of harm’s way.

 Mammy Kate

  • Organized and executed an exfiltration operation involving her master, Governor Stephen Heard.
  • Infiltrated Fort Cornwallis as a laundress.
  • Made a routine of collecting soiled laundry for cleaning.
  • Successfully transported her master from the fort in a laundry basket that she covered with a sheet and then balanced on her head. 
british prison ship revolutionary war
Prison Ship during the Revolutionary War
Photo Credit: Long Island Genealogy

Elizabeth Burgin

  • Recruited to help approximately 200 prisoners escape from one vessel.
  • With the unqualified success of this two-week long mission, became a target for British intelligence, which offered a ransom for her arrest.


Nancy Ward (1738-1822)

  • Cherokee also known as Nanye-hi.
  • After the British encouraged members of the Cherokee Nation to attack frontier settlements in 1776, freed many of those taken captive, sparing them torture, burnings, and death.
  • Two of the prisoners she saved were dispatched to warn other settlers about future attacks.
Nancy ward grave stone
Memorial to Nancy Ward
Photo Credit: North Carolina Museum of History








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