8 Year Anniversary party winners: Joan Hochstetler's book winner is -- Caryl Kane, Naomi Musch's ebook goes to Crissy Yoder Shamion, Roseanna White's winner is -- Connie Saunders, Pegg Thomas's "A Bouquet of Brides" goes to Deanna Stevens, Debra E. Marvin's winner is -- Becky Dempsey, Carrie Fancett Pagels' giveaway of Colonial Michilimackinac: Michigan State Parks goes to Wilani Wahl, Carla Olson Gade's winner is Leila Reynolds, Shannon McNear -- Kaitlin Covel

Friday, March 29, 2019

Far from Home. American Prisoners of War during the War of 1812.

Dartmoor Prison/ Wikipedia
It should come to no one’s surprise that there is an endless amount of information to learn in history, even if you focus on a few decades. While I’ve done quite a bit of research into the era of the War of 1812, it was only recently that my browsing took me (figuratively) to HM Prison Dartmoor.

Devon County, England / Wikipedia
I was quite surprised that American prisoners-of-war were sent that far away.

His/Her Majesty’s Prison at Dartmoor was built in an out-of-the-way location high on a moor in Devon county when prison ships used during the Napoleonic war couldn’t hold any more. Built from 1806 to 1809, by 1815 Dartmoor held almost 6000 prisoners, both French and American.
Some of the prisoners were Americans who’d been impressed into British naval service during the war with France, and a fair number of them were free blacks who’d crewed Privateers.

Dartmoor seemed to work as its own town. Even the prisoners had their own form of government, and were allowed to create a market, casino and multiple churches. Life was hardly pleasant as floggings were commonly handed out for the least of acts. Surviving meant you were healthy enough to handle pneumonia, smallpox, and frequent food poisoning. For those that did survive, there was boxing and music lessons, or you might join a theater production. 
HMS Victory / Wikipedia
Trouble boiled over after the Treaty of Ghent was announced in December 1814. Much like the famous Battle of New Orleans that occurred after this date, the American prisoners’ release was dependent on ratification of the treaty and the time it took for news to travel. By April of 1815, American prisoners revolted and were fired upon. Conditions were so bad inside the jail that it was closed after all French and American surviving prisoners were gone. 
Newspaper archives, Marblehead, MA

One thing that didn’t surprise me was the fact many black prisoners chose any option other than taking a ship back to any seaport in the southern states.

Dartmoor in the 21st Century /Wikipedia
Dartmoor reopened in 1850 as a jail/gaol for British criminals and closed again in 1917 when it was used to house conscientious objectors. By 1920 it returned into service as a jail in 1920 and was notorious for housing the worst of Britain’s offenders. Now it’s both a historic site and, in parts that have been renovated, used as a “category C” facility for non-violent offenders, and is home to a museum with exhibits focusing on its use during those early 19th Century decades.

I’m not sure I can imagine the trials of being taken prisoner, shipped to England and then held in such a facility as a prisoner of war. No wonder few came out unscathed by permanent injury and health issues as well as what we now call PTSD.
For fans of our colonial history, we'd love to share our novella collection, Backcountry Brides, available in paperback and digital ebook.

As one completely comfortable with our modern conveniences, what aspect of confinement in Dartmoor Prison of the early 1800s most bothers you?


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