Dartmoor Prison England War of 1812
End of Revolutionary War
The Treaty of Paris officially ended the Revolutionary War on September 3, 1783. His Britannic Majesty acknowledged the United States as New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia to be free sovereign and independent states. Unfortunately this did not mean an end to the fighting
First American Flag -Betsy Ross
The United States had been irritated with the failure of the British to withdraw from American territory along the Great Lakes following the war, and at their backing of the Indians on America's frontiers. In addition, England was unwilling to sign commercial agreements favorable to the United States.
In this time frame the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) in which France and Britain were the main combatants occurred. The result was France came to dominate much of continental Europe and Britain dominated the seas. They also fought each over commercial interests; Britain attempted to blockade the continent of Europe and France tried to prevent the sale of British goods to French possessions.
The United States was still unable to come to any agreement concerning commercial goods. In 1807, after the British ship Leopard fired on the American frigate Chesapeake, President Thomas Jefferson urged Congress to pass in Embargo Act banning all American ships from foreign trade. The embargo failed to change British or French policies but devastated New England shipping.
Start of War of 1812
As the United States failed in a peaceful effort and they were facing an economic depression; Americans argued for a declaration of war to redeem their national honor. Ultimately there was a group in Congress elected in 1810, known as the War Hawks who demanded war against Great Britain.
The United States wasn't ready for war, and most of their campaigns of 1812 and 1813 failed. American frigates won a few battles at sea. In the meantime, the British formed a blockade around America's coast ruining their trade, which threatened American finances and exposed the entire coastline to the British attack. The United States continue to suffer under British attack and Britain burned down most of Washington D.C. Britain then set its eyes on the area around New Orleans.
The citizens of southern Louisiana
looked to Major General Andrew Jackson who arrived in New Orleans in the fall of 1814, and quickly
prepared defenses. There were several failed attacks before the Battle of New
Orleans. Jackson was well-prepared using former
Haitian slaves fighting as free men, Kentucky
frontiersmen armed with deadly long rifles, and the colorful band of Jean
Lafitte’s outlaws. Jackson's victory saved New Orleans, but it happened
after the war was over, as the Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812, but none
of the issues that started the war were resolved.
Dartmoor Front Gate
I am a member of the National Society of the United States Daughters of 1812 Society. I recently attended a lecture about England's Dartmoor Prison where many Americans sailors were held during the war of 1812. There was a lecturer and a video. The video speaker was a sweet 77-year-old English gentleman who is the historian and caretaker for the prison now being used as a museum. He told the history of the prison and the miserable living conditions. This prison has held a fascination for people interested in British crime, since 1850, as most of England's most notorious criminals were condemned to labor on the bleak Devonshire moor.
One of the tragedies of this war was the thousands of American sailors held at the massive jail Dartmoor, in Devon, England. The first few hundred arrived in the winter and had to march 17 miles to the prison from the sea and most of them didn't have socks or shoes.
Fewer than 250 of the prisoners were from the United States Navy; many more came from the privateers who had shocked the British Navy, as they were merchant seaman who carried the American flag from Riga to Canton, and numerous other American ports. There were approximately 900 black American prisoners. There were meticulous records kept which reveal the names of the 6,553 American prisoners admitted to the prison.
The British held American prisoners of war at Dartmoor from the spring of 1813 to the early summer of 1815 even though the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814.
According to the English gentleman it was decided that the prisoners would build a church and were paid sixpence a day, but only received the pay every three months. If a prisoner escaped during that time all money would be forfeited, therefore, in essence, they became their own jailers. The prisoners made sure no one escaped and the little church was built. The prisoners got to know some of the town people when they got paid and would buy items they needed. The first church service was held January 2, 1814.
The War of 1812 created great losses of men and finances for America and Britain. Many died from disease. Dartmoor Prison is certainly a sad and little known tale. Prisoners wrote home frequently but most mail never arrived.
This seems to be the only copy of a letter available that made it home from a prisoner:
ROYAL PRISON, Dartmoor Oct. 12th 1814
Dear Sally -
It is with regret that I have to inform you of my unhappy situation that is, confined heir in a loathsom prison where I have wourn out almost 9 months of my Days; and god knows how long it will be before I shall get my Liberty again. . . . I cheer my drooping spirits by thinking of the happy Day when we shall have the pleasure of seeing you and my friends. . .
This same place is one of the most retched in this habbited world. . . neither wind nor watertight, it is situated on the top of a high hill and is so high that it either rains, hails or snows almost the year round for further partickulars of my preasant unhappy situation, of my strong house, and my creeping friends which are without number. . . .
. . .my best wishes are that when these few lines come to you they will find you, the little Girl [his daughter] my parents Brothers sisters all in good helth I have wrote you a number of letters since my inprisenment here and I shall still trouble you with them every opportunity that affords me till I have the pleasure of receiving one from you which I hope will be soon. . . .
I am compeled to smugle this out of prison for they will not allow us to write to our friends if they can help it. . . . So I must conclude with telling you that I am not alone for there is almost 5,000 of us heir, and creepers a 1000 to one. . .
Give my Brothers my advice that is to beware of coming to this retched place for no tongue can tell what the sufferings are heir till they have a trial of it. So I must conclude with wishing you all well so God bless you all. This is from your even [ever] derr and beloved Husband.
PEREZ DRINKWATER, Jun
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© 2011 Pamela Oglesby