Today is the anniversary of the day when Dartmoor Prison opened its doors (so to speak) to French prisoners of war in 1809. The prison was constructed 1806-1809 to contain the overflow of French prisoners from the hulks, notorious for their high mortality rates and wretched living conditions. Dartmoor may not have been much better, considering that over 1,500 men died there, including prisoners from the War of 1812. This is the cemetery which has been restored by volunteers.
I poked around on the web a bit and came up with some fascinating stuff about Dartmoor–the stuff of fiction (and I’m sure it’s been done). For instance, officers were allowed parole and became involved with the local community, some marriages taking place, according to the Moretonhampstead Historical Society. (Confusingly but understandably Moretonhampstead is also known as Moreton.)
The POWs were eager to pitch in during a crisis, as in 1808 when the Dolphin Inn caught fire and put other buildings in danger:
About noon a fire broke out at the Dolphin public house, kept by Mr Wm. Tozer, which raged with alarming violence over several houses, threatening the destruction of a great part of the town… its progress was happily stopped, by the energetic exertions of the inhabitants, the Moreton volunteers…
It was pleasing to see about 1,500 people of different languages and colours uniting with great cheerfulness in making breaches to stop the progress of the flames, in removing furniture and goods to places of security, and in carrying water to supply a powerful engine, which was kept constantly at work at different points for several hours.
And in the evening, the thanks of a meeting of gentlemen at the White Hart was ordered to be communicated through Captn Ponsford to the volunteers and the foreigners who assisted. More
Different languages and colours–that’s significant. We know there were black POWs–the above source mentions that in the previous year, “General Rochambeau, a French Officer with a black servant, came here on parole from Wincanton, Somerset.” It suggests that more than just officers were enjoying the pleasures of parole–maybe regular soldiers hired themselves out as servants to get out for a while?–and who pitched in so enthusiastically to put out the fire.
The General’s servant certainly had the opportunity to socialize:
Married with licence Peter the Black, servant to General Rochambeau, to Susanna Parker. The bells rang merrily all day. From the novelty of this wedding being the first negro ever married in Moreton, a great number assembled in the churchyard, and paraded down the street with them.
But there weren’t so many happy endings connected with Dartmoor. More, it was a history of misery, culminating in the massacre of April 6, 1815. We don’t really know what happened. Certainly the prisoners, living in harsh conditions, and well after the end of the War of 1812, were enraged that they were still in captivity. The warden, Captain Shortland, exhibited terrible judgment; he may have believed an escape was planned, but almost certainly the dispute started when he prevented distribution of bread to the prisoners, and ended with his orders to fire on them. Seven died, including a boy of fourteen. Between thirty and sixty were wounded. A joint British-American panel later investigated the tragedy and paid reparation to the families of the dead men.
Captain Shortland went at the head of the soldiers and ordered all of the prisoners back. They refused and, as the bread wagon was at this moment making a delivery to the stores, there was a fear that the prisoners might attempt to take control. Again the order was given to return while the soldiers fixed bayonets and began to advance. They were about three paces from the prisoners but still the Americans stood firm and refused to back down. The order to charge was given and the prisoners instantly broke and ran as fast as possible to the safety of their prisons. There were thousands of Americans desperately trying to get back into the buildings but they could not do so quickly. The order to fire was given, there is some doubt as to who by, but the Americans later insisted that it was Captain Shortland. The soldiers obeyed and fired a full volley. The volleys were repeated for several rounds with prisoners falling dead and wounded all around. The Complete Illustrated History of Dartmoor Prison by Ron Joy. Quoted by Illinois War of 1812 Society.
On the topic of escape–you have to remember that one of the (unofficial) trades of Devon was smuggling, and who better than to help, for a price, prisoners escape. Records exist of the more unsuccessful attempts.
More sources. They’re scattered, but some records exist at the UK National Archives and you can find a bibliography from the Moretonhampstead Historical Society. First-hand accounts exist at the Navy Department Library in Washington, DC, including this one with its frontispiece of the prison:
Journal, of a Young Man of Massachusetts, Late a Surgeon on Board an American Privateer, Who Was Captured at Sea by the British . . . and Was Confined First, at Melville Island, Halifax, Then at Chatham, in England, and Last, at Dartmoor Prison. Interspersed with Observations, Anecdotes and Remarks, Tending to Illustrate the Moral and Political Characters of Three Nations. To Which Is Added, a Correct Engraving of Dartmoor Prison, Representing the Massacre of American Prisoners. Written by Himself. Boston: printed by Rowe & Hooper, 1816.
I find this history of Dartmoor both sad and fascinating. Do you have any recommendations for books, fiction or nonfiction, about Dartmoor and its prisoners?
And oh gosh, a late addition, The Malorie Phoenix for Kindle is now on sale for 99 cents. Go grab it and please please write me a review (if you like it).
I went to a historical program this week, but it was much better than Diane’s and also appropriate to Amanda’s on Valentine’s Day (and Carolyn, sigh. Carolyn, do try and get your mind out of the gutter). I’ve finished my chocolate–I ate half of them at five minutes after midnight and the other half that evening of the 14th and here’s the evidence.
But I digress. I went to a chocolate program at Riversdale House Museum and although I was volunteering I didn’t spill anything on anyone and I managed to eat a fair amount too. There were some awesome chocolate fans there who ate their way through four centuries of chocolate and probably would have been good for more.
You can find the recipes at Cooking Up the Past, the FB page that Riversdale’s Food Historian runs, and which has some great stuff on it.
So, chocolate. First it starts off as a tree with a fruit, with seeds (pods), from which you extract the nibs (the things that look as if a mouse has visited). It’s a very labor intensive product and you can see a video made by the foodways historian at Williamsburg on a site devoted to the history of chocolate in North America, American Heritage Chocolate. There are some more recipes and also products if you wish to try some authentic cookery.
Chocolate is NOT sweet. You have to add sugar and I found that the historic recipes had a bitter kick to them rather like coffee–cacoa does have a high caffeine content. This is why chocolate was a popular breakfast drink–we used a latte machine to froth up spiced and (slightly) sweetened chocolate in hot water and added in milk to taste just as you would with coffee. This 1731 chocolate pie, one of the delicacies served at the chocolate event was deliciously bitter.
Into the nineteenth century, things got sweeter. Here’s a whole plateful of chocolatey thrills, including ice cream, a layer cake with chocolate icing, chocolate pudding, a heart-shaped cocoa biscuit, a cake with chocolate icing and some chocolate candy.
So let’s talk about chocolate!
And go visit The Bookish Dame who’s given Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion a great review today and is giving away a copy!
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Preamble of the Declaration of Independence.
Yesterday Americans celebrated the 234th anniversary of the approval of the wording of the Declaration of Independence (not its signing as is commonly believed). We celebrate this as the beginning of our country, although there were many years of hard fighting to go before the United States of America existed as separate from mother England.
In spite of our problems as a country, it is extraordinary that we have been as successful as we have been at living up to these principles of all “men created equal” with equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And I’m filled with pride at how well we have done, though it has taken 234 years to get this far and we still have a way to go. Discrimination is still practiced, I’m sad to say.
But today for Risky Regencies, I’m thinking about what it must have felt like to those “colonists” who considered themselves Englishmen and suddenly found themselves forming a separate nation. They could not have known that this country would succeed. How much trust could they put in this fledgling government? It must have been a very exciting but hard time for all.
During the Regency, in addition to the Napoleonic War, England fought in America again, in what we call The War of 1812. This time the United States of America declared war on England for impressing American citizens into the Royal Navy and for England’s military support of Native Americans who were preventing American expansion into the Northwest. Ironically it was this war that really solidified America’s independence from England. After America’s victory, England respected America’s sovereignty.
A few years ago I attended the annual Battle of Bladensburg (of the War of 1812) reenactment at Jefferson Patterson Park in Maryland with Mary Blayney (see her interview here July 18) and I took a photo of this authentic British reenactor!
I wonder how many people in the US still had split loyalties. Were they all solidly American, as we would like to believe? Or did some of them hope the War of 1812 would put this country again under English rule? One also wonders what would have happened if Wellington had been sent to the US instead of Spain.
Another question. Why aren’t more Regency Historicals using the War of 1812 in their stories?