Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
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 Post subject: American Prisoners at Dartmoor
PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 8:46 am 
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Joined: Sun Feb 17, 2008 11:06 am
Posts: 2825
Location: mid-Wales
Most people know that Dartmoor prison, one of the most forbidding and notorious in the country, was built to house French prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars. It subsequently housed seriously dangerous criminals and also conscientious objectors during the First World War. Nowadays, the inmates are ‘category C’ - non-violent, low-risk prisoners. A friend of ours is now Chaplain at the prison, and he sent me a little booklet, compiled by a colleague of Bill’s who worked at the prison for 10 years. It narrates the lesser-known story of the American prisoners who were also housed there during the War of 1812. Some of them had been serving, often as pressed men, on RN ships, but refused to fight against their own country when the war broke out. They were a spirited and defiant band, and led the governor and their guards a merry dance. However, many prisoners died as a result of the harsh conditions. There was a real tragedy there when the war had ended. The ‘prisoners’, now no longer prisoners either in law or in fact, were awaiting transport home. There were long delays which caused frustration, both among the ‘Yankees’, as they were called, and among the soldiers appointed to guard them, who also wanted to go home. During a disturbance, a confusing order caused the militia men to fire on the Americans, who were in effect, free men and unarmed. Nine men were killed, many more injured. It is a sad and poignant story, and a little known one. It was impossible to apportion blame for the outrage, though the Governor, Captain Shortland, was completely exonerated in the subsequent enquiry. There is now a memorial garden, as well as a beautiful stained glass window in the local church, and now this little pamphlet, that the author has written with the aim of reclaiming this almost forgotten event and its victims.

The booklet also describes the daily routines, customs, food supplies etc. of the prisoners-of-war and gives an informed insight into this closed world about which I might post more on another thread.


 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 10:35 am 

Joined: Wed Dec 17, 2008 10:40 pm
Posts: 1088

At one time I got really interested in the whole subject of prisoners of war, British prisoners in France and vice versa.

In addition to Dartmoor there was a big prison at Norman Cross near Peterboro.

I was also very interested in the parole towns where officers were allowed to live amongst the community and live relatively normal lives - having pledged that they would not try to escape. There were examples of them marrying and having families.

Stranger than fiction - now didn't I say that yesterday!

I bought a book called Dartmoor's War Prison and Church. If the one you are mentioning here is another one I would appreciate details by email. Thanks.

At one time I could not get very excited about the bone artefacts made by the French prisoners. Until I read that they were allowed to sell them to people living local to the prison. A bit like an open day where they could lay these items out and try to tempt people to buy them.

It seemed to put a whole new dimension on it.

To see the big picture you need to see all the little pictures - now didn't I say that yesterday!!

Thanks for the pointer to this book.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 11, 2009 10:21 am 

Joined: Wed Oct 15, 2008 2:59 pm
Posts: 92
Location: Devon, England
Roy and I did quite a lot of research PoWs for our book The War for All the Oceans, as there are many conflicting reports. We did research on PoWs held in Britain and British PoWs held in France, including the massacre at Dartmoor, trying to unravel all the different accounts.. I'll post more details on the new thread of prisoners rather than repeat it all here.


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