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Dartmoor Prison England, War of 1812

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First American Flag - Betsy Ross

source: Rare Flags Wickemedia

source: Rare Flags Wickemedia

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
  • Georgia

These were the recognized free sovereign and independent states. Unfortunately, this did not mean an end to the fighting

Conflicts with Europe - President Thomas Jefferson

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 the Embargo Act banning all American ships from foreign trade. The embargo failed to change British or French policies but devastated New England shipping.


source Yahoo resourcesforhstory

source Yahoo resourcesforhstory

Start of War of 1812

As the United States failed in a peaceful effort and 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 continued to suffer under British attack and Britain burned down most of Washington DC. 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 and Tennessee 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. None of the issues that started the war were resolved.

Dartmoor Front Gate



Dartmoor Prison

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 good 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.

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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.

Dartmoor Prison

source photo free

source photo free

Dartmoor Map

Dartmoor Location in Devon, England

Dartmoor Location in Devon, England

Dartmoor Prison - American Prisoners

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 on January 2, 1814.

Dartmoor Prison Mutiny (1932)

In Conclusion

The War of 1812 created great losses of men and finances for America and Britain. Many died from diseases. 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.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 12, 2014:

nhill, What a fascinating ancestry you have, and I have been researching mine for eons also. Thanks so much for sharing your interesting history.

nhill on December 09, 2014:

Perez Drinkwater, Jr., was my 3rd great-grandfather. He was the son or Perez Sr., who participated in the American War of Independence at the Battle of Castine. It is believed that his ancestors came from Aberdeen, Scotland, and settled in Taunton, MA - Thomas being the first in the colonies (dying here in 1715). Four of his sons went north to ME (although it was part of MA at the time).

BTW, Perez, Jr., wrote several letters that arrived home (Yarmouth, ME) to his wife and family. The letters were printed in the Machias Union in 1881. Perez died in 1860. I descend from his daughter, Helen Marr Drinkwater Merrill.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 12, 2011:

Warren Baldwin, I belong to a few genealogy associations (DAR, Colonial, Patriots of 1812) and last year we had a speaker come to the Patriot meeting and tell this story along with a power point presentation. It was fascinating to me and that is how I got the letter. I would have to look back through the minutes of the meeting to remember his name. I don't mind it you quote some of the article for your paper. I don't know if the letter writer was and Indian but the name would tend to indicate that. I appreciate your comments.

Warren Baldwin on November 12, 2011:


I am researching for an article I am writing on the American POWs at Dartmoor in the War of 1812. Your article has some very good information, and is the only place I have found some of this information, particularly the letter by Perez Drinkwater (was he Navtive American?). Could I quote some of it in my article (for our local newspaper)? And how did you get a copy of the letter?

Also, you would enjoy an article in the Jan 1997 issue of the Barnes Review about the prison, entitled, "The Untold Story of Americans Held Prisoner by the British in the War of 1812." The British didn't want to pay for the pows to be returned, that is why they kept them for so long. When the prisoners grew restless, the British fired on the unarmed prisoners, killing many of them AFTER the war was over. It is truly one of the important unkown tragedies of our history.

Thanks for this good article.


Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on June 09, 2011:

Amber, Thanks for the extra information. I went to a lecture about the prison and they showed a video by the keeper of the museum who gave much of the history and the rest I researched on the internet. You have added some things didn't know as I didn't realize it was still being used today. Thanks for your comments.

Amber Allen on June 09, 2011:

Hi Pamela

Dartmoor Prison was built in 1809 to house French prisoners of war from the Napoleonic Wars and it was then also used to house American prisoners of war from the War of 1812.

My understanding is that until the prison was built the prisoners of war were kept on derelict ships moored in Plymouth. The prison was said to provide much better conditions but having read the letter that you placed in your hub, this is very hard to believe.

After these wars ended the prison stood unoccupied for many years and it was not until 1850 that prison was rebuilt and put into use as a criminal prison and the prison is still used for this purpose today. The Museum is housed in a former Dairy a little way away from the prison, in which prisoners used to work.


Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 06, 2011:

Bethany, I hope he enjoys the hub. Thanks for your comments.

Bethany Culpepper on April 06, 2011:

I'm sharing this one with my son - he's a huge history buff. Good job!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 03, 2011:

Rob, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and I appreciate your comments.

rpalulis from NY on April 03, 2011:

Very cool Pamela, I love learning new things especially history. Thanks for sharing.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 02, 2011:

A.A. Zavala, I am glad you enjoyed the hub and thank you your comments.

Augustine A Zavala from Texas on April 02, 2011:

I'm always fascinated by history, which I beleive is more exciting than fiction. Thank you for sharing the research and insight into this time in history.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 02, 2011:

Tina, it is interesting to see things that were written so long ago because they didn't spell words the same. Thank you so much for your comment and I hope to write some more articles on historic governance as I really enjoy them.

Audrey, thank you so much for your comment and your hints about the writing contest if I didn't realize there was no space but I'll fix it immediately. I appreciate your help as always

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on April 02, 2011:

Pamela - great subject and well done....p.s. I think you have to have the tag was WritingContest (no space) - just making sure your entry gets in!!!

gr82bme from USA on April 02, 2011:

The letters were neat to rad. It is something the way some of the words were spelled.

I love history. Thank you for all the hard work and sharing


voted up

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 02, 2011:

drbj, I am so glad that you enjoyed this story and I appreciate your comments.

JY, I'm glad you like the hub and I thank you for your comments.

Becky, I was excited when I found that letter because of the historic value and I knew I wanted to included in the hub. I appreciate your comments.

Susan, I'm glad you enjoyed the history and I appreciate your comments.

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on April 02, 2011:

Had a great History lesson here today. Thanks so much.

Up and useful!

Becky from Oklahoma on April 02, 2011:

Great historical information. Loved reading the letter. Thanks for an interesting read.

John Young from Florence, South Carolina on April 02, 2011:

Liked it very much Pam. I'm glad to see you are expanding your topics into other areas. Voted up as usual.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on April 01, 2011:

What a fascinating and well-written story, Pamela. I enjoyed reading every word. Up, up and away-rated.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 01, 2011:

Will, thanks so much for your comment.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on April 01, 2011:

Terrific Hub Pam!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 01, 2011:

phillip, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and I appreciate your comments.

RedElf, Thank you so much for your comments. Much appreciated.

Pop, Thank you for the great comments.

breakfastpop on April 01, 2011:

Terrific piece of writing. I can't get over how talented and versatile you are. Up and awesome!

RedElf from Canada on April 01, 2011:

You write on the most interesting topics! Thanks for another (as always) well-written and informative hub!

phillip goodson on April 01, 2011:

That was very interesting, I learned a few things I didn't know about the war of 1812, thank you!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 01, 2011:

Darsky, I am so glad you were able to get back on Hubpages. I'm glad you liked the hub and I appreciate your comment. Love and Peace.

Acer, I'm glad you got a walk down memory lane. thanks for your comment.

electricksy, I appreciate your comment.

electricsky from North Georgia on April 01, 2011:

Thanks for sharing.

Mentalist acer from A Voice in your Mind! on April 01, 2011:

One my delightful childhood memories was of visiting Jackson Square in New Orleans,thanks Pamela.;)

Darlene Sabella from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ... on April 01, 2011:

Very cool hub pamela, I love history as you know and this hub is excellent. Great job, and I hope you win...I am back on hubpages missed you too much..rate up up love & peace darski

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