Prisoners of War at Dartmoor: American and French Soldiers and Sailors in an English Prison During the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812
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British history as it really was—no glamour but a straightforward account of what happened in a rural corner of England two hundred years ago during a fierce conflict with her traditional enemy France and an unexpected second war with a former colony, the United States. The incarceration of French and American prisoners of war in Dartmoor Prison was an astonishing episode in itself, where acts of cruelty and degradation by their guardians were countered by defiance and a spirited loyalty by the prisoners to their respective countries. Much of the story is told first hand by those who were there, against a background of warfare and glorious victories on all sides. The author relates how a barren landscape that was (and is) subject to the worst of winter weather was transformed into a thriving township by one very determined man, Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt and why such a place was chosen to build a prison. The design and costs of constructing the prison, and its later development are fully explained. There are several surprises in this true account of happenings inside and outside the prison.
Among the first prisoners to be transferred to Dartmoor from the Plymouth hulks were men from the hulk Bienfaisant at Plymouth, where there was already a lodge called De la Reunion. It is no coincidence that the Dartmoor Lodge bore the same name, for they were one and the same. In A History of Freemasonry in Normandy by Bro. H. de Loucelles (published in 1875), the author describes the formation of the lodge on board the Bienfaisant on June 18, 1804. He obtained his information from the minute
the decks and periodic airing of bedding were not always enforced. A number of surgeons were dismissed for neglect of duty and brought shame on a service universally respected and admired. There was shame of another kind on the part of officials and contractors who provisioned the ships, namely corruption and fraud. In an advertisement in the London Gazette for March 17, 1814, tenders were invited “for the victualling of Prisoners of War at Mill Prison, Plymouth, and on the prison ships.
of Danish, Italian, and other Europeans) were awake. Some sobbed quietly from hunger and despair; others sought pathetic comfort from one another in embraces of an unnatural kind. Angry men whispered in the darkness, plotting escape or vengeance on the guards and there were young boys, bold lads by day, trembling and frightened in the night as scavengers prowled silently among their comrades looking to steal an unguarded crust of bread. Hunger and cold and foul air were the cause of killer
form any satisfactory opinion, though the balance of my mind is that he did give such an order.” He then goes on to praise the agent in glowing terms: “His anxiety and exertions to stop it after it had continued for some little time are fully proved, and his general conduct as far as we could with propriety enter into such details, appears to have been characterised with great fairness and even kindness in the light in which he stood towards the prisoners.” Of the prisoners themselves, he said:
Cemetery at Dartmoor Prison was completed and two specially commissioned plaques were installed to supplement the historic obelisk. Of the several thousand American prisoners who were interned at Dartmoor during the War of 1812 there are 271 known to have died, mainly from disease. As previously described, French and Americans were buried outside the prison walls without ceremony or headstones to mark where they lay. In 2003 after years of neglect the American cemetery was completely cleared of