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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About the Book

The incarceration of French and American prisoners of war in Dartmoor Prison, at a time when Britain was at war with both its traditional enemy and the young nation of former British colonies, was a dark and unusual episode. Acts of cruelty and degradation were countered by defiance and a spirited loyalty by the prisoners to their respective countries. Much of the story is told firsthand 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 construction of the prison are described, as are the experiences of the men held in the harsh, overcrowded conditions of Dartmoor. From May 1809 to February 1816, 271 American and more than 1100 French prisoners of war died in confinement.

About the Author(s)

Trevor James lives in Devon, England.

Bibliographic Details

Trevor James
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 244
Bibliographic Info: 56 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2013
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7407-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0342-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments  ix

Foreword by John Lawrence  1

Preface  3

Introduction  7

Prologue: A Sad Corner of England in 1812  9

 1. The Saga Begins  13

 2. A Start Is Made  24

 3. The Prison Is Built  33

 4. The Militia  44

 5. How the Depots Were Run  48

 6. Life Inside the War Depot  56

 7. French Freemasons at Dartmoor  68

 8. Ways Out of Dartmoor and the Hulks  74

 9. The Americans Arrive  82

10. Yankee Ways  91

11. More Tribulations, Then Better Times  100

12. Dartmoor Becomes an American Depot  108

13. Escapes  114

14. Frustration and a New Regime  121

15. The Princetown Massacre  129

16. The Inquiries into the “Melancholy Occurrence”  140

17. Privateers  153

18. Voices from Dartmoor Prison  158

Benjamin Brown  158

Benjamin Palmer  162

Charles Andrews  166

George Little  171

Perez Drinkwater  175

Other Journals  178

19. Survivors  183

20. The Depot’s Final Days  186

21. Mortality Rates and the Price of Victory  194

22. Princetown Church and Memorials  199

Epilogue  213

Appendix 1: Those Who Died  215

Appendix 2: Chronology of Dartmoor Prison  222

Chapter Notes  224

Bibliography  228

Index  231


Book Reviews & Awards

“dozens of images…dramatically illustrate the depot and prisoners’ lives…James knows the material and has walked the ground”—Naval History; “full of interesting details of the origins of the prison itself and life within its walls”—The Mariner’s Mirror; “This author is a well known authority on Dartmoor Prison and here in his new book he tells us what it would have been like to have lived in this hell hole they called the Dartmoor Depot”—Dartmoor News; “James’s study of the harrowing captivity of more than six thousand Americans in the British prison called Dartmoor is a significant contribution to our knowledge about the conflict and the treatment of prisoners of war more broadly”—H-Net Reviews.