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The Prisoners' Memoirs: Dartmoor Prison

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
The war between the United States of America and Great Britain, which has been so costly in blood and treasure, and agonized the hearts of so many thousands of our fellow-beings, was formally declared, by a proclamation issued by the President of the United States, in conformity with a solemn act of the supreme legislature of the nation, on the eighteenth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twelve. The nations were, by this act, at open hostilities, and began to capture each other’s vessels upon the high seas, wherever found. I myself happened to be so unfortunate as to be among the first captives brought into England. On our first arrival there, we were all collected from different ports, and confined in different prisons. Some were sent to Chatham, some to Hamoze, and others to Portsmouth; where a strict examination took place as to their nativity and citizenship. After the examination, the officers who were entitled to their parole, (such as commanders and first lieutenants of privateers mounting fourteen guns, commanders and first mates of merchantmen, non-combatants, &c.) received it, and were sent to the little village of Ashburton, in Devonshire, or Reading, in Berkshire; the former is situated about twenty-six miles inland from Plymouth, and the principal place of confinement for paroled officers. The town of Ashburton is pleasantly situated in a healthy and fertile part of the country, where every article of provision is more easily obtained and at a much cheaper rate than in many other parts of the kingdom. Here all the officers on parole had their names registered, and particular personal description taken of them. They had allowed them by the British government one shilling and six pence, which is equal to thirty-three and a quarter cents, money of the United States, per day each man. With this small allowance, great numbers of paroled officers were compelled entirely to subsist, for having no other dependence and no friends in this country, they were obliged to purchase clothing, board, and lodging, and all other necessaries of life, and to make use of every economy to prevent themselves from suffering, notwithstanding the cheapness of provisions, and the facility of obtaining them. They were permitted, during the day, to walk one mile on the turnpike road towards London or Plymouth, and at a certain early hour every evening they had to retire to their respective lodgings, and there to remain till next morning; those were their general restrictions for all the days in the week, except two, on which every officer must answer at a particular place appointed by their keepers, in the presence of their agent or inspector. In this manner some hundreds of officers were compelled to drag out a tedious existence in a state of painful solicitude for their country, their homes and families, during the greater part of the late war.