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The Paradox Of Dartmoor Prison

June 2024
20min read

While some American captives languished, others conducted a flourishing market—and a huge black sailor organized everything

Stark, mist-enshrouded Dartmoor prison has long held a fascination for those interested in British crime. Since 1850 many of England’s most notorious criminals have been condemned to labor on the bleak Devonshire moor seventeen miles from Plymouth, and crime enthusiasts and novelists have found the cold, lonely prison an exotic subject. However, for the generation that lived through the War of 1812 Dartmoor held a far different reputation. In American ports during the first half of the nineteenth century Dartmoor was remembered as a symbol both of the heroism and suffering of American sailors and of British tyranny and oppression, for on Christmas Eve, 1814, at the moment when the treaty ending the second war between England and the United States was being signed in Ghent, over five thousand American sailors were confined in the huge stone prisons constructed near the little village of Princetown in the middle of Dartmoor. These sailors were the privateersmen who had shocked the British navy in the War of 1812, the merchant seamen who had carried the American flag from Riga to Canton, and the men who, when impressed into the British service, had helped arouse American opinion to war. Their homes were in Salem, New York, Baltimore, New Orleans, and numerous other American ports; among them were some nine hundred black Americans.

The British kept American prisoners of war at Dartmoor from the spring of 1813 to the early summer of 1815. It was a prison of remarkable contrasts: on the one hand smallpox, pneumonia, and floggings, on the other music, dancing, fencing, and theatre. While some prisoners languished on the cold stone floor of the punishment cell others watched the black prisoners perform Othello or Romeo and Juliet ; while some tunnelled under the yard others strolled above their heads, shouting their wares and selling fritters, puddings, stew, and any other food they could concoct; while British redcoats marched along the walls black “King Dick” strode majestically through the prison, club in hand, attended by two white boys; and when the gambling tables were pushed aside in the loft of the black prison, room was made for the Methodist preacher, his choir, and an impassioned evangelical service. In its violence, brutality, and sentiment Dartmoor echoed the age, and the prisoners who awarded their compatriots brutal floggings for stealing also gave up a day’s fish and potatoes to provide money for the English wife of an American hospital attendant killed by a demented prisoner. This was Dartmoor, a prison once indelibly imprinted on the minds of thousands of American sailors.

The skill and valor of American seamen in the War of 1812 has often been acclaimed. At the beginning of the war both British and Americans expected that the ships of the United States would be swept from the seas by the mighty British navy, but the Americans won dramatic victories. The engagements fought by the Constitution and the United States have become an honored part of American naval history, but for most of the war it was the American privateers that caused the most concern to the British. Hundreds of ships left American ports to raid British commerce, and they spread havoc from the distant Pacific to the very coasts of Great Britain. While American soldiers floundered along the Canadian border American sailors were boosting the country’s morale and helping to create a naval tradition.

From the beginning of the war in June, 1812, the British had the task of coping with American naval prisoners. Over twenty-five hundred men whom the British were prepared to recognize as Americans were serving on British ships; some of these men had volunteered, but many had been impressed out of American merchantmen or in British ports and forced to serve on British warships. In the next two and a half years many of these Americans refused to serve against their country and asked to be released into prison. The number of naval prisoners swelled as the British navy captured numerous American merchantmen, privateers, and a few ships of the tiny American regular navy. When possible, prisoners were exchanged with the Americans for British prisoners of war, but from the battles along the Canadian border and seizures of American shipping the British soon held a surplus of prisoners. In the course of the War of 1812 a over twenty thousand American seamen were at one time or another held prisoner by the British. These were scattered in prisons as far apart as Nova Scotia and the Cape of Good Hope, but by far the most infamous one was Dartmoor.

It would have been hard to find a more desolate spot for a prison than the moors north of Plymouth. In winter it was foggy, wet, and cold, and icy winds swept across the desolate landscape to chill those unfortunates imprisoned within the bleak granite walls. The prison was built between 1806 and 1808 for the prisoners of the Napoleonic wars and was enlarged in 1812. From the spring of 1809 thousands of Frenchmen marched across the moors into the prison; and when the first Americans straggled through the main gate in 1813, they entered a complex society.

As the prisoners trudged toward the prison at the end of their long march they could see before them, usually through rain or mist, an eighteenfoot wall of huge granite blocks that stretched, a mile long, around the prison. The prisoners marched through the main gate into a courtyard flanked by the houses of the prison officials. An open walk led through two more gates into the courtyard containing the military quarters and hospital. Only when yet another gate had been opened did they at last enter the main section of their wartime home. Here there were seven large prison barracks, separated from the moors by three barriers: an iron palisade some twelve feet high; an inner wall manned by soldiers and protected by a trip wire of alarm bells; and thirty feet from the inner wall the massive eighteen-foot outer wall. Barracks No. 4 had its own yard, and it was separated by walls from groups of three barracks on either side; No. 4 was to become the home of the blacks.

In winter the internal look of the barracks was as depressing as the surrounding countryside. They were three stories high, and each floor consisted of one huge room slung with hammocks. The granite walls constantly dripped water, and the prisoners walked on icy stone floors. Light entered through small, iron-barred windows, and the shutters that should have helped to exclude the cold had to be opened to let in the light. In the winter of 1814-15 the British authorities feared that a smallpox epidemic had arisen partly from inadequate ventilation; they were particularly perturbed that at 7:30 A.M. , when the outside temperature was 38°, the temperature on the bottom two floors was 56° and on the top floor 61° to 66°. This seemed unreasonably hot and unhealthy, and the authorities urged the dousing of fires and better ventilation during the mild weather.

Before the spring of 1813 American prisoners in England had been kept on hulks at Plymouth, Chatham, and Portsmouth, but beginning in April of that year a steady stream of these prisoners were sent to Dartmoor. The number of Americans increased from about a thousand at the end of January, 1814, to three thousand by August and over five thousand by that December. Even though the Treaty of Ghent ending the war was signed on December 24, 1814, naval prisoners continued to be sent to Dartmoor until March, 1815. In all more than sixty-five hundred Americans were admitted to the prison in just under two years. Virtually all were sailors, although a few special prisoners, including a surprised American farmer picked up during a raid on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, were admitted from time to time.

Of the Americans sent to Dartmoor about one out of seven was black. Since the Revolution the American merchant navy had provided a valuable opportunity of employment for free Negroes, and in these years, contrary to later practice, the regular American navy was willing to recruit black seamen. In the famous Chesapeake , affair in June, 1807, when sailors from the British frigate Leopard forcibly took three American seamen and one British deserter from the American frigate, two of the three Americans were black. In the War of 1812 itself, when Oliver Hazard Perry, commander of the American fleet on Lake Erie, complained of the black seamen sent to reinforce him, Commodore Isaac Chauncey on Lake Ontario asserted in reply: “I have yet to learn that the colour of the skin, or the cut and trimmings of the coat, can affect a man’s qualifications or usefulness. I have nearly fifty blacks on board of this ship, and many of them are among my best men.”

The black prisoners at Dartmoor, however, were nearly all from privateers, merchantmen, or British warships. Crewmen from the few ships of the regular American navy were usually quickly exchanged. Although some of the privateers and merchantmen had no blacks, or at the most only a black cook or steward, it was usual for American ships to carry some black seamen. The number varied greatly from ship to ship: the privateer Snapper brought into Bermuda in November, 1812, had twelve seamen listed as “Black” or “Mulatto” out of a total of eighty officers and men; the merchant ship Ranger brought in a month earlier had four blacks out of a total of thirteen seamen; a letter of marque taken at Bordeaux in March, 1814, had four seamen listed as “Black,” one as “Mulatto,” and three who were white. Most ships seem to have been integrated, although there were some all-white crews because their captains avoided signing on blacks. It is impossible to compile exact statistics of the color of all crews in the period, but it can be estimated that about 15 per cent of the sailors were black. There seems, however, to have been little or no opportunity for these crewmen to rise to the status of officers; one privateer out of New York had white officers and a crew of twenty-nine blacks. Officers were usually allowed parole rather than imprisonment, and British parole records show no evidence of blacks or mulattos except in the case of officers’ servants.

The exploits of individual black seamen before they became prisoners of war remained for the most part as unheralded as those of their white compatriots, for officers, not crewmen, received the adulation of the public. There are, however, occasional glimpses of the bravery of men from the lower deck. One episode that achieved some fame at the time, and has occasionally been recalled since, involved the privateer Governor Tompkins , which escaped from a British frigate in December, 1812. Captain Nathaniel Shaler, one of the most successful of the privateer captains of his day, reported on the bravery of two black seamen who were killed in the action. John Johnson had most of the lower part of his body taken away by a 24-pound shot and as he lay dying on the deck was shouting “Fire away my boy! No haul a color down.” John Davis, who suffered a similar terrible injury, fell near Captain Shaler and kept asking to be thrown overboard, saying he was “only in the way of the others.”

When the first wet and tired Americans reached Dartmoor in April, 1813, they were scattered among the French barracks, but during the next month they were all moved into No. 4 Barracks along with nearly a thousand Frenchmen. In the next eighteen months, as more and more Americans came into the prison and as the French left after the end of the European war in the spring of 1814, the Americans occupied five of the barracks. At first the blacks were mixed in with the other prisoners, as of course they had to be on the small ships of the period; but by early 1814 the whites petitioned that the blacks be given separate quarters, arguing that this was necessary to prevent stealing. At first the blacks were segregated in the upper stories of No. 4, but by September nearly all the whites had moved out ofthat building.

No. 4 remained the black barracks until the late spring of 1815, when with numbers at Dartmoor sharply reduced by repatriation the prisoners were again integrated. But in the winter of 1814-15 No. 4 was the home of over eight hundred black seamen, and even after the segregation the barracks was still not completely black; it was later explained by a white prisoner that No. 4 “became a prison of refuge, to many who were uneasy in their positions in other prisons.” The segregated barracks evidently was used for punishment as well as refuge, for in April, 1815, it was stated that “three Frenchmen were detected in the act of buggery and this morning they were flog’d severely. And turnd in to No. 4 among the Negroes.”

Although the most obvious signs of authority at Dartmoor were the British soldiers patrolling the walls and guarding the gates, much of the internal discipline of the prison was left to the prisoners themselves. The two prison governors of these years- Captains Isaac Cotgrave and Thomas G. Shortland of the Royal Navy- interfered as little as possible with the internal management of the prison. To punish theft and enforce internal law the Americans instituted their own courts, quickly proving themselves quite willing to continue the tyranny of the lash familiar on board ship. Floggings were frequently imposed by these seamen’s courts, and at times they were as brutal as any imposed by officers on American vessels at that time. One man was sentenced by his fellow prisoners to receive five hundred lashes for stealing ten pounds. After seventy-five his back was so badly torn that they cut him down to heal before continuing the punishment. Five hundred lashes, however, was a decided exception. More typical were the sentences meted out to cooks—eighteen lashes for skimming the fat off the soup for their own use- and one prisoner said he had never seen more than two dozen given.

The committees governing the other barracks apparently gained little foothold in No. 4, for by the end of 1814 it was controlled by a powerful figure whose influence was felt far beyond his own barracks. King Dick (or “Big Dick”) was one of the few prisoners at Dartmoor consistently singled out in the prisoners’journals. His most striking feature was his size; in one journal he was described as “a 7 foot Negro.” In reality he was a little under 6′ 4″, but because there were few men over 6 feet in the prison (most were under 5′ 9″, and many were under 5′ 6″), King Dick was indeed a giant of a man. He towered head and shoulders above the other prisoners, was of a powerful physique, taught boxing, and was seldom challenged. He strode through the prison, a bearskin’ cap on his head, a large club in his hand; and, adding to his presence, he kept “two white lads” with him, “whom he took care to select for their comely looks, and to keep them handsomely clad.” The impact of his physical presence, his dominating personality, and his feeling for the grand style survive even in the journals of those prisoners generally hostile to the inhabitants of No. 4. Descriptions of him in these journals are generally favorable; there is none of the animosity directed against the group known as the Rough Alleys or Rough Allies, a band of ruffians, apparently white, who from time to time terrorized the other prisoners and who were blamed for much of the crime and violence in the prison.

Like many another seaman of this period King Dick apparently used more than one name. It is probable he was Richard Crafus, seaman on an unlucky American privateer taken at Bordeaux in March, 1814; but after the war, when he lived in Boston, he used the name Richard Seavers. He was twenty-three years old in 1814 and on his capture gave his birthplace as Vienna. If true this is more likely to have been Vienna, Maryland, a muchused port on the Nanticoke River in Chesapeake Bay, than Vienna, Austria.

Although some of the white prisoners asserted in their journals that No. 4 was disreputable, one usually reliable diarist asserted that “many of the most respectable prisoners preferred to mess in No. 4 on account of the superior order of that prison.” Indeed, there is evidence that King Dick exercised power well beyond the confines of No. 4. When in January, 1815, the usual market was stopped because inmates to be punished for official prison offenses had not been handed over to the British by one of the white barracks, the men of the other barracks, white and black, “came in a mob headed by Big Dick, a 7 foot Negro, and by force of Arms took out the offenders and carried them before Shortland.”

The basic necessities for the prisoners in Dartmoor were provided by both the British and the American governments, and quarrels over the exact responsibility of each meant at times that the needs of the actual prisoners were ignored. The prisoners often arrived at Dartmoor in rags but until the spring of 1814 received a basic allowance of clothing and bedding from the British government: a cloth jacket, a waistcoat, trousers, two cotton shirts, a hat, and two pairs of stockings were to last for eighteen months; shoes in theory were to be distributed as often as necessary, but at times delays left the prisoners barefoot. The British issue was serviceable but hardly stylish; it consisted of a bright yellow woolen jacket and trousers, both imprinted with a broad arrow and the letters TO (for Transport Office), and a conical woolen cap. Some prisoners kept their rags rather than wearing the issue. The sailors were used to the hammocks distributed by the British, but it was said of the blankets that they were “as full of lice as the Devil is of Wickedness.” From the spring of 1814 the American government agreed to supply the necessary clothing through its London agent for prisoners, Reuben G. Beasley, but there was still considerable neglect and delay.

The basic food ration was enough to live on—in fact in some respects healthier than the diet of many modern Americans—but was reduced by the corruption of the victualling agent. Five days in the week the ration per man was one and a half pounds of bread, a half pound of beef, a half pound of cabbage or turnips, an ounce of barley, a quarter ounce of onions, and a third of an ounce of salt. On two days in the week a pound of potatoes was substituted for the barley, vegetables, and salt, and on another day a pound of herring for the beef. Also various substitutions were made in time of shortage, peas for example instead of the barley and onions. The food was issued in bulk, and the meat ration was sharply reduced by bone; the prisoners nearly always made their soup from this monotonous ration of meat and vegetables

Most of the prisoners desperately wanted more food and greater variety, and they devised many ways to achieve their ends. Surprisingly, there was a good deal of money circulating in Dartmoor. Some trade was made possible by the allowance given by the American government to each prisoner; at first this amounted to one and a half pence a day, and from April, 1814, it was increased to two and a half. The money put into circulation in the prison in this manner was added to in a variety of ways. Many of the seamen discharged from British ships as Americans received prize money and wages; some with prosperous families were able to have money sent to them from the United States; some worked for the British as coopers, blacksmiths, painters, lamplighters, and nurses in the hospital; and others worked near the prison, building a church and repairing the roads. Even counterfeiting added to the available supply of money.

The single most important opportunity for the seamen to spend their money, and to make some, was the market held every day except Sunday from 11 A.M. to 2 P.M. The countryfolk from the surrounding areas flocked in to sell fresh produce and little luxuries to the American sailors, and the sailors in turn sold baskets, paintings, carved wood and bone, and woven hats. The arguments were many as Down Easters from Maine and Devonshire farmers struggled to bargain in accents almost incomprehensible to many of their own countrymen. At times the scene became almost chaotic when the Rough Alleys stole from or cheated the local population.

The market was, however, by no means the only opportunity for trade, and in the complexity of its shops, goods, and amusements Dartmoor at times seems more a thriving village than a notorious and unhealthy prison. A variety of trades produced extra money for the prisoners; they made clothes, shoes, tinware, boxes, ornaments, and fiddles, and some even took in washing from their more prosperous compatriots.

More important to the seamen than their handicrafts were the shops and salesmen selling food and drink to supplement the rations and bring a little warmth into the damp moorland mornings. Some with a little capital set up grocery shops by buying from grocers in local towns and selling items in small quantities; tiny portions of butter, tea, coffee, and fruit, as well as the constantly demanded tobacco and snuff, found a ready market among the seamen.

Black prisoners seem to have been particularly involved in the sale of ready-cooked food. One white diarist, more biased than most, tried to describe the cry of a “chattering, monkey-faced negro” fritters salesman: “Fr-r-r-r-itters lighter dan da’punge, bigger dan a nobodies—de pan so clean what fry ’urn, a man can shabe heself in, or see he purty face, dout tearing it to tatters; -tur-r-r-r-it! tur-r-r-r-it!. frit! ter-r-r-frit! ter-r-rfrit!” Particularly popular among the prisoners were plumgudgeons, burgoo, and freco. Plumgudgeons were mashed potatoes flavored with codfish, fried to a crisp brown, and sold in little conical shapes. Dartmoor burgoo was a sort of pudding made of oatmeal and flavored with butter or molasses. This was somewhat different from and more popular than the burgoo served to Americans imprisoned belowdecks on their way to England as prisoners. One seaman commented of this oatmeal gruel that “none but hogs and Scotchmen ought to drink it.” The third specialty, freco or friego, was a kind of stew, less adulterated than the ration, made from a little meat, potatoes, the marrow and fat of bones, and onions or barley. When there was more meat, the stew became “lobscouse” and cost twice as much.

To go with his extra food an affluent seaman could buy “coffee,” sometimes made from burnt peas or burnt crusts of bread. If he wanted something stronger, there was no shortage of alcohol within the prison. The British soldiers helped smuggle in liquor, and there was a good deal of drunkenness. Beer was sold from the stalls, and King Dick was said to hold a monopoly of the sale in No. 4, as well as taking a cut from the general shopkeepers there.

For those who wanted diversion beyond extra food and drink, the black quarters offered the greatest opportunities, although navigation and nautical subjects were taught in other barracks and No. 7 even had a small lending library. White prisoners went to No. 4 to be taught boxing, fencing, dancing, and even music. When on February 22, 1815, the prisoners marched to celebrate Washington’s birthday, they were accompanied by fifes, flutes, bugles, trumpets, violins, and clarinets; and No. 4 had a band that on one occasion annoyed visiting British officers by playing “Yankee Doodle.”

More surprisingly there were two theatres in Dartmoor—one in the loft of No. 4, where the actors were mostly black, and one in No. 5, where they were all white. The black theatre seems to have been the more active, and there were productions of Othello, Romeo and Juliet , and the Scotch tragedy Douglass, as well as less ambitious pieces. The admission price was sixpence, but at a performance of the comedy The Heir At Law in No. 5 the seamen rushed in without paying. A visitor from another barracks commented on this occasion that “the scenery was very good and so was the performance. After the play we had a grand dance and kept it up till daylight when the prison doors being open each one went to his own prison.”

What with all these activities there was no need for boredom for anyone with a little money. Many, however, used any they had for gambling. The committees controlling some of the barracks attempted to set up rules outlawing gambling, but it was prevalent throughout Dartmoor. One prisoner wrote of waking at daybreak to the sound of gamblers who had been up all night in their pursuit of sudden wealth. Cards, dice, and pitch-penny were general, but the most elaborate gaming went on in No. 4, with King Dick controlling some tables and taking a percentage from others. A white prisoner complained of young men ruined by gambling in the prison who finished up as Rough Alleys, or “perhaps tending a gaming table in No. 4, a miserable slave to an ignorant negro.” Keno was one of the most popular card games—twenty or thirty at a time played at a table—but the prisoners also played vingt-et-un and brag, and for those who were tired of cards there was a tvoe of roulette.


If a sailor was ruined by gambling in the loft of No. 4, spiritual consolation was close at hand, for the black barracks was the center of religious activity. Every Thursday a British minister came from Plymouth to preach in No. 4, and on Sunday a black Methodist preacher, a prisoner, held services that were frequently attended by white prisoners. It is difficult to obtain an impartial view of these observances, as of many of the other activities in No. 4, because the white diarists frequently emphasized the grotesque qualities of the service and of the preacher, Simon, who was described as “an ugly, thick-lipped, ignorant black man” in one white’s journal.

The services were evangelical, and even the prisoner who poured scorn on the minister’s appearance was willing to concede that “the musical performances at these meetings were in a wild, but not unpleasant style, carried on entirely by the blacks, who, here as everywhere, exhibited their native taste for music.” The writer maintained that it was the choir and not the minister that attracted a considerable number of whites to the meeting every Sunday; but even the fragmentary evidence of those whites who wrote journals in the prison makes it clear that at least two whites became converts to the black Methodist preacher and moved into No. 4.

Although the Dartmoor inmates found numerous ways to lessen their hardships and boredom, they could not escape the harshness of their daily existence. The prison was extremely unhealthy, and some two hundred and seventy Americans died there, including more than sixty blacks. Most of the deaths were from pneumonia and from a smallpox epidemic in the winter of 1814-15. Unfortunately the two must often have been combined, for in February, 1815, with smallpox raging in the prison, the authorities decided that the spread of the disease would be checked by extinguishing the fires in the barracks. Moreover, the officials of the Transport Board had to point out to Dr. George Magrath, the medical officer at Dartmoor, that his practice of giving cold baths to smallpox victims, even when there was inflammation in the chest, did not conform with modern medical practice. Magrath, however, wrote to defend his method of treatment and obtained statements from some of the prisoners testifying to the excellence of his care.

In view of the prevalence of disease and death it is not surprising that many in Dartmoor thought of the possibility of escape. Only a handful succeeded, for even if the outside of the prison was reached, the moors presented a formidable obstacle. Techniques of escape have hardly changed over the centuries. A few prisoners bribed soldiers and managed to get away wearing uniforms made by the prisoners, but in the summer of 1814 a more elaborate plan was formulated. Tunnels were begun from Nos. 4, 5, and 6 barracks, and great ingenuity was used in disposing of the dirt; some was washed away in the channels of water that ran through the prison yards, and some was plastered on the walls and coated with whitewash. But hopes disappeared when informers told Captain Shortland and the tunnels were found.

Those caught trying to escape from Dartmoor, or punished by the British for other offenses, were put in the “cachot.” This was a special building between the inner wall and the iron palisade; it was simply a large cell built of huge stone blocks, and it could hold up to sixty prisoners. There was no furniture, and the most that was ever given the prisoners to protect them from the cold stone floor was a blanket and sometimes straw. The only light came from two narrow openings under the eaves, and the prisoners were usually placed on two-thirds rations. It was almost always a place for limited punishment, but four white sailors who were accused of trying to blow up their vessel with the British on board were placed in the cachot when they came to Dartmoor in August, 1814, and stayed there for a half year. In February, 1815, one of the men escaped from the cachot and was moved by fellow inmates from prison to prison. In No. 4 his face was darkened, and he passed as a black. Although the British soon recaptured him, all prisoners in the cachot were released into the general barracks in March on the order of Captain Shortland, who was finding it increasingly difficult to justify special punishment when the war was over.

The prisoners had endured their fate with reasonable patience while their imprisonment seemed inevitable, but they found it very difficult to restrain their discontent when the treaty ending the War of 1812 was signed. Their imprisonment continued while the two nations exchanged ratifications of the treaty; but even when that was completed, still further delays ensued. The British assumed that the Americans would provide the necessary ships for the repatriation of the prisoners, but neither the American government nor its agent Beasley showed any particular haste. Beasley, who had long been disliked by the prisoners for his neglect of their interests, now became an object of loathing. On March 25 a prisoner recorded that “at Noon we had the Effigy of Mr. Beasley hung and then burnt for his kind attention to the American prisoners of war.”

In the middle of March the British had informed Beasley that they would deliver up the prisoners of war if he would provide the ships; but before his slow preparations had matured, there was tragedy at Dartmoor, a tragedy that made the name of the prison notorious in the United States.

The prisoners had been complaining to Shortland about the quality of their bread issue, and the situation in the prison became tense. On April 6 the British discovered that a small hole had been cut in an inner wall, leading, as the prisoners well knew, not to the moors but to another yard. It could hardly have been an escape attempt, but the British troops fired on the unarmed prisoners. The Americans ever after argued that this was no accident but the specific intention of Shortland. Prisoners from several of the barracks were hit. In No. 4 “the Blacks were near the gates of their Yard Gamboling and not Mistrusting any harm when a dreadful fire from the top of the wall killed several and wounded many.” When the mad scramble had ended, seven prisoners were dead or died of wounds, and thirty-one were wounded. Two of the dead and four of the wounded were blacks; Thomas Jackson, who died of gunshot wounds in the stomach, was only fourteen years old. The peace treaty had been signed over three months earlier.

The tragedy of April 6 convinced the British that they could no longer wait for Beasley and the American government to provide the vessels for repatriation. Those prisoners who could provide for themselves were allowed to leave immediately, and it was decided that the rest of the prisoners would be sent home at joint BritishAmerican expense; ships were to be provided immediately and the details of cost worked out later.

With both the British and the Americans supplying vessels, repatriation proceeded rapidly. By the end of June all but nine hundred prisoners had been sent away from Dartmoor, but of these nine hundred about half were blacks. Many blacks would not accept repatriation if the ship was bound for a southern port; they were afraid of being sold into slavery and preferred pestilential Dartmoor to that fate. All the American prisoners had now gathered in No. 4, and there was far less order than in the winter, for King Dick had been repatriated. By the middle of July the rest of the American prisoners had been freed, nearly all of the blacks sinking into that anonymity from which they had escaped briefly while on the registers of Dartmoor prison. King Dick worked as a laborer in Boston, taught boxing, and still attracted the awed attention of small boys as he strode majestically through the streets. Whatever his later disappointments, whatever the anguish of acknowledging that lesser men could rise above him because he was black, he could always remember his winter of power when in the raw equality of a prison camp, with native strength and ability more important than color, he had reigned as king of Dartmoor.

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