Saturday, May 19, 2012

Prisoners and Refugees of War, 1811-1815

Welcome to a  blog devoted to research and writing about the sailors, soldiers, and refugees from  Maryland who became prisoners of war during the Second War for American Independence, known as the War of 1812. When first launched the objective was to focus on the life stories of those who fought the war on land and sea, but as the research progressed, it became clear that it was important to place the life stories in the context of the communities from which they came, in association with those for whom they derived their living, and the lawyers who argued cases that affected their lives and their livilihood.

The War of 1812 (1812-1815) was a war in which the United States attempted unsuccessfully to incorporate Canada into the Federal Union, burning York in the process,  and successfully resisted the British attempt to force the United States back into the British Empire, not without the loss of the White House, the U. S. Capitol, the Washington Navy Yard, a considerable number of ships, and an unknown number of men, women, and children of all ages and origins.

With the Battle of Baltimore, which gave us a National Anthem and a sense of pride in a National Flag, and the Battle of New Orleans, which gave us a National Leadership that would fundamentally alter the definitions of citizenship and participation in the political process, the War of 1812 and the defeat of the British is a watershed in American History.   Those that made it so deserve our attention through biography and and a narrative of place that will help us better understand the subsequent struggles to define economic opportunity and human rights for all the tired, the poor, and the struggling masses yearning to breathe free that filled each succeeding generation of Americans.

The first objective of this blog is to provide access to the biographies of the sailors on American ships who were captured and sent to Dartmoor Prison, tracing their incarceration back to the Baltimore mercantile interests who sent them to sea in the first place.

In the first biography of John  Boyle O'Reilly, an Irishman and later Bostonian, who was incarcerated in Dartmoor prison for resisting British rule over Ireland,  there is an account of O'Reilly's discovery of the inscription on the monument erected in 1867 to the memory of the French and American prisoners who died at Dartmoor during the years 1811-1815. O'Reilly and his fellow prisoners had been detailed to scape the lichen off the monument and placed a stone cairn over the shallow graves that the prison pigs were rooting up.  It is to their memory and to the memory of those who survived their time as POWs that this blog and the related research projects is devoted.

In beginning this journey, we would like to recognize the efforts of the Society of the War of 1812 In the State of Illinois which has documented the graves of the Americans who died while imprisoned there, and Ira Dye who compiled a complete database of all prisoners of Dartmoor from the Prison records which is the starting point of our study, and the work of Ira Dye who more than any single scholar has provided access to the prison life of those Americans incarcerated in the British Prison system during the Napoleonic Wars.

The second objective of this blog is to document the lives of those slaves who fled to the British during the war on the promise of freedom and land of their own.  Over seven hundred slaves from Maryland made it to the safety of the British navy.  A large number of those who were able bodied young men were inducted into the British marines to fight against their former masters.  If they survived the war, many found their way to Trinidad and a plot of their own. Those who were not recruited into the British marines, were transported to Bermuda and to the Maritime provinces of Canada where life proved harsh, especially when the cold face of winter was upon the land.  Much of what we know about that migration comes from the exhaustive work of John Weiss and from the record of reparations paid by the British government for the American loss of their slave 'property'.

It is our goal to document the lives of these refugees, placing them in the context of the communities they left behind as well as tracing them forward in time.


We hope you will follow our progress here and will feel free to comment and contribute.

Ed Papenfuse and a research staff supported by private grants to the Friends of the Maryland State Archives