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    Chapter 6

    Subterranean Passage — A Traitor — Ratification of Peace — American Consul Hung in Effigy — Without Bread for Two Days — Prisoners Demand and Obtain their Bread — Inhuman Massacre of Prisoners — English Soldier Liberated — Court of Inquiry — Arrival of a Cartel — Liberated from Prison — Display of Flags Respecting the Massacre.

    ABOUT this time the prisoners in one of the prisons had commenced the herculean task of opening a subterranean passage to the outside of the prison walls, to obtain their liberty. To accomplish this, one of the large, heavy flagging stones on the ground floor was raised, and the work begun of scratching the dirt into small bags, and packing it snugly away under the flight of stone steps which reached up to the third loft, planked up on the back side. To effect this, one of the planks had to be removed, but carefully re-placed, and also the flagging stone, before morning, subject to the critical inspection of the turnkeys after all the prisoners were counted out.LELJB 76.2

    The length of the passage from under the foundation of the prison to the first wall across the prison-yard (as near as I can remember) was about one hundred feet; from thence to the outer wall about twenty feet more. These walls, we were told, were fourteen feet high, and two feet below the surface of the earth; broad enough for the soldiers on guard to pass and re-pass on the top.LELJB 77.1

    A friend of mine, Capt. L. Wood, of Fairhaven, Mass., who lived in this prison, with whom I had frequent intercourse, informed me about the work, and how difficult it was to enter that stifled hole after they had progressed some distance, and return with a small bag of dirt. Said he, “Their faces are almost black, and they are nearly exhausted for want of breath;” but still another would rush onward, and presently return with a full bag. In this manner they continued their night work, undiscovered, until they reached and dug under the foundation of the first, and the second, or outer wall. Many now prepared themselves with knives and such deadly weapons as they could defend themselves with, determined to fight their way at the risk of their lives, to the sea coast, and seize on the first vessel or boats, and steer for the coast of France.LELJB 77.2

    Before they broke the ground outside of the outer wall for as many as desired to pass out, one following the other in the darkness of the night, one of the prisoners, being acquainted with their proceedings, informed on them. Suddenly armed soldiers and officers came into the prison-yard with their informer in their midst, who pointed to the place over the dark passage, which they soon broke in, and thus in a few moments it was filled with stones and dirt from the stone-paved yard, and the traitor carefully conveyed out under guard for fear the prisoners would seize him and tear him in pieces. “What is his name?” “Who is he?” “What State does he belong to?” was the inquiry. Those who knew him replied that he belonged to New Hampshire. The governor gave him his liberty, and we heard no more about him.LELJB 77.3

    On the arrival of the frigate from the United States, bringing the ratified treaty of peace between us and Great Britain, we learned that Mr. Beasley had resumed his functions as United States consul in London, and was instructed by our government to procure suitable ships to convey the American prisoners from England to the United States. After waiting a suitable time, Mr. B. was addressed in behalf of the Dartmoor prisoners, to know why the ships did not come. His reply was very unsatisfactory. Again we expressed our surprise at his seeming neglect of us, when nearly two months had expired since the treaty of peace was ratified, and no relaxation of our sufferings. His reply was far from relieving us. At length the prisoners became so exasperated at his willful neglect of them, that they erected a gallows in the prison-yard, and hung and then burned Mr. B. in effigy. As the English periodicals began to herald this matter, Mr. B. began to wake up and expostulate with us for daring to take such liberties with his character. We gave him to understand that he was instructed to relieve and release us from imprisonment, and we were still waiting for the event.LELJB 78.1

    Our governor, who bore a commission as post-captain in the British navy, also undertook to take advantage of us, by ordering that the prisoners consume the hard ship-bread that had been stored for them in the winter, in case soft bread could not be procured. This was not objected to, provided they gave us as many ounces of hard as we had been receiving of the soft bread. This, Governor Shortland objected to, and said we should not have so much by one-third. This was what the commander of the prison-ship attempted to do with us the year before, and failed, as we have before shown. We unhesitatingly objected to Governor S. ’s proposals. He said we should have that or none. We claimed our full allowance or none. We continued thus two days without bread, with a threat that, if we did not yield, our water would be withheld also.LELJB 79.1

    It was now the 4th of April, 1815. Governor S. left the depot that day on a visit for a few days, thinking that probably by the time he returned we should be hungry enough to accede to his terms. But before sunset, or the time came for turning us in to be locked up for another dismal night, a great portion of the prisoners were becoming so exasperated with their down-trodden and starving condition that when the soldiers and turnkeys came to order us in to be locked up, we refused to obey until they gave us our bread. “Go into your prisons!” they cried. “No, we will not until we get our bread!” Soldiers were called to arms, and, with their colonel and second in command, arranged above the great iron gate-way, above the great public square containing the hospital and store-houses where our bread was stored. On the lower side of this square was another iron fence and locked-up iron gate-way, which was the line of demarkation between us and our keepers. Here was a narrow pass-way of about ten feet wide and thirty long, where all the prisoners, when out of their prisons, were continually passing and re-passing into yards Nos. 1, 4 and 7, containing the seven prison-houses prepared to accommodate about ten thousand prisoners.LELJB 79.2

    About dark the excitement had become general on both sides, and the narrow pass-way became so crowded that it was difficult to pass. The pressure at length became so heavy that the lock of the great folding gate-way broke, and the gates flew open. In a few moments the prisoners, unarmed and without any preconcerted plan, were treading on forbidden ground, filling up the public square, and crowding up to the great iron gate-way on the opposite side of the square, on the other side of which stood the colonel in command, with his regiment of armed soldiers, commanding the prisoners to retire or he should fire upon them. “Fire away!” cried the prisoners, as they crowded in front of the soldiers, “we would as lief die by sword as by famine.” The colonel, still more unwilling to fire, wished to know what we wanted.” “We want our bread, sir.” “Well, retire quietly to your respective prisons, and something shall be done about it.” “No, sir, we shall not leave until we get our full allowance of bread.” The colonel ordered the contractor to serve the prisoners with their full allowance of soft bread. About nine in the evening the various messes had all received their bread. The prisoners then quietly entered their respective prisons, and commenced satiating their appetites on the coarse brown loaves and cold water, commending in the highest terms the cool, courageous, and gentlemanly manner in which the colonel received us and granted our request.LELJB 80.1

    Two days after this, viz., April 6, 1815, Governor S. returned to his station. On learning what had transpired on the evening of the 4th, he declared (as we were told) that he would be revenged on us. On this 6th day, P. M., some of the prisoners were playing ball in No. 7 yard. Several times the ball was knocked over the wall, and was as often thrown back by the soldiers when kindly asked so to do. Presently one of the prisoners cried out in quite an authoritative manner, “Soldier, throw back that ball.” And because it failed to come, some of the ball-players said, “We will make a hole in the wall and get it.” Two or three of them began by pecking out the mortar with small stones. A sentinel on the wall ordered them to desist. This they did not do until spoken to again. I was walking back and forth by the place during the time, with others, but did not suppose they could make a hole with the stones they were using, or that anything touching that matter was of much or any importance. Aside from this trifling affair, the prisoners were as orderly and as obedient as at any time in the past.LELJB 81.1

    At sunset the turnkeys, as usual, ordered the prisoners to turn in. To effect this, and get to their respective prisons, the narrow pass-way was so densely crowded that the folding gate-way, which had not been repaired since the 4th, and was very slightly fastened, burst open, and some few were necessarily and without design crowded into the square. It appeared that Governor S., with a regiment of armed soldiers, had stationed himself above the square, watching for a pretext to come upon us. The bursting open of the folding gates, though unintentional, seemed sufficient for his purpose; for he advanced with his soldiers and ordered them to fire. His orders were promptly obeyed, the soldiers rushing in among the fleeing prisoners, and firing among them in all directions. One poor fellow fell wounded, and a number of soldiers surrounded him. He got on his knees and begged them to spare his life, but their answer was, “No mercy here!” They then discharged the contents of their muskets into him and left him a mangled corpse. Others, fleeing for the doors of their respective prison, that always before had been left open at turning-in time, found them shut, and while endeavoring to gain the opposite door, found themselves subject to the cross-fire of the soldiers. This was further proof that this work was premeditated.LELJB 81.2

    As I was crowding my way down the flight of stone steps to ascertain respecting the uproar and report of muskets, a number of soldiers came rushing to the doorway (while the remnant outside were wedging themselves in), and discharged their musket-shot upon us. One man fell dead, another fell just before me with the loss of his leg, and one English soldier, against his will, was crowded in, and the door shut against those most cowardly murderous soldiers, who discharged their muskets on those who had not been outside of their prisons.LELJB 82.1

    The greatest confusion and excitement now prevailed throughout the different prisons. The most we could learn was that some, while fleeing from these murderers, said they passed the dead and dying all along in their way to the prison. We hailed the next prison to our own, and they said about two hundred of their number were missing. We thought this was about the number missing in ours. Judging thus, we supposed a great many must have been massacred. Fathers, sons, and brothers were missing, and a most intense excitement prevailed in our prison. Suddenly we heard the boatswain’s whistle from the daily crier. All was silent on the upper floor. He now began to read like the following: “There is an English soldier found among us on the lower floor, and a number of prisoners have a rope around his neck, and the other end over the beam, urging him to say his prayers, for they are about to hang him. Two of the committee have prevailed on them to hold on until they get the mind of the prisoners. What shall be done with him?” “Hang him! hang him! hang him!” cried some; others, “No, no; let him go!” Second loft and lower floor, about the same. The crier reported the majority for hanging him. The committee, with others, begged them to hold on until they tried the vote once more. The prisoners were too much excited, and therefore judged too hastily. The poor soldier was still begging for his life, expecting to be swung up the next moment. When the crier passed around the second time, it was difficult to decide, but many more were in favor of sparing the life of their enemy. This opened the way for a third trial, which was decidedly in favor of releasing him. During this interval, the dead and dying had been gathered out of the yards, and conveyed to the hospital. A guard of soldiers then came to our door for the dead and wounded prisoners. “Have you any here?” “Yes, here are two; and here is also one of your own soldiers, take him along with you.”LELJB 83.1

    When the court of inquiry that set on this murderous affair adjourned (which will be referred to presently), the English periodicals were loud in their applause of the honorable and merciful act of the Dartmoor prisoners, under such aggravating circumstances, in sparing the life of the English soldier.LELJB 84.1

    It was late in the morning before the doors of our prison were opened; for it required some time to wash away the blood of our murdered companions, which our enemies were very unwilling for us to see. When we got out into the yard, many found their lost friends; for during the massacre, to escape the fire of the soldiers, several fled to the nearest prisons and remained in them until the morning, while others sought and found theirs in the hospital, among the murdered and wounded. After much inquiry, we learned that seven were killed and sixty wounded. What made this the more aggravating, was, that the two governments were on the most amicable terms, and many of our ships and countrymen were already negotiating their business in England, while, as already shown, instead of relaxing their rigor over us, they were drawing our cords tighter and stronger; and this they even did for seven weeks after the ratification of the treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States. If Mr. B., our consul in London, had promptly obeyed the instructions of our government, he might have saved us the trouble of hanging and burning him in effigy, and Governor Shortland also the gratification of murdering us in such an unwarrantable manner, by furnishing ships, or satisfying us that he was doing what he could to release us from our dismal confinement.LELJB 84.2

    A court of inquiry was now instituted to investigate this matter-John Quincy Adams, late Secretary of the American Legation at Ghent, on the part of the United States, and one of the experienced admirals from Plymouth, on the part of Great Britain, with their retinue.LELJB 85.1

    A place was fitted for the court on the top of the walls over the narrow passage and place of demarkation between the prisoners and their keepers, so that the court could be addressed by the prisoners on the left, and by their keepers on the right, the walls being between us. The statement of Governor Shortland and his party, with respect to the attempt to make a hole in the wall, and the bursting open of the broken locked gates, to justify his attack upon us in the manner already described, seemed to have but little weight. It was settled with us at the time of the massacre, that his plan was preconcerted. The British admiral seemed intent on questioning the prisoners with regard to their allowance of food, and whether they had not had all that was allowed them, etc. The reply was, that our grievance was not then about our allowance of food, but the inhuman manner in which our countrymen had been massacred. Finally, in the settlement of this grievous question, the massacre at Dartmoor was disavowed by the British government, and compensation was made to the widows of the sufferers. (See “D. Haskel’s Leading Events of Universal History.”)LELJB 85.2

    Three weeks after the massacre, the long-looked-for news came, viz., that a cartel had arrived in Plymouth for a draft of prisoners. As I was among the first on the prisoner’s list at this time, I was called out and mustered with a draft of about two hundred and fifty. Many of this number, as we were mustered before Gov. S. and his armed soldiery, bore white flags on long poles, with mottoes like the following, in large black letters: “Massacre of American prisoners in Dartmoor prison, April 6th, 1815.” “The bloody 6th of April!” And others had flags with Shortland’s name as the murderer of American prisoners. Some of the prisoners openly declared that they would kill him if they could get near him. He seemed to be aware of these threats, and kept himself at a safe distance while we were being mustered in the upper yard near his and his officers’ dwellings, preparatory to our final departure. We also expected that he would command us to strike our flags while we remained under his immediate inspection, or his armed regiment of soldiers that guarded us from thence to Plymouth harbor (a distance of fifteen miles), but he did not, for they continued to wave them until we passed through Plymouth to our place of embarkation.LELJB 86.1

    We were liberated from the Dartmoor prison on the morning of the 27th of April, 1815, just five years to a day from the time I was impressed in Liverpool. I spent about two years and a half in actual service in the British navy, and two and a half as prisoner of war. The western gate of our dreary and bloody place of confinement was at length thrown open, and the soldiers were ordered to march out with the prisoners. As we ascended the hights of Dartmoor, we turned to look back on that dark and massy pile of stone buildings where we had suffered so many privations, and then forward to the western horizon, which could now for the first time since our confinement be seen stretching away in the distance toward our native country, where were our paternal homes and dear friends. Our mingled emotions of oppressive bondage on the one hand, and unbounded liberty on the other, were more easily felt than described. With an old pair of worn-out shoes, I stooped to relash them on my feet, and felt myself competent to perform what to us, in our weak state, was a tedious journey. But the joyful feelings of liberty, and the pleasing anticipation of soon greeting our dear friends, though an ocean of three thousand miles in width divided us, cheered us onward to the city of old Plymouth. The people stared at us, and no marvel, for I presume they had never seen so motley a company of men, with such singular flags flying, pass through their city before.LELJB 86.2

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