OLD PLYMOUTH . UK
www.oldplymouth.uk
 

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: May 13, 2020
Webpage updated: May 13, 2020

        

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AMERICAN PRISONERS OF WAR IN OLD PLYMOUTH

An interesting enquiry from Samantha Tucker from Brixton, Plymouth, about an ancestor of hers who was American but married at Stoke Damerel Parish Church inspired the inclusion of this page in the former Plymouth Data Website.

In 1812 Britain and America were at war.  The naval aspect of this was a series of duels between individual ships.  In 1813 the British HMS Pelican and the USN Argus, under Captain William Henry Allen, fought an action in the English Channel.   The Captain was seriously wounded and a midshipman by the name of Richard Delphey was killed but both men were brought ashore at Plymouth.  Captain Allen needed to have his leg amputated at the thigh but the operation killed him.  Both men were buried in the old churchyard of the Ancient Parish Church of Saint Andrew the Apostle and a memorial stone was erected near the Church.

The plaque at the Door of Unity, behind St Andrew's Church

The plaque to the memory of Captain
Allen and Midshipman Delphey by the
Door of Unity at the Prysten House.

Many Americans were taken prisoner in this War and they were at first placed in hulks (old wooden warships) and congested buildings in the Town.   In the Spring of 1813 they were all marched overland to the recently erected prison in the wilds of Dartmoor, at Princetown, where they joined prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars.  Conditions were very bad  On December 31st 1814 there were apparently 3,348 American prisoners there. There were riots and a lot of damage was done.  Many prisoners were killed by troops who were ordered to open fire on them while many others were wounded. 

The Americans were slowly released from the prison but apparently the repatriation arrangements went from bad to worse and it therefore seems likely that many of the men stayed in Britain, possibly in the Plymouth area. This may explain why Samantha Tucker's ancestor got married in Stoke Damerel Parish Church, as work in the Royal Dockyard was probably quite easy to come by.

There were, it seems, several accounts published of the American prisoners' time in Devon.  A Captain Charles Andrews privately published "The Prisoner's Memoirs" in New York some 40 years later; an unnamed American surgeon wrote "The Journal of a Young Man of Massachusetts" and another anonymous writer penned "The Greenhorn", all about their time at Dartmoor Prison.

Over a century later, the American Society of the Daughters of 1812 had the plaque removed from Saint Andrew's Churchyard and placed by the Prysten House.  A short dedication service performed by the Bishop of Exeter was held on May 30th 1930 at what is now known as "The Door of Unity".

The unveiling of the Door of Unity on 30 May 1930

The dedication service performed by the Bishop
of Exeter at the site of the "Door of Unity"
on May 30th 1930.

Dartmoor Prison stills exists and is still probably the loneliest prison in Britain, even though the small village that serves it has grown a lot since those days.