Dartmoor



The word "Dartmoor" means little to the ear of the American of this

generation, for it is the name of a town on the bleak open stretches

back from the sea in Devonshire. But during our war with England, and

for a long time afterward, the word "Dartmoor" brought up much the same

kind of recollections that "Andersonville" or "Libby" does to-day. It

was the prison where England kept in confinement those unfortunates

that the fate of war had thrown upon her hands. It was a safe

seclusion, indeed, and for the better explanation of the story that is

to be told here, it might be well worth the while to tell in a few

words what manner of place it was. Surrounding an enclosure, circular

in shape, and containing about eight acres, was a high stone wall,

where the sentries patrolled their beats, where they could look down

into the courtyards of the gloomy prison buildings some twenty feet

below them. The enclosure was divided into three partitions, by walls

that crossed the main space diagonally, and through which there were

grated gateways leading from one department to the other. The

buildings, seven in number, radiated from a common point like wheel

spokes. They were built of brick, with small iron-barred windows, and

in the entrance archway, leading from one yard to another (each

building had a separate yard), there were always stationed after sunset

two armed sentries with primed muskets. While the occupants of any one

building had access to all parts of it and to the others during the

daytime, it was difficult, indeed, to make a journey, or pay a visit,

after nightfall.



Here were confined six thousand prisoners, and here were suffered

hardships without number. There would be scarcely space to tell of the

prison life, but some there were there who had been immured so long

that they had almost forgotten that they had lived anywhere else. They

had become so resigned to the lot of a prisoner of war, that they had

begun to doubt if they should ever see their own beautiful country

again. From the upper windows of the prisons, the view above the walls

was nothing but a stretch of bleak, rolling country, treeless and

barren--the Dartmoor heaths. The inmates had formed a government among

themselves; as was done in most military prisons, many worked at their

trades, as well as they could; they had markets in which they sold

their wares; they had theatrical companies, which served to keep up

their spirits, and lighten the dreary hours; but there was one thought

in the hearts of all: the day when they should receive their liberty.

Many were never to see that day.



There was a young sailor confined in the prison building known as No.

5. His strong constitution and his youth had kept him in a fair state

of health for one who had been so long in close confinement, for he had

been captured in a privateer in the first year of the war. Many times

had he thought of his far-away home on the hills above the old town of

Salem. He was popular with his fellow-prisoners, and had been a leader

among them in their sports and pastimes. George Abbott was his name. He

was but six and twenty years of age, and yet he had followed the sea

for over twelve. When he had been captured there had been taken with

him a young lad of but eighteen, who had run away from a comfortable

home and a loving family, to enlist on board the privateer, but he was

not of the tough fibre of which the sailor should be made, and since

his arrival in prison he had been gradually succumbing to the effects

of his long imprisonment. Between Abbott and this young man there had

grown up a deep affection. The sailor had shielded the landsman from

much of the rough treatment of the forecastle while on board ship, and

now that they were prisoners together, they had been constant

companions; but it was plain to see that the younger of the two would

not last long enough to see the dawn of liberty unless it came quickly.

He had grown so weak that by the middle of February, 1815, it was

expected by all that every day he would be taken from the prison

buildings and sent to the Depot Hospital, from which, alas, few ever

returned. But Abbott nursed him carefully, and watched over him with

all the care of an elder brother, trying to be always cheerful.



March came, and with it the gloomy mists that rose from all around

settled down on the gloomy heaths, shrouding the prison buildings in

impenetrable clouds. It was hard to keep either dry or warm. Those

fortunates who owned little stoves would huddle around their handful of

fire, but the prisons being unheated and unprovided with chimneys, the

stoves were very small, their little pipes being led out of the

windows.



Lying in a hammock that had been swung low, so that its occupant almost

lay upon the floor, was the young landsman. He stretched out his hand

toward the roughly made brazier of sheet iron, and so thin were they

that they looked more like claws than the fingers of a human being.



"Lord help us and deliver us," he murmured.



"Hallo, Harvey," cried a voice, breaking in upon his prayer. "I didn't

expect to be so long. We've waited a long time, but here it is, my lad,

and now let's begin. Shall I pitch in first? I ain't much of a reader."



He held aloft in his hand a copy of a smudgy, dog-eared book, smirched

and torn by constant handling.



"We've been waiting our turn on this for three weeks, now. Sam Jordan,

he promised to get it for me though, and so he did."



"What's the name?" inquired the pinched-faced lad in the hammock.



"It's R-a-s-s-e-l-a-s," was the response. "I dunno how to pronounce it,

but they say as how it's good reading. Say the word, and I'll fire

away."



He flung himself down on the floor and opened the pages. It was

storming hard outside, and the rain beat against the roof and poured

from the gutters down on the stone courtyard. There was just enough

light to see the print, if one was not afraid of ruining one's eyes,

and Abbott began:--



"'Ye who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy and

pursue'----" He had read as far as the first half-page, when suddenly

the sick man put out his hand and touched him on the shoulder.



"Listen," he said hoarsely, "what's that going on below?"



Some one on the floor beneath had given a loud staccato whoop. It was

followed by another, and then by an increasing murmur of voices. The

sailor had risen to his knees and dropped the book.



"Some skylarking or tomfoolery," he said; "or perhaps it's the Rough

Alleys," he added.



The "Rough Alleys" was the name given to the gangs of hard customers

and those of the lower order of prisoners who had been compelled by

their more circumspecting and better behaved companions to mess by

themselves, and to generally toe the mark, as much as possible.

Occasionally, however, they would break out in some sort of raid or

riot that would require suppressing, and it was to this habit of theirs

that Abbott referred. But this time he was mistaken.



"Listen to that!" he cried, all at once springing to an erect position.

A roaring, rousing cheer came up from below, and then from the other

buildings they heard it echoed.



The invalid arose from his hammock.



"Stay here," cried Abbott; "I'll fetch the news to you."



He hastened to the head of the stone stairway. A breathless man dressed

in fantastic rags met him half-way up.



"What's the row, Simeon?" asked Abbott, in excitement.



"Heard the news, messmate?" the man cried in answer. "Heard the news?

There's peace between America and England!"



There came a strange sound from the head of the stairs. The young

prisoner had heard the words, and Abbott was just in time to catch him

in his arms as he plunged forward senseless.



* * * * *



What had these men expected? These prisoners who had danced and sung

and gone wild with delight and joy at the message that had been brought

to them that bleak March day? Why, liberty at once. They were going to

return to their homes. It was freedom! And did they get it? Listen!

There is more to tell. Here begins the story:--



Of course it was not to be supposed that the British government should

at once set these prisoners free, as one might set free birds from a

cage by opening the door and allowing them to fly. It was a grave

question what was to be done with them, and there is no use denying the

fact that the United States, or at least its representative in England,

was in a great measure responsible for what subsequently occurred. Ten

days went by, and there was nothing done. In that space of time the

men's spirits sank to zero. Had their country deserted them? Had their

fellow-citizens forgotten them? It was past believing that such things

could be. And it was just at this time that there was most complaint,

arising from the quality of the bread and the insufficiency of the food

supplied by the prison authorities. The Governor of the Depot, as it

was called by the English, was a Captain Shortland, a man so well hated

and despised by those under him that if murderous looks had the power

to kill, he would long ago have been under the sod. Many of the

prisoners, as they had caught glimpses of him, had longed to sink their

fingers into his throat, and now they hated him worse than ever before.

In the beginning of the second week information was sent the rounds of

the prison, that the delay was occasioned by the difficulty that the

representative of the United States government found in obtaining

cartels, or vessels, to bring the released ones back to their own

again. But the delay was bitter.



The poor sick boy had rallied a little during the first days after the

arrival of the news of peace. Probably he supposed that he would be

released at once, but as the days dragged on, and there were no signs

of any change in their condition, he sank again into the unfortunate

path of the men who slowly died because they had no hope.



From a condition of joyousness, the majority of the prisoners had

relapsed into sullen anger--anger at their own country, and an

increased hatred for the red coats who guarded them. Among so many

prisoners of all classes there were, of course, men of all kinds and

character: there were the ignorant and degraded, and those who could

well lay claim to education and enlightenment. Harvey Rich, who was now

so weak that he could scarcely totter from his hammock to the head of

the stairway, had been prepared to enter Harvard College, when he had

caught the fever of adventure and had run away to sea. At the request

of the inmates of Prison No. 5, he had drawn up a letter addressed to

Mr. B.---- (the American agent), requesting him to make all haste; and,

at least, if he could do no more, to secure to them an additional

supply of provisions, or make a monthly allowance of some kind to save

the men from actual starvation. Anxiously was an answer awaited, but

none came.



One day late in the month, when, for a wonder, the sun was shining

brightly, there was a strange group gathered near one of the open

windows on the top floor of Prison No. 5. Propped up by blankets, so as

to get as much of the sunshine that came in at the grated window as

possible, was Harvey Rich. Beside him sat the young seaman, and

squatted on the floor near by was a remarkable-looking human being. His

face was black, his dark hair was shorn close to his head, and a

bandage made of a torn bandanna handkerchief was pushed up on his

forehead. At first glance, one would have taken him for a negro,

although his features showed no trace of African descent. The torn

shirt that he wore was unloosed and open at the bosom. The skin which

showed through from underneath was fair and white. Every now and then

he would give a nervous start and look back over his shoulder.



"They almost had you last night, Simeon," said Abbott to the half-black

man.



"Yes," returned the other; "I thought my jig was up, for sure; but,

confound it! now that there is peace, I don't see why they wish to

hound me any more. 'Tis that brute,--Shortland. He's angry at his lack

of success as a man-catcher. I'd like to get my hands upon him,--only

once, just once,--that's all."



Abbott happened to look out of the window at this instant.



"Egad!" said he, "your friends are out again."



From the grated bars, a view of the neighboring courtyard could be

obtained. There was a sight that, when seen, used to make the

prisoners' blood boil hotly. Three men, heavily manacled, were walking

with weak steps to and fro along the narrow space enclosed between the

high brick walls. The clanking of their chains could be heard as they

moved. But as if this were not enough, beside them walked three

sentries, with bayonets fixed. For half an hour each day, they made

this sorrowful parade. It was their only glimpse of the sky and the

sunlight, their one breath of fresh air during the twenty-four; and, as

soon as it was over, they were hustled back to their place of

confinement,--a dungeon known as the Cachet,--where no light could

penetrate, and the only air that reached them was through the shaft of

a disused chimney. No wonder that their eyes blinked and the tears

rolled down their cheeks when they emerged into God's bright sunlight.

No wonder that their haggard, pale faces grew each day more deathlike.

These men were being killed by inches. For what crime? It will be

shown. The man whom Abbott had addressed as "Simeon" had crawled to the

window and was peeping cautiously out. A wild curse broke from him, as

he viewed the sight.



"Look at poor Whitten," he said; "take note of him; he's not for long.

He used to tell me that he knew that he was going mad. He's that

already. See the poor devil jabbering."



He gave a shudder. It was only six weeks since he had walked to and fro

in that same courtyard. There was a grated gateway at one end. It came

within a few feet of the archway at the top. A silent crowd of

prisoners were gathered there, closely watching the unfortunates. Well

did they all remember the day when there were four of them; that day

when, just as the prisoners turned, in following the footsteps of the

sentries, one of them had left his companions, and, making a great leap

of it, had clambered up the iron gate, and, manacled as he was, had

thrown himself down among them.



Immediately they had carried him into one of the prison houses, where

they had filed and removed his shackles, and had since hidden and

protected him at great cost and sacrifice. Many of their privileges had

been withdrawn because they would not give up this man; they had been

routed out at night by files of soldiers; they had been counted and

mustered, over and over again, and yet, among the many thousand who

knew where Simeon Hays was hiding, there was not one so base as to

betray him, not one to point the directing finger. All honor to them.

Many were the disguises that Simeon had been forced to assume. He had

been a mulatto mess-cook, speaking with the French accent of Louisiana;

he had appeared as a black-faced yawping Sambo, who had cracked

guffawing jokes on the heads of the searchers; he had passed a day and

a night in a coffin-like space between the floor-beams, when they had

him cornered, and yet they had not caught him.



And for what crime were these men treated thus? For a crime that was

never proved against them. They had been taken by a British frigate

from a recaptured prize, and shortly afterward the vessel had been

found to be on fire. These men had been accused of attempting to blow

up the ship and her company, and when they were sent to Dartmoor they

were under sentence to close confinement. Here was Shortland's

opportunity. His cruel and vindictive spirit rejoiced in carrying out

the order, and it chagrined him deeply that one should have made his

escape, and every day he attempted to locate his hiding-place and

return him to the prison--to the torture of the dreaded Cachet.



Soon the half-hour's breathing space had expired, and the manacled ones

had been withdrawn from sight. The prisoners flocked to their buildings

for their midday meal. Hays, who had descended to the courtyard, had

made all haste to return to No. 5, where he was then supposed to be

hiding, although, owing to his bold disposition, he oftentimes made the

range of the lot; and as he passed by the open space on this day,

although he did not know it, a turnkey recognized him, and soon those

in No. 5 Prison were alarmed by the cry "The guard is coming! Lie low,

lie low!" But they found that the entrances were held by a squad of

armed soldiers, and that this time Hays appeared certain to be

apprehended. But search here or there, the soldiers could not find him.

Many times had they stepped over his hiding-place in the floor.



Captain Shortland, who had been afraid to enter the building to

personally conduct the search, remained outside with a strong guard.

The disappointed officer reported at last that he was unsuccessful.



"Why don't you drive them from the building, then?" Shortland

thundered.



"They are sailors, sir, and will not be driven by soldiers, they say.

They seem to treat the whole affair as a great joke, laughing and

scampering ahead of my men, and paying no attention to my orders."



"Run them through then," Shortland returned. "A little cold steel will

teach a serviceable lesson!"



At this minute one of the turnkeys approached.



"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, saluting; "if you let me turn the

men out in the usual manner, I think they will leave quietly, but you

must withdraw the soldiers."



Reluctantly, Shortland gave the order, and the red coats filed out,

drawing up in line, behind which he carefully placed himself. The

turnkey entered the building alone. He had been an old boatswain in the

service, and drawing a silver whistle from his pocket he piped all

hands. Then in a stentorian voice he ordered the prisoners into the

yard. They all obeyed, crowding out to the number of one thousand or

more, and they filed past the soldiers in a compact body. One of the

last to leave the building was Harvey Rich. He tottered down, alone,

and joined the crowd, that stood packed in a sullen body, crowded

within a few paces of the handful of soldiers, who stood with their

muskets cocked and ready. Soon the officer returned from his fruitless

search.



"The man cannot be found, sir," he said.



Shortland swore viciously.



"Turn them back in the building, then," he roared, "and keep them there

without water. That will fetch them to their senses.--Back through that

doorway, all of you," pointing with the heavy stick which he always

carried, for he was a gouty man.



But the prisoners had heard his threat, and not one of them moved a

step. There was a large trough of clear water in the yard, to which

they had free access. The weather was warm and clear. Suddenly one of

them stepped forward. All eyes turned upon him. It was George Abbott.



"We will not return there, under those conditions," he said loudly. "We

will stay here, and die, first, every man Jack of us."



A movement began among the prisoners. They crowded in closer in the

narrow space, and a murmur as of a subdued cheer arose among them.

Shortland was furious.



"Seize that man," he cried; "seize him! He shall go without bread and

water both."



No one moved.



"You cowards," he muttered. "I'll do it myself, then; make way here!"



He crowded through the file of soldiers and approached the sailor, who

was standing there calmly, with folded arms. But before he had taken

three short steps, something most unexpected happened. Harvey Rich, who

was standing but a few feet away, stooped swiftly and picking up a

loosened bit of the stonework of the courtyard, he hurled it full at

Shortland's head. It would have killed him had it struck him, but it

only grazed his cheek. Shortland halted and retreated hurriedly.



"Fire on them," he cried. "Take aim and fire."



Thirty or forty muskets were brought to the shoulder. But the young

officer in command of the detachment kept his senses. Calmly he walked

out to the front. He knocked up the muzzles with his unsheathed sword.



"Steady," he said. "As you were."



Shortland flung an oath at him, and turning to the red coats he

screeched at the top of his voice:--



"Fire, you rascals, fire!"



Again the officer sprang forward and threw up the points of the muskets

again.



"As you were; steady, men."



That cool authoritative tone saved a frightful scene; for had the

volley been delivered at such close range, there is no telling how much

slaughter had followed. But mark this: there would have been enough men

left to strew the dismembered bodies of the red coats about the yard

with no other weapons but their naked hands!



Shortland, stamping and fuming in anger, turned upon his heel, and

hastened out through the gate. Immediately, the Lieutenant called his

men to a shoulder arms, and marched them after him, he himself

remaining until the last of the squad had passed under the archway.

Then he drew a thankful breath. One or two of the sailors nearest the

entrance saluted him. Gravely he touched his heavy bearskin hat. There

was not a cheer or a sound of the usual merriment that might have

accompanied the discomfiture of the "lobster backs." Every one had been

too much impressed with the seriousness of the matter in hand. Yet,

there was no one to chide Rich for his impetuous action. Silently they

all returned to the prison, and once more Simeon Hays emerged from his

hiding-place.



This night news was brought to the prisoners that the United States

government was going to allow them the sum of seven shillings sixpence

per head in addition to their rations given them by the Crown; also the

news was circulated that the first cartel would start the following

week, and the detachment of those going in her would be read at the

morning's muster. The names were to be taken in alphabetical order.

Again there followed great rejoicing in all of the prison buildings.

Men whose names began with the first letters of the alphabet were in

high spirits. They were congratulated and made much of; while the poor

chaps who were to tail off the list were correspondingly depressed. A

rather important occurrence took place on this night, also. Simeon

Hays, who, as a special treat and in honor of the occasion, had washed

the smut from his face, had been recognized and taken. Poor fellow,

before his friends could interfere, he had been hurried off to the

confinement of the Cachet. Before this news had circulated through the

building, Rich and Abbott had held a long conversation. The former was

objecting strenuously and earnestly to a proposition that the young

sailor had made.



"I cannot think of such a thing," he remonstrated. "It would not be

right----"



Abbott interrupted him, "What is the use, mess-mate, of talking about

right, in such a case?" He lowered his voice, "Do you think I could go

out and look any man square up and down if I left ye here? You've got

to do it."



Rich shook his head weakly, "I can't think of doing such a thing," he

murmured.



"We'll stow all further conversation," was the reply, and with that he

got up and left Rich alone.



The next morning, in each prison, a number of names were read off until

two hundred had been called. Abbott's was the first read in Prison No.

5. The lucky ones were told to get their dunnage ready and report at

the prison entrance at half past ten. At the hour named, all were

there.



"George Abbott," called out the officer in charge of the guard-room.



"Here," answered a weak voice, and to the surprise of those who knew

him, Harvey Rich stepped forward. A moment later, and he had passed

forth into the free air outside.



Abbott answered to his friend's name at the roll-call, and thereafter

passed by the name of Rich. They would come to his name on the list

some day, he reasoned, and he knew well enough that another week or so

of prison life would have finished his young friend for good and all.



On the 3d of April, owing to the prison authorities trying to change

the fare from soft bread to hardtack, there was a small riot among the

prisoners, which, however, resulted in their obtaining their object by

breaking down the barriers and raiding the bread-room. This did not

increase Shortland's good humor, nor did the taunts levelled at the

soldiery tend to improve the feeling existing between them and the

triumphant sailors. On the sixth of the month, it was fine, clear

weather, and the prisoners were put in good spirits by the news that

Hays and his companions, the word of whose condition had reached higher

ears than Shortland's, had been liberated and had left the prison. From

all the various yards there was shouting and singing. The morning's

"Liberty Party," as the sailors called the lucky ones who were to start

for America, had been seen off, with rousing cheers. Those left behind

were trying to amuse themselves by games and horseplay. A score or more

were playing ball against the cross-wall dividing the barrack yard of

the soldiers from that of No. 7. In some way, the ball, thrown by a

careless hand, sailed across the barrier and fell almost at the feet of

a sentry on the opposite side.



"Hi, there, Johnny Bull! heave it back to us," requested one of the

men, through the iron grating. The sentry paid no attention, and soon

there was a clamoring crowd surrounding the opening, beseeching the

imperturbable red coat in all sorts of terms to "Be a good fellow, and

toss back the ball."



"Just heave it over, Johnny," called one. "Don't you think you're

strong enough?"



The sentry whirled angrily. "Come and get it, if you want it," he said.



"Can we?" shouted a half-dozen voices.



"I won't touch it," the sentry responded. With that, he resumed his

beat, cursing the ball players for "a lot of troublesome Yankee

blackguards."



Half laughing, the sailors had loosened one of the stones close against

the wall, and by luck found that the ground was soft and yielding. The

mortar, too, they were able to remove easily, and with such objects as

they could pick up to help them, they fell to burrowing like rabbits.

The sentry, who did not know what was going on, or how his words had

been taken up, was surprised when suddenly he saw a man's head and

shoulders appear at the base of the wall on his side.



"The prisoners are digging out!" he roared, firing his musket.



At once, the soldiers on the walls began firing, forming into squads

and keeping up a constant shooting as long as any prisoners were in

sight. Those in the central yard, known as the Market, not knowing the

reason for the fusilade, and wondering why the alarm bell was ringing,

did not retreat into their buildings; and the first thing they knew,

Shortland himself appeared, entering the big gate at the head of a

company of soldiers with fixed bayonets. They advanced at a

double-quick step, the prisoners were so crowded together that they

could not escape. Some, not seeing why they should be charged in this

fashion, stood their ground. Shortland had lost all control of himself.



"Halt! Aim!" And before the astounded victims knew what was going to

happen, he had given the word to fire.



A crashing volley sounded. When the smoke cleared away, wounded and

dying men filled the yard. The rest, panic-stricken, had retreated into

the buildings. Seven were killed and fifty-six were wounded! Poor

Abbott, who had been trying to urge his comrades to hasten, was among

the first to fall, shot through the lungs. As no one told of his

exchange of names, he was buried under the name he had assumed, Harvey

Rich. And what of the real owner of that name? Alas, he, poor fellow,

also, did not live to see his home in the New Hampshire hills, for he

died at sea not long after the cartel in which he was returning had set

sail. He was sent overboard in the sailor's canvas shroud, and the name

"George Abbott" was stricken from the list of liberated ones. Few knew

the truth, and, perhaps, few there were who cared.





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