The Illinois 1812 is a Proud Sponsor of the Dartmoor Prison "American Cemetery Restoration" ProjectIt is now two years since the small group of U.S. Navy men got involved in the “restoration project” of the American Cemetery at Dartmoor Prison, Devon, England. Many things have happened since Doug Harris, the Chief Petty Officer got this underway. You recall in our earlier piece on the webpage we pointed out that the prison, or
government, had for many years, let the cemetery fall into neglect and disrepair-- and it badly needed help. Very few people even knew there was an “American Cemetery” at the prison. The actual work of “restoration” was long and arduous due to the distances the men had to drive to the prison from their naval base, and the weather was not always cooperative on the moors. The work days had to be scheduled on the men’s “days off” from work at the base. Then came the famous “quarantine” because of the animal diseases which meant no work at the cemetery for about five months. It appeared from the beginning as though the project would take forever to finish.
One of the original ideas pertaining to the “restoration” in addition to cleaning up the paths and monuments already there, was to erect a “new monument” with the names of those Americans who died at the prison during the War of 1812. There had never been a monument of any kind in 187 years since the War--- recognizing by name those Americans who died at this prison. The problem with this “new monument” was the expense involved for the stone and engraving. But there was even a more formidable problem-- we did not have a “correct” list of the names of the men who died at Dartmoor. Through the years, attempts were made to collect such a list, but, as time wore on, it became more and more evident that no one really had “THE” correct list. The “Daughters” of the War of 1812 had the closest thing to the correct list, but it was out of date. There are many scholars working on the War of 1812, but few have gone after the individual names. It is a monumental task! I decided we had to come up with “the” list!
At the beginning of this “restoration project” Doug Harris pleaded for help over the internet, especially to bring in money to help pay for the restoration. I was the only one who volunteered to help him raise the money. I offered to serve as the “Fund Raiser,” but-- as time wore on, and the project was getting bogged down, it was apparent to me that it needed direction and coordination. I offered to serve as both fund raiser and project coordinator. My offer was gladly accepted by the Navy men!
There were three things which came into focus to be accomplished: (1) finish the “restoration” of the cemetery, (2) start making plans and designs for the “new monument,” (3) get the official list of names of the Americans who died at the prison. It was apparent that the latter two could be done during the “quarantine” when no work could be done at the cemetery. I asked the Navy men to visit and consult stone companies, and I would go to work on the list of names. Prison officer, Mike Chamberlain, my valuable “contact” person at the prison, suggested I contact the American historian and author, Ira Dye, for help. After a letter explaining about the “restoration” project to him-- Ira Dye supplied me with his list of American deaths. We already had Ron Joy’s list on our webpage. (Ron had advised us it was not totally correct and needed further research, additions and corrections) It was my task to make a data base with Ira’s list, and Ron’s new list for the monument and the internet. Ron was able to check all discrepancies of these two lists with the English historical records and confirm as accurately as possible this new list. Both men want to see the new monument with the names, and, they also want to see the new correct list on the internet for everyone to be able to use. Both reasons are “firsts” in history---and especially at Dartmoor Prison.
Since Ron Joy was the former prison historian at Dartmoor, and has access to the English records, he has served as our final proof reader. In case of doubt as to spellings, we used Ron’s spellings, clarifications, and interpretations for a prisoner. Both historians have agreed the number of deaths accounted for has changed from 217 to 271. This list of Americans who died at Dartmoor Prison 1813-1815 will appear on the “new
monument” at the American Cemetery when completed.
Nothing was done in Cornwall by the Navy men on contacting stone companies, working on designs, and costs-- so-- (to keep the monument project alive) Ron Joy, who had offered to help me with this monument, and I, decided upon a design with four panels with metal letters of the American names to be placed on a granite block-- a type of monument which was practical for the Dartmoor weather, and, one we could afford--- all of this with the approval of the Prison Governor. We were moving right along with an end in sight for this “restoration” project and the erection of the monument in May, 2002--- until some outside forces interfered and choreographed a “coup” of which I knew nothing in advance. It was very obvious-- the “restoration” became political!
The project as it originally started out with eight navy men doing the work, was totally changed-- the prison, which hadn’t shown interest in doing any of the work on the cemetery for years, was now all of a sudden going to finish the restoration of the monuments, paths and upkeep of the cemetery. Everything was now in the hands of this new “joint committee” of the American Air Force, Navy, and the prison Governor. It was decided the “new monument” was under their control---Ron’s and my plans for the monument were scuttled (without telling us) even though we had started work on the panels of names. I was told by the Navy restoration “leader” at the time (via telephone) that the Military and prison were going to pay for the expenses of the monument and the remainder of the “restoration.” That was great news! I felt my role as “fund raiser” and “coordinator” had abruptly ended so I stopped my efforts to raise more money. The Navy boys were very upset with my decision. I wondered “do they know something they are not telling me about?”
At the time the “powers that be” made this great decision, I had collected $1,964 for the cost of the monument and restoration. Later, I was told that there would be NO cash grants or gifts from the Military, and, they would have “fund raisers” to get the money. That could take ages, and I was determined to have this monument-- for the Americans who died there. I collected more money and sent it to the account. Total--- $5,594 in the restoration account-- all from individual private sources.
After working on this for two years, I am no longer involved in this project. It became very apparent with the “coup” on April 17th that they no longer needed my services-- either as the fund raiser, or as the coordinator. I rapidly became an outsider. I guess I could say I saved the project until the new crowd could take over. It was not all in vain! I feel very strongly that I did many things in this project to honor the memory of the Americans who died at this prison, and, to get many of the things done which the Navy men originally wanted to do on the project.
We compiled the new “official” and correct list of the Americans who died at the prison during the period of 1813-1815. And, once securing that list, we were able to concentrate on a monument with the names of the Americans. I not only kept my word to Petty Officer Harris that I would help him raise money -- but I managed to get two prominent historians in possession of the names of the Americans to share them with us so we could compile the new and correct (as of March, 2002) list of names for the monument, but, even more importantly, to be able to put them on the Internet for scholarly use--forever---a real accomplishment for the academic community and those interested in genealogy.
Two gentlemen deserve special thanks and credit for helping on this project-- Mike Chamberlain, who is a Dartmoor Prison officer and very interested in the War of 1812, was tremendously helpful in this “restoration project” who served as my “contact” person with the prison and the Navy men--- and, Ron Joy, former prison officer and prison historian, who supplied me with the original and the final list of the Americans who died at Dartmoor Prison, 1813-1815. I am positive the project would not have been successful without the help of these two men!
We owe a special “thanks” to Chief Petty Officer, Doug Harris, who started this project!
CREDITS TO THOSE WHO HELPED ON THE PROJECT:
Donations were sent to an account set up by Doug Harris at the Navy base in England and has continued as such to this day.
** It is very important to mention that the prison workers, under the leadership of Governor Johnson, have completed the work started by the U.S. Navy Men and Governor Lawrence. The little cemetery is very attractive and very impressive. When the “new monument” with the names is erected--- all of us who have been involved in this project (the Americans and the English) can feel mighty proud.
View Progress at HMP Dartmoor P.O.W. Cemetery
The Columbia Encyclopedia: Sixth Edition. 2000.
A Privateersman's Letters Home from Dartmoor Prison
(This page originally developed by DEG)