Dr. Nicholas Guyatt Lecture on Racial Segregation in Dartmoor Prison


– Thank you all for coming. It’s my pleasure to
introduce Nick Guyatt today. Nick obtained his PhD at Princeton and joined the history faculty at Cambridge University in 2014. He’s written about American
history and politics for The London Review of Books, The Nation, Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian and New York Review of Books. His book publications include Providence and the Invention
of the United States, which examines the emergence
of American religious nationalism from the
founding of Virginia in 1607, to the collapse of reconstruction. And Bind Us Apart, how
enlightened Americans, I didn’t know there were
enlightened Americans. (audience member laughs) Invented Racial Segregation, which explores the unsettling relationship between ideas of racial equality and programs for racial separation in the early American Republic. His talk today is based
on a book he’s currently working on, which is
forthcoming with Basic Books. So thank you, please join me in thanking Nick for joining us today. – Thank you so much for coming out. Koreen says I speak too fast. I think Koreen speaks too fast. So if you feel like I’m going too quickly, please just wave and I
will try and slow down. It’s such a pleasure to be here. I want to thank Georgetown
Qatar for inviting me. I want to thank all of
the people who have made my stay, just for a few
days, but such a lovely one. Including Haga who’s
been wonderful in terms of making the arrangements,
and all of the admin and support staff as well. My driver this morning was awesome, so, I’m very grateful to him. It’s really lovely to be here. I’ve given a version
of this talk in Britain and in the United States, and it struck me that
there are some aspects of the kind of background story here, which I might want to lean
on a bit more for you guys if you don’t necessarily
have all the kind of details of your early 19th century
American and European history kind of completely down. So I’m gonna try and do that a bit. I should also say that this is
about a book I’m working on, I’m sort of supposed to finish
it by the end of the year. Technically, I haven’t started it, so there are some issues. There are some issues there. But I’m starting to think
that this might be quite easy to write when I can figure it out. So again, I’d be really
interested if there are some things you can help me with. You have some questions
that touch on things I haven’t figured out, I’ve not
figured the whole thing out. Okay, let me get started. In the final weeks of 1814,
the 20th largest American city measured by population,
was actually in a cold and gloomy corner of Southwest England. 6000 Americans, mostly sailors, were incarcerated in Dartmoor Prison, desperately hoping that the
war of 1812 would soon be over. And again, history fact, the
war of 1812 is the last time that Britain and the
United States went to war with each other. They have never fought since. Guess I shouldn’t say in
our current crazy moment that they never will fight again. But in effect, the first 50
years of American history are all about fighting Britain. And in 1814, the end of that year, with the 6000 prisoners
in this prison in Britain, they must think that this hatred, this enmity between Britain
and the United States is gonna just carry on rolling. So they don’t know that there
isn’t gonna be another war between Britain and the United States. Now nearly all of these 6000 prisoners are still in this prison
in the spring of 1815, even though the treaty
which ends the war of 1812 has been ratified by the
US Senate in February. So March/April of 1815, these 6000 sailors are still in the prison. It had been a particularly
hard winter in the prison, but the British authorities
refused to release the Americans until
arrangements could be made to transport them back
to the United States. So they weren’t just
gonna open up the gates and say hey, American
sailors, come out to Britain. Instead, they had to wait in the prison as prisoners until these arrangements to try and repatriate
them could be arranged. And, well you guys will know this story. I mean, private contractors, you know, are trying to pay people
to come and do the job of picking these guys up in
big ships and taking them back. Lots and lots of murky things going on, which delay this process. So in April of 1815,
these sailors are almost all still there. Now, on the 6th April 1815,
a minor disagreement between the prison guards and the
prisoners spirals out of control. Essentially a ball from
the American sailors, the American prisoners sails
over one of the inner walls of the prison. So they were all playing
baseball in one of these bits. A ball sails over the wall
and the guards won’t give the ball back. The American sailors who are
feeling pretty desperate, looking for any excuse to go nuts, they start scratching away at
one of these internal walls. And they’re not made
of stone some of these, they’re made of a kind of
mud, so actually they’re able to get through the wall. And the next thing, the guards are saying oh, the Americans are trying to escape! And they’re not trying to escape. They just want their ball back. But the plan is, you
know, for the British, oh we have to try and make
sure that they understand they need to stay in this
prison, they’re the prisoners. So there’s a shot fired in the air, and there’s a shot
fired down on the ground and then there are more shots fired, and before you know what’s happened, there has been a massacre. Dozens of American
prisoners have been wounded, nine are dead. Seven died right there and
another two died of their wounds thereafter. On sailor from Massachusets,
went back from this kind of killing field in
the middle of the prison, and you can see here in the
image that this is actually the kind of moment of the
massacre taking place. Here are the British soldiers, and there you can see them
firing on the American prisoners. One sailor from Massachusets
went back to his cell and actually scribbled out in his journal, which we still have, “It is worse than the
massacre at Boston in 1770.” Now, he’s referring there again, if you know a little American history, to this famous, famous,
shooting that took place in the city of Boston, just
before the American Revolution, in which five American protestors, including an African-American,
which is gonna be important to our story, are killed by the British outside the Customs House,
which is where this protest has been going on. So the Boston massacre became
one of these kind of crucial stories, that led to
the American revolution. So, in 1815, this one
Massachusets sailor goes back to his journal and says this is worse than the Boston massacre. And also, this is gonna
be remembered, right? That we’re not gonna
forget what’s gone on. Well, there were some
obvious and immediate effects to what happened that day. These killings hastened
the British and American governments’ efforts to get these 6000 men out of the prison. So after all of this kind
of you know, waiting around, finally there’s an
expediting of the evacuation of Dartmoor Prison. The entire American
contingent are marched down to Plymouth, which is
the town on the coast, and they’re sent back in
transports to the United States by the end of July. So, the process is sped up, but still, it’s gonna take a few
more months to finish it. The prisoners who survived assumed that what they were calling
the Dartmoor Massacre would become as famous as
the Boston Massacre of 1770. That the treachery, the
cruelty of the British in 1815 would never be forgotten. Never forget British cruelty. But, although more Americans
were killed at Dartmoor in 1815, than had been
killed in Boston in 1770, the Dartmoor Massacre didn’t
get the same traction. Didn’t get the same
purchase as what happened in Boston in 1770. And in fact, the Dartmoor
Massacre fell away from American history altogether. It kind of disappeared so
much that even people that might have read about this,
like in graduate school, they would have read a chapter in a book. Talk to them 20 years later,
they can’t remember it. Like it doesn’t have any kind of standing in the way Americans
think about their history. Which I think is really interesting. And again, it kind of
makes you think about why we remember some
things, and not others. It’s a very simple point,
but this I think is an event that really forces you to think about what gets remembered. As the historian Eric
Hinderaker has recently argued in his very cool book, which I recommend, called Boston’s Massacre,
let me see if I can find it. Here we are, yeah. Boston’s Massacre. The memory of that massacre back in 1770 has its own complicated history. Rather than people deciding in 1770, God, we need to remember this forever, actually at different
moments in American history, the massacre kind of came back into focus. So different people kind of
tried to bring what happened in Boston back into the
kind of public memory. And as always with history,
they were usually doing this for particular political ends. So you know, there were
reasons that people wanted to get hold of this
jagged piece of the past, kind of do things with it. But the protest in 1770
slotted very easily into a story about American history, which you could just tell
very straightforwardly. The story is simple. American history in the late 18th century is about trying to get the
hell away from Britain, right? It’s about trying to escape from Britain. Here’s a massacre which
demonstrates that we need to be independent. It’s much trickier to create a narrative that helps you make sense
of what happened in 1815. As I said, the war of
1812 was the last war for between Britain and the United States. Those nine prisoners
of war who were killed in Dartmoor, were the last
Americans to be killed by British soldiers. At least the last one outside of you know, collateral damage or you
know those kinds of things that happen in wars you don’t intend. But of course, no one knew in 1815, that Britain and the United
States would never fight another war and in fact, the
American government in 1815 was really keen not to reopen the war. So you remember I said the war was over, they didn’t want this to be
an event that would actually cause the war to start again. So those killings in 1815
didn’t lend themselves to the same kind of propaganda
war that you could wage with the Boston massacre back in 1770. Now for a bunch of reasons,
which I’m gonna try and share with you today, I think
that this Dartmoor Massacre is actually worth remembering. And let me give you one very obvious one, which again, I just think is incredible and a reason we ought
to be thinking much more as historians about what went on there. I mentioned there were
6000 or so prisoners there at the end of 1814. There was a total of 6500 prisoners, who came into the prison
from the United States between 1813 and 1815. Well, nearly 1000 of them were black. So you had around 15% of the
prison population was black. Now these were mostly sailors of color who had either been
traveling on, or working on, American ships that got
caught by the British, or in some cases, they
were sailors of color who had actually been serving
in the British Royal Navy, usually not voluntarily. I mean like, nobody serves
voluntarily in the Royal Navy. (laughs) In the early 19th
century you know, you’d go out and get drunk in a pub, and
then someone hits you over the head, and then you get
dragged off to a ship, right. It’s called being press-ganged,
or being impressed. It’s a funny word. So actually that process
is what brings many sailors into the Royal Navy, but
also many black sailors. So you have these 1000 black sailors who are coded as American
and find themselves in the prison. Now, here’s the weird part. On the ships that they worked on, black and white sailors
mostly served side by side. Ships are kind of brutal places. They’re very top-down,
there’s the officers, the captain and so on. They give orders that are carried out, but amongst the ordinary sailors, white and black distinctions
are not prominent. You can make more money as
an ordinary black sailor than as a white sailor, if
you have special talents or experience. So it’s a kind of rare place
in the early 19th century where, we shouldn’t call
it workplace equality, but there is some kind of buffer against some of the effects of race,
on shore, on the mainland. Where you know, there’s all
kinds of discrimination. But what makes that system
work is you have these elite officers giving out orders. So you know, you’ve got your officers who are kind of brutalizing everyone. And the black and white
are kind of equally victim if they’re ordinary sailors. But what happens when
you get to the prison, is that the officers on board
the ships are all taken out. They actually aren’t in the prison. The captains, you know,
the kind of first officers, all those guys are taken
to a little village where they get to live
in a nice little house. So they’re still in
prison, but they’re like, living in you know, it’s
like an open prison. They don’t go into here. So in fact, what happens
is, you kind of decapitate the leadership on the ships, and then leave these ordinary
sailors in the prison, without their officers. And that’s crucial to our story. So it’s that kind of
divorcing of the control, the hierarchy, the coercion
of the maritime world. Once that goes, you have black
and white ordinary sailors left alone with each other. Okay, so one of the things we can do, with this Dartmoor story, is
see what happens when these racially mixed worlds at sea run aground. Like, what happens when
you kind of put those into a place you know,
where you don’t have that same discipline? What kind of community will they create without their officers? And one of the questions I’m
trying to answer in the book, and I’m not sure if I’ve
completely figured this out, but it’s whether or not we can think about this prison with black
and white sailors in it, as a kind of community
which looks anything like the cities and the towns
back in the United States. So again, just to give you some context, this is the decade, the 1810s,
in which in big American cities, places like New
York, and Philadelphia, and Baltimore, you have
around, somewhere between eight and 12% of those cities,
the population is black. So they’re free blacks,
they’re not slaves, in most of those northern cities. So actually they are living
alongside white people and social reformers,
anti-slavery campaigners, are all arguing, can
black and white people live together in freedom? You know, can we make
this work in the cities in the north? Well, my story is about
whether black and white people can live together in captivity. So it kind of tips that on its head. Is it related? Can we say that this
community looks something like those communities? Well, one very, very big
difference is that there are no women in Dartmoor. And again, I know this
sounds like, (laughs) you know the way that guys write books and don’t put women in? It’s like now I’ve found
a book subject that makes it really hard to get women in. But sometimes, the absence
of women is something you can talk about. And I think in this story,
the absence of women in a prison is really, really crucial. So again, we can maybe come back to think about why, later on. Okay, right, there are
loads of huge stories, fascinating things from
Dartmoor that I wanna share. But I’m just gonna try and do
three things quickly today. One of them is, I wanna say
something about how this story of Dartmoor might link to our thinking about how prisons work. So again, to use the kind
of fancy, fashionable term, we now talk, when we talk about prisons and incarceration, about
something called carceral culture. So you know, the kind of carceral state, there’s a huge literature on that now. How did we get to the modern prison? And how many of the roots
of the modern prison are in this moment? So that’s one thing I wanna flag, like, is there any connection
between this prison of war camp and prisons more generally? I also want to talk
briefly about segregation. Dartmoor ends up being the
first racially segregated prison in American history, despite
the fact it’s in Britain. But the story about how
black and white inmates come to be separated from
each other is much more complicated, and interesting
I think, than that sounds. And finally I just want
to say something briefly about how the story of Dartmoor intersects with stories of citizenship. Who were these white and black Americans? Did they see themselves as
kind of proud, triumphant, loyal citizens of the United States? Or particularly for the
communities of color, these black sailors, did
they actually see themselves in a different context? Did they have options? Did they have to be American or nothing? Or could they have other
forms of allegiance? Okay, well, I’m just very
briefly gonna take you through an idea of what the sources look like, and I’ll do this super-fast, but again, I think, I hope this is interesting. We have three different kinds of sources about what happened. One of them, which is really cool, is we have a bunch of published accounts of the massacre or the prison experience. So loads of sailors essentially went off and wrote up what happened to them. Most of these were published. There are a few of them which
you can find in historical societies archives so you
can find them in manuscript. There’s a whole bunch of these. So you can see a few of them here. The first wave of these come
out just after the massacre, but then actually there’s
another wave in the 1830s and 1840s, including one
version of this which was edited and embellished by the
novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne, you know, who’s a big
figure in American history and culture, obviously, but who did his own version
of what happened in Dartmoor, which I just think is fascinating. And this is his here, The Reminisces of a Dartmoor
Prisoner, which he writes up in the middle of the 1840s. Okay, so there’s that set of sources. There’s a manuscript one here. I found this just the other week. I absolutely love this. So here, talking about
arriving at the dreary, bleak and barren moor. So this is written by a
sailor in their journal. And I’d looked this up just
last week in an archive in Massachusets. “Not a shrub or a tree could be seen, “within three miles of its circumference. “The farmers term it, the devil’s land, “inhabited by ghosts and
sundry imaginary beings. “They do not dare pass by at night.” And then crucially,
rabbits cannot live there. So this is such a scary area, that you can’t have any rabbits. Okay, so that’s one set of sources. Another set is newspaper accounts. There were loads of write-ups
of this in the papers. And the third set of
sources is the archives, the papers, the kind of
machinery of the bureaucracy. So the Admiralty Board, which
was the part of the Royal Navy that ran prison,
tons of letters from there to the bloke who actually
was in charge of the prison, who was called the agent,
basically the prison governor. All of that stuff you can find in London, in the national archives. And I think the most
fascinating of these sources is the prison register. This is what it looked like at Dartmoor. You got these prisoner of
war registers everywhere, but there are these five giant books, and each one of them contains
about 1000 or 1200 names. So if you look up close,
we get a bit closer. Okay, do you see here? This category, black,
mulatto, black, black. It’s fascinating. When you got to the prison,
there’d be these two guys at a desk at the front, the
clerks, who would actually check you in and one of the
things they did at Dartmoor which they didn’t do at other prisons, is they would try and
come up with some version of your complexion, or your appearance. So in a way, these two guys, British guys, sitting there at the desk, are
kind of making race, right? If you’re from Colombia and
you’re skin is quite dark, black. Let’s say you’re from India
and you just happen to have got caught up in this,
so South Asia, right? You come in, black. Let’s say you’re from
Canton and you’re Chinese. Mulatto. So all of these people are
kind of brought into the prison from a bunch of different places, and they find these two
white guys at a desk, a bit like this one,
sitting there, making race. And the great thing, the amazing
thing about the register, is it’s all there. So all 6500 of these prisoners
have that column filled in. Now if you’re a white guy like me, it probably says something
like your complexion is fresh. You know, or your complexion is light. Doesn’t actually say white, right. But it does say black,
mulatto, a colored man, negro, so there are these different terms. So what I’ve done, because
I’m, as you can see, a gigantic nerd, is that I
have created my own electronic version of the prison database. It’s not something I recommend anyone do. But if you’ve got this,
you could do all kinds of really cool things with it, right? So one thing you can do with
it, is you can figure out where these black prisoners came from, because in addition to the race, you can also find out
here where they came from. So where they say they were born. How old they were. What their role was on the ship. Their appearance. Five foot four inches, mulatto, two scars on right hand. Whether or not they were in the Royal Navy or if they came in on a commercial ship. But then also here, a
huge amount of some very interesting material. So huge amounts of material here, which gives you a really
strong sense of the paper trail that might have been left
behind by these people. ‘Cause generally speaking,
people of color are leaving far fewer sources. They’re not writing up versions
of what happens in a prison. So all those prisoners accounts,
there isn’t a single one I’ve found by a prisoner of color. So as a historian, what can
you do to try and balance out the fact that all the
accounts are by white people? You can do this. And you can go looking for
letters from these people in other archives. Or you can go looking
for details in the census about what happens to them. So in a way, having this
big database has been a huge amount of fun for me, it’s
been tough to get it together. But now I have it, I think
it will enable me to tell stories of people who
otherwise can be quite hard for you to write about
confidently and authoritatively. So kind of putting together,
the white and the black stories within the prison. I think, I hope this is
gonna help me to answer that challenge. Okay, so I said I’d talk very
quickly about these three things and I will blow through
this as quickly as I can. The first thing I mentioned
was prison culture. If you guys know anything
about Michel Foucault, the French theorist of prisons, or Jeremy Bentham, the great
English prison reformer of the early 19th century,
if you look at this picture of a circular prison, you
might kind of have in the back of your mind, a bit of
recollection and think ah, that looks a bit like the panopticon, which is that great
idea of Jeremy Bentham, that every single cell would
be viewed and monitored from prison guards in the center. There’d be like a tower in the middle, and then there’d be a circular
prison and you could kind of see into all the prisoners’ cells. So you know, kind of thinking about incarceration as surveillance. Round prison must be the same. It’s not the same. This is actually very
different from that model. What you’ve got here is these
prison blocks at the top. Eventually, as you’ve seen
from one of the other slides they end up building walls between them. But when the guys come into the prison, they can effectively choose
which one of these prison blocks they live in. The prison blocks themselves
don’t have any doors inside. There are no rooms, there
are no individual cells. You have a hammock and you
have to sling your hammock somewhere, in this
giant kind of warehouse. So actually, what you don’t
have here is that same kind of individualized, that
same kind of compartmentalized prison set up, that you would
have or you’re gonna have, in prisons in Britain
and the United States. But here’s what’s interesting
I think about this moment. Actually, those kind of
famous prisons that begin to isolate human beings in single cells, and begin to become kind
of committed to the idea of people reforming
themselves through isolation and through work. That’s actually a little later. Not much later, but a little
later in American history. So, let me see if I can show you a picture of one of them. Yeah, okay, so this is
the State Penitentiary, the Eastern State
Penitentiary in Philadelphia. This is one of the first prisons
to have individual cells. The other one is the
state prison in New York, in Auburn, New York. Those two prisons emerge
early in the 1820s. Auburn’s built in 1819, but it
doesn’t get individual cells until later in the 1820s. Eastern State Penitentiary’s
built in 1829. So these visions of
where prisons are going, and you know, these look a
lot like some contemporary, like modern prisons. The same ideas, individualization,
keeping people locked away on their own, for
hours and hours every day. That’s a little later. In fact, in 1814 and 1815,
prisons in the United States look a lot more like Dartmoor prison. By which I mean, if you
get thrown into prison, you don’t have a cell, you
have like a general dormitory that you sleep in. Depending on how friendly
you are with the governor, you might be allowed to buy stuff. So you might actually be
allowed to buy and sell things, and bring things into the
prison, and then the governor would pocket the money that
he made from that, right. And he’d use that to pay his salary or his guard’s salaries. If you were a debtor, you’re
whole family would move into the prison. So you literally have entire families living inside the prison. This stuff does not happen when you begin to get this kind of prison. But this earlier moment,
so the 1810s, 1814, 1815, actually the Dartmoor model
is much closer to the way American prisons look. So one of the critical
questions I have to figure out is whether actually what we’re seeing here in just a few years after
Dartmoor, is a kind of divergence where prisoners of war,
prisoner of war camps and regular prisons are gonna
start looking very different. So in effect, you know, you move to 1850, a prisoner of war camp still
looks a bit like Dartmoor and a regular prison looks like this, and they’re very different. Is that the way this is going? So there’s about to be a divergence. Or are there still some ways
in which what takes place in this prison, in Dartmoor,
might have something to tell us about the
development of carceral culture? The way that we think about prisons as spaces for managing race, or deviants, or all kinds of other things. So that’s one question I
don’t think I’ve completely figured out yet. Okay, so that’s the kind
of prison culture question. Which I think is very
important and very interesting. But let me move onto the
issue of segregation, ’cause this is kind of what I work on, I have worked on in the past and I’m very interested in this. So in October of 1813, this
is five months after the first American sailors have arrived at Dartmoor, a group of white American
sailors, petitioned the Dartmoor governor, the agent of the
prison, the guy in charge, to be moved away from
their black compatriots. No reason was given for this at the time, or at least none that was recorded. Although one of the
prisoners who left a memoir immediately after the
massacre, a guy called Charles Andrews from Rhode Island,
he insisted that the reason for the segregation was
that black prisoners had been stealing from white prisoners. So he said, it was so
tough for us in the prison, the black sailors were stealing our stuff, so please can we be moved somewhere else? That was what he said. Now historians have tended
either to believe that directly, so to believe the
black sailors were stealing from white sailors, or to
say that this just proves that the white prisoners
were kind of white supremacists, right? That in effect, they needed
to be and wanted to be away from black people,
because of their racism. And I think the real story’s
a tiny bit more complicated. First, because, maybe this
is the primary reason, actually it wasn’t just
Americans in this prison block in the fall of 1813. Also in this prison block with
them were French prisoners. And the French prisoners
had been in Dartmoor Prison since it had been opened in 1808. So these were prisoners of
war from Britain’s other war with Napoleon, which had
been going on for like 20 years, right? So those prisoners who
were in this prison block, they weren’t just French. I mean, French would be bad. Oh, it was much worse. They were actually a
group of French prisoners who had lost their minds. By lost their minds, I
mean that they had decided because of their despair
of being stuck in a prison for years and years on
end, that they would adopt a new moral code. No clothes. No food, so when they got their
ration, they would sell it, and they would eat a kind of broth. And actions which were deemed unspeakable, which may have related
to sexual practices. And the Americans in the
prison were like whoa! These French, they’ve lost their minds! One incident that was
particularly appalling, which I probably can speak about, is when two horses came into
the prison yard one day, the French prisoners all ran at the horses and tried to eat them alive! I mean, so these French prisoners, who were called the Romans,
and they’re called the Romans ’cause they were in the
very top of the building, which is called the
capital of the building. So they were up there,
they were known as Romans. These white American prisoners
may, and I want to say, I’ve not found conclusive proof of this, but a lot of strong supporting evidence, they may have been what
the white American sailors were trying to get away from. Which is fascinating, right? So it’s like the white Americans sailors, hey if we tell the prison
governor we want to move away from the French, he’ll never let us. Why don’t we say we want to
move away from the black people? That’ll work. And it does work. And actually what happens
is, the African Americans and the other black sailors
are left with the French, which is horrifying. And sure enough, the French
do actually get moved out completely, just a little
bit after this moment. They get moved down to prison hulks, so they get put on these giant ships, which this prison at Dartmoor
was built to be more humane than these prison hulks that
previously had contained prisoners, but actually the
Brits decide these French are so terrible, just put
them back in the hulks. That’s really the best for everyone. So there’s this crucial,
crucial story of the French. But there’s one other
thing I want to say about the segregation angle, which again I think is so interesting. Here’s what happens in the prison. You remember I said that they,
the sailors have lost their kind of officer club, so the
people that gave them orders on the ships are gone. Well guess what happens in the prison? They govern themselves. And they govern themselves
by forming associations and communities and electing leaders, and effectively, they
regulate their prison block. Now again, let me let that
sit with you for a second. So this is not like a prison
guard or a prison governor coming in and telling
the prisoners what to do. The prisoners are invited to
govern and police themselves. So in addition to these
white American sailors wanting to get away from the French, I think the other thing that
they want to get away from is sharing political
power with black people. And again, I wanna just kind
of put into your minds here that when we think about
how racism operates, or when we think about the
challenges of co-existing across the color line,
living alongside black people is one thing. Sharing food with black
people, that’s one thing. Even sleeping in the same
place as black people, I mean, all of these things
white sailors have done on the ships. What they haven’t been
asked to do on the ships is share power with black people, to create a politics amongst themselves, in which there is a
genuine racial equality. And I think it’s that challenge, which they’ve never experienced before, they don’t experience
that back in the towns and the cities in the US. That’s not the way things work. Black people aren’t voting. But here, 15% black, big number,
lots and lots of potential political power. I believe it’s that challenge
which these white American sailors end up not being
able to go through with. So again, of course it’s racism. Of course it’s white supremacy. But it’s a particular kind of racism and white supremacy, which in a way, points towards the bigger challenge for the United States. Which its still trying to work out. Which is, how do we run a
politics that’s genuinely equal and inclusive? So it seems invidious to say that we ought to kind of have like a sort of hierarchy or a spectrum of racisms. But we kind of need one. We kind of need to think
about how racism operates in these different registers. And I think the sharing of political power is the real challenge for these guys. Okay, all right. Let me move onto the final
thing that I wanted to mention. Which is this question of
how all of this relates to citizenship. What do I mean by that? Well, there’s one set of arguments, one set of, kind of,
historiographical debates, which surrounds this
question of whether sailors were a particularly important group for understanding the development
of citizenship in the US. Let me back up. There isn’t actually
any federal citizenship in the US until 1868. By which I mean, the federal
government doesn’t make you a citizen because
you’re born in the US, until the 14th Amendment passes in 1868. You get your citizenship
of the United States before then, because of your
citizenship of a particular state, but hey, different
states treat citizenship in very different ways. So actually, a really interesting question in the early United States is, are black people citizens of the US? Well, yes and no. Partly it depends the context
in which you’re invoking this. It also depends where they’re from. You may be a citizen or deemed
a citizen in Massachusets, and it may be impossible for
you to become a black citizen in South Carolina. Now again, the federal
government, the kind of national government of the United States, really ought to be the arbiter here. But it can’t arbitrate, because of course, it’s divided by the slavery question. So it doesn’t arbitrate, it abdicates. So that’s the kind of citizenship context. On these ships though,
you remember I started by talking about press-gang? About the ways in which
the British effectively were taking black and white
sailors from American ships and saying, right now you’re
serving in the Royal Navy. This gave the federal government,
the national government a motive for trying to
find a way to guarantee or proclaim citizenship for sailors. So actually because sailors were out there in the Atlantic, where their
citizenship could be attacked by the British, British
attacked white people, black people, they take anyone, right? So in fact, the citizenship regime, which is introduced by
the federal government, is applied to sailors. An act is passed in the 1790s, that gives sailors the right
to obtain a certificate, a piece of paper, saying
this person is a citizen of the United States. And I was just down in Maryland
in the national archives and it’s incredible. So you know, there’s a
certificate saying, you know, this certifies that John
Smith, a colored man, is a citizen of the United States. It’s crazy, it’s incredible. So in effect, this kind of maritime space, because the British are
such a threat to American citizenship, black or white, becomes a place the
federal government feels it has to kind of defend
American citizens, regardless of their race. So there’s been some really
good stuff written about this. This book by a guy called
Nathan Perl-Rosenthal is really terrific. He says, in effect that
sailors become kind of brokers of national belonging. They become the people that
force the American government to think, hey, we need to sort
this citizenship thing out. We need to try and guarantee it. We can’t just let our battles
over slavery inside the US force us to abdicate from this. We need to guarantee citizenship. And also, one thing he does in this book, is he talks about American
citizens effectively proving that you can choose your nation. This is an interesting
subject to talk about in this part of the world maybe, but this idea that your nationality is something that you
might be able to choose. So let’s say an American sailor
had been born in Britain, but it wants to be an American, the American ideology says, sure. Naturalize. Become an American citizen. The British are like, no
you were born in Britain. You are forever a subject of the king. So the other thing he does in this book which is really interesting, is he kind of mashes up
these two different ideas about what it means to be a citizen. Okay, so there’s that literature saying hey, sailors are really important because they are in the middle
of these debates about how to create and protect US citizenship. And hey, what’s really
interesting is black sailors as well as white sailors
can get these government certificates saying they are American. But then there’s another literature, another historiography
which has a different view. Represented by Ira Berlin,
sadly passed away earlier this year and Jane Landers. And these guys argue that actually, if you’re a sailor of color in the Atlantic world in
the late 18th and early 19th century, although you
have many disadvantages, one of the ways in
which you live your life is to blend and merge
and kind of like move between worlds and nations. So maybe you go to Cuba,
and you become Cuban. Maybe you’re five years as
Cuban and then you decide you’re gonna go off and become Haitian. You know, maybe you’re
done with being Haitian and you’re gonna go and serve in the American Merchant Marine. This idea of a kind of mobility, and this idea that people
of color in these sea spaces move between different nations. So in a way, they find a power
from not being a permanent citizen, but being able
to play different nations off each other and to take
different kinds of allegiance, when they need it and where they find it. So Landers and Berlin call these people Atlantic Creoles. So in effect, their vision
of these 1000 or so black sailors in Dartmoor
would look very different from this other vision
of Nathan Perl-Rosenthal, you know, that would see being a sailor as kind of a cradle of
your American identity. Landers and Berlin would be like, no. Actually it’s constraining
to think that these 1000 sailors of color were
all African Americans waiting to be US citizens. Actually, I mean, I know this
from looking at the records, at least 100, maybe 150 are
not from the United States. They’re from all kinds of other places. But they are put in the
black prison in Dartmoor, and are treated like Americans. Are they actually going
back to the United States? That’s a massive challenge for me to try and figure that out. How do you trace all these
thousand black sailors who were released? And if you can find them,
does that help you to resolve this question of whether
in effect they’re all, why do they want to be Americans? They want American citizenship. This is gonna be a kind of crucial moment for them to establish their American-ness. Or do they blend into other places? Go to to other nations? Claim other allegiances once they get out of this horrible prison. And I think that’s such a key question. And also one that resonates with us today, in terms of the way that
we structure our politics around claims to national belonging, but also thinking about
people moving between different national belongings, different national allegiances
and different worlds. So it’s kind of tempting
to say that we should think about Dartmoor as the place
where African Americans stake their claim to US citizenship. Is that completely accurate? Does that hold for all African Americans? Maybe not. Okay, let me sum up or try and conclude just by sort of taking that
question of thinking about African Americans and what this
whole thing means for them. Taking it ahead of times. I’ve been talking a bit
about the Boston Massacre and also about the Dartmoor Massacre. One of the people that kind
of invents the Boston Massacre as a historical event in the 19th century is an African American abolitionist, a writer, an activist,
called William Cooper Nell. He lived in Boston, in
the sort of second quarter of the 19th century, that
was his kind of big moment. And he played a central role
in the 1840s and the 1850s in trying to recover the
story of the Boston Massacre. And he did so by foregrounding
an African American called Crispus Attucks, who
was the first person to die in the protests in Boston. Now we don’t really know
much about Crispus Attucks, and neither did Nell. One thing we do know about
him is he wasn’t just African American. He was also part Native American. But that part of the story, Nell took out. Nell invented or embellished
what we knew about him. Turned up the kind of bravery dial to 11, you know making Attucks
seem like he was the guy who got the whole thing started. And he sold this to the American public as an indication that black
people had always been there whenever there was a fight with Britain. Whenever there was a struggle
to defend the nation. Black people were always there. He tried to do the same
thing with Dartmoor. He went off and tried to look for a figure that would do the same kind of thing. He ended up copying out in
his book, Colored Patriots, the colored patriots of
the American revolution, which contains a big
section on the war of 1812. He ended up copying out a
passage about black people at Dartmoor, which had
been written in 1816, by a racist white author
who’d never been to Dartmoor. And who actually told
stories about black people in the prison that
discussed their strength and their bravery in governing themselves. Not in helping the white
Americans to try and escape, or celebrate the 4th of July. So Nell went off, I
think he didn’t realize that this source was
written by this person who was a big white racist. This guy actually was the
guy who went down to the, the guy who wrote the story
in 1816, is the guy who went down to Thomas Jefferson’s house in 1801 and inoculated Jefferson’s slaves. So he was from Massachusets of course. But he had this connection
to the slave world, which again Nell didn’t know about. So Nell, in trying to search
for a way to make the Dartmoor Massacre work for African
Americans in a way that the Boston Massacre did,
he ended up reproducing a big paragraph of stuff
about how black people are super authoritarian, you know, they govern with a big stick,
you know in this prison of theirs, they’re doing
all kinds of things, you know, to each other in
terms of like trying to maintain a strong man’s rule. All of those stories he told. And unsurprisingly, that
didn’t give either Dartmoor or the kind of African
American citizenship struggle the same traction that the
story of Crispus Attucks, this brave black man at the
Boston Massacre in 1770, that that story offered. So in a way I think,
one of the challenges, and this is where I’ll leave things, one of the challenges I’m facing, is whether to try and
structure the story I’m telling as a story of a kind of
triumph and claim to American nationality on the part of black people. Is that what this is about? These 1000 brave black sailors, demonstrating their allegiance
to the United States. Or is that to hijack them
and all of their wonderful kind of stories, and all their
kind of options, in effect and put that in a straight jacket? A straight jacket of US history. Not thinking about the
wider worlds of the Atlantic and beyond, in which some
of these black people may have actually lived
their lives after Dartmoor. So figuring out a way not
to dismiss the significance of this for the black
freedom struggle in the US. But to make sure it’s not just about that, is one of the many challenges I have in trying to write this book. I’ll stop there, thank
you very much everyone. – [Woman] Sorry, I was just
curious, like you talked about going, so I’m gonna ask
you about the process really like, of like tracing these
men was from the sailors, ’cause as they’re coming,
like the ships that they’re coming back on presumably,
they traveled over a period of months on different ships
and going back to different places, like how on Earth
do you begin to even kind of like find their
stuff and their memoirs? – Yeah, I mean it’s hard. Thank you for the question. It’s hard. One thing about maritime history, sort of writing about the sea, oh my God, the nerds who are drawn
to maritime history, it is the geekiest, nerdiest place. By which I mean, not just now as well, like in the 19th century,
like a 19th century nerd loved maritime history. So the ships are a really
good way of doing it. Like if I know that one of these African, okay, this is a trick of the trade. Just keep this between
us everyone, and YouTube. So if you wanna write a
really dramatic passage about an African American,
you can actually find out about one of these ships,
and all the battles it had, and you know from the
register they were there. So just tell the story,
’cause you’ve got someone who’s told it later in the century, you’ve got another
narrative for what happened to that ship. That part is fairly easy. The really hard part is
finding the kind of black voices if you like, but there
is one really cool source I found recently, which
I’ll tell you briefly about. Which as I mentioned, I
was down in the national archives in Maryland. If you were an impressed
sailor, so let’s say in 1806, you were just sailing out of Philadelphia and on the seas a Royal
Navy ship stops your ship and just took you off and then
put you into the Royal Navy. Here’s what you would hope. You would really hope that
your wife or your daughter or your sister would write
to the State Department in Washington and be
like, hey Henry the sailor has just been kidnapped
and this is terrible and could you help us? So down in the national
archives in Maryland, I mean, talk about emotional labor, there are 900 letters
written to or written from family members and the State Department about these individual Americans. And again, in terms of my own nerdery with that big register,
what I could do is just go through the 6500 names
and figure out which ones were at Dartmoor. So most of those, in fact all of them, would have been before Dartmoor. So these impressment experiences
would have taken place before they wound up in Dartmoor. But I went off and I found
probably no more than a dozen. But a dozen letters, either
from black people that wound up in Dartmoor, or from their families. And again, there are a number
of ways in which gender and women come into the story. But I cannot tell you how
kind of affecting it is, to see the mechanics
of what these women did to try to get their husbands out. ‘Cause before the war
started, if you, so in 1812, if you could convince
the State Department, and by the State Department
I mean, actually like the Secretary of State,
like James Madison, is signing all these. So there are black people
writing to James Madison, saying help my husband. If you can convince him
that the person that you’re married to or the person who’s your Father is really American,
he’s gonna sort it out. He’s gonna write to the British and get that person released. So those stories are really affecting. And when you get the
guys, the guys are like, I’ve written to you 11 times. Why haven’t you written back to me? (laughs) And of course, the letters
haven’t gotten through. But, do you not love me, my wife? You know, I’ve written to you 25 times, I’m still stuck in this God-awful
ship, please help me out. So there’s a wonderful paper trail there. I have about 50 Dartmoor prisoners, and about 12 of them are black. So that’s one place. But I need more, yeah. – [Woman] Thank you. – Thank you. – [Woman] My question is that
they’ve been in the prison for so long, so how credible
are their references? – Yeah, that’s an excellent question. I mean, I guess one thing
you can do is see how many of the accounts line up. But there are also ways in
which, you remember I said there were the accounts that
were published straight away, then there’re also accounts
and diaries and journals which are never published,
or were published in like some obscure historical society
journal 100 years later. I find those much more reliable, ’cause the stuff that people
actually wrote down during the prison, I don’t know,
it just kind of feels like there’s something immediate about that. But here’s the funny thing
about some of the stuff that’s written in the 30s and the 40s, and particularly the stuff that’s written by Benjamin, uh, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. So you guys probably know
a tiny bit about the genre of Jim Crow, minstrelsy,
so this kind of like way in which in, especially in
the 1830s and the 1840s, black people become
caricatured kind of mocked, and to some extent
dehumanized by white people wearing black face paint, and exaggerating their version
of what African Americans look like. And that term, Jim Crow,
which we later use in the 19th and 20th century to refer
to segregation in the south, it actually begins as a
character, one of these white guys who invents minstrel shows. His character is called Jim Crow. So in effect, it’s a way of mocking African American culture, and undermining, both black equality and the idea of black
belonging in the United States. Here’s the funny thing. Those stories which are
written in the 30s and the 40s about Dartmoor, they have
a kind of different view of African Americans in the prison, than the journals and
diaries that are written in 1815 or 1816. What’s been upped, what’s been increased, like amped up in these later accounts, is the idea that black people were just great at entertainment. Always amazing. If you went to the black prison, they’d be putting on Othello, you know. They’d be having boxing matches. There’d be dancing lessons. I think some of that
stuff is true, actually. But the way it’s written about
suggests that the two things you can get from African Americans are entertainment and violence. Or authoritarianism. Again, talk about our
contemporary moment right? I mean, this is one of the ways in which black culture has still been represented into the 21st century, right? It’s entertainment, or it’s
sport, or it’s violence. You can see the roots of
that in this Jim Crow moment, in the 30s and the 40s. And even in these accounts
that are just 30 years apart, you can begin to see it
kind of working its way into what happened at Dartmoor. So I would, to answer the
question very shortly, I mean I would say the
contemporary accounts, we’ve got lots of them from 1815/1816, you can kind of cross-reference
them against each other. But if you’ve got the register,
you can also figure out whether they’re just making people up. Whether they’re lying, right? Which is really helpful. – [Woman] I’m fascinated
with these French people. – Oh yep. There’s a surprise. – [Woman] No but like, first of all, have you looked at any (mumbles). – Yeah. – [Woman] And secondly,
do you think that maybe, ’cause I’ve seen this
in other groups right, so like the collective insanity. Could it have been
(mumbles) with something? – Oh right. – [Woman] Like letters, something. – Yeah. – [Woman] That was (mumbles) making them this really (mumbles). – Always looking for an excuse
to whitewash the French. Yeah, that’s a really good question. I don’t know, that’s
something I need to look into. There is one French prisoner
called Louis Cartell who publishes a memoir
about the French experience in Dartmoor in the 1840s. So he’s our kind of principle source. It hasn’t been translated into English, but you know, some of this
stuff is quite florid. You don’t need great French
to realize what’s going on. I’m guessing there probably
are troves and troves of letters, in the
French national archives. I’ve not gone looking for them,
partly because this project is already kind of big enough. But I think one thing I do have to do, and I appreciate you bringing this up, ’cause this has reminded me to do it, when I went off and looked
at the prison records, I kind of started with the
records when the Americans arrived in 1813. So what I think I ought
to do is go back to 1808, when the prison opens
and see how, if you like, you know, you’ve got these
two things that are similar, how did British people
write about French people? And how did they write about Americans? If I can do the whole thing,
that’s much more manageable than heading off to the archive in France and looking for a ton of material that would be quite hard to find. But yeah, the Romans
were so kind of obviously caricaturable, like
they were so obviously, they were like larger than life, that you instantly wonder, right? Did they really try and
eat two horse alive? Did they mostly succeed? I mean like stuff like that. – [Woman] Well it would
be interesting to go back yeah, to the Napoleonic wars
and see the ways that we can potentially get more characterizing. – Yep. Yep. – [Woman] That they weren’t all white. – Yeah, there were black French prisoners in another British prison in 1798. So actually people who were prisoners from the various wars in Guadalupe, that were brought to
another prison on the coast. There were very few black
French prisoners in Dartmoor and I haven’t found any evidence of black in the kind of race column, if you like. But who knows if they
just started to use that when they began getting lots
of black faces coming in, when the Americans
arrived, I’m just not sure. – [Woman] And then the (mumbles). – Yeah. – [Woman] Does that shape (mumbles). – Oh my God, yeah. So I haven’t talked about this guy, everyone who writes about this, I mean not saying that you’re
gonna go to a lot more talks here about the Dartmoor Massacre, but let’s say you did. Everyone who talks or writes
about this is obsessed with this one character in
the so-called black prison, who’s name was King Dick. That’s his name. And his real name was Richard Crafus, he was a sailor from Maryland. He winds up in Massachusets after the war and becomes a boxing coach. Anyway, listen, I mentioned
to you that I’m very nervous of these kind of orientalizing,
racialized visions of black people as kings of entertainment, kings of strongman violence. That was him, right. So when the white prisoners
wrote about the black prison, they could go into it,
and in fact white people are in the black prison all the time. Like in, a sense it is the kind
of social hub of the prison. So the segregation regime
doesn’t actually stop white people and black people from mixing, it just stops them from
sharing political power. But when white sailors
wrote about politics in the black prison, they said oh yeah, strongman King Dick, he
keeps order with his club and his two attendants. So all of the white prisons, they’re all governed by
these committees, you know, like democracies basically, right? But the black prison,
oh no, that’s King Dick and his club. There’s a whole bunch of reasons to be suspicious about this. Partly because the
tradition of electing a king is something that was
actually happening in black communities in New England. This actually is a kind of
politics that white people in the prison didn’t recognize
as authentically black, nor authoritarian, but
something that black people had always been doing,
alongside white elections from which they’d been excluded. But then there’s also
the fact that King Dick doesn’t arrive in the prison
until October of 1814. There’d been black people
in the prison for more than a year before his arrival. So what, he suddenly arrived
and everything changed? So yeah, one of the real
challenges is telling all these awesome stories
about racial interaction within a prison, but taking
off this filter of racism that sees black people as
entertainers and autocrats. (audience member asks question) Yeah, yeah, yeah. (audience member asks question) Yeah, yeah, so in the prison,
this is the weird thing about prisons, war
prisons, POW facilities. Like, if you guys end up in
prison, let’s not go there. Like if I ended up in prison in Britain, then there would be an
assumption that whatever I’d done wrong, the prison
would try to reform me, right? So in effect, our, I know this
is crazy and that’s not what prisons do and I don’t know,
prisons are bad in lots of ways but that’s the assumption
behind the prison. That rather than it just being
a place you put bad people, it’s a place where the state attempts to reform bad people. Now again, you don’t have to be Foucault to question whether that’s
actually how prisons work, but that crucial
principle that the guards, the governor, the staff, have
an interest in changing you, makes regular prisons really different from a place like Dartmoor. So at Dartmoor, the prison
governor, the agent, had no interest in
reforming these prisoners. Because they weren’t
there because they’d done anything wrong, right? They were there because they
just happened to be on ships that Britain happened to be at war with. So actually the whole
purpose of building Dartmoor, is let’s have this big humane facility, really large, on a beautiful moor, okay, it’s absolutely freezing,
but that, you know, it’s beautiful, healthful,
it won’t be a prison ship, and we’ll just leave them there, and we’ll try and treat
them as best we can. We’ll let them govern themselves. There’s a market every day in the prison, so between nine and 12 every morning, people come in from the local community and sell the prisoners things. Crazily, the prisoners
who’d been impressed on Royal Navy ships, they
actually got paid in the prison by the Royal Navy. So when those ships ended up dividing up all the ships they’d captured, some of the plunder from the Navy ships would just come to the
sailors in Dartmoor. There’s a ton of money swilling
around the prison, right. Now the guards back off,
so the crucial distinction between Dartmoor and a regular prison is those guards are not acting
like the ship’s officers, when you’re talking about the ships these sailors have come from. So they’re not acting every
moment, to discipline, to oversee, to shape, to
regulate, that doesn’t happen. The prisoners have a lot
of freedom themselves, to do that, and that’s where
I think the wheels come off, the whole racial equality thing, right? Like you can show some forms of respect, have some forms of
equality with black people if you’re a white sailor with
like a tyrannical sea captain. But when you’re actually
asked to share your politics, to live in the same place and
try to govern it together, that’s where things really get, get tough. So the prison is different, I think.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *