Learn about the War of 1812 and Dartmoor Prison songs

NEW SCOTLAND — Folklorist Paul Mercer will use music and words to tell the little known tale of the War of 1812 prisoners of war in England’s notorious Dartmoor Prison.

He’ll speak on Tuesday, May 6, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. for the New Scotland Historical Association, at the Wyman Osterhout Community Center, off of Route 85, in New Salem.  The program is free and open to the public.  For more information, please call 765-4212.

England and the United States signed the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, ending the War of 1812.  The 6,000 American prisoners of war held in Dartmoor Prison were not freed until well into 1815.

Thomas Mott of New York was a 17-year-old seaman serving aboard the privateer Yorktown in July of 1813, when he was captured off the coast of Newfoundland.  He was temporarily held at Melville Island Prison near Halifax, Nova Scotia, and then transported to England’s Dartmoor Prison where he spent the rest of the war.

Mott began writing songs in a small leather-bound notebook while at Melville.  His satirical songs railed against prison conditions, cheered American sea victories, and simply recorded the lives of his fellow sufferers, reflecting the experience of POWs at Dartmoor and bringing a fresh perspective to the War of 1812. 

Mercer has a master’s degree in folklore from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, and also has a master’s degree in information science from the University at Albany.   He worked for over 30 years at the New York State Library and has published books and papers on New York State history, folklore, and popular culture.  He was formerly chairman and on the board of directors of the New York Folklore Society.

Editor’s note: Ethie Moak is a member of the New Scotland Historical Association.

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