The Age of George III

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The Anglo-American War of 1812

The causes of the war were twofold:

  1. The Blockade War

American shipping suffered severely from restrictions on neutral commerce imposed by both Britain and France and the American government protested to both. However, since Britain commanded the sea, particularly after the defeat of the French fleet at Trafalgar in 1805, her interference was much more serious. In 1811 Napoleon cunningly offered to withdraw his restrictions if Britain would do the same: this seemed to put Britain in the wrong.

  1. Impressment of sailors

The British Navy, always short of crews, stopped American merchant ships and took off likely-looking men, without much enquiry as to their nationality.

These grievances led, after some years, to war.

The war was fought on a small scale and on the whole Britain had the worst of it because her attention was concentrated mainly on the great struggle on the Continent. There were isolated frigate actions on the high seas and miniature navies built on the Great Lakes. There were also cross-border raids by both sides: the cities of Washington, New Orleans and Toronto were attacked during the war.

When Napoleon was defeated in 1814, there was nothing left to fight about: all commercial restrictions had stopped since 1813, and the British Navy was discharging sailors instead of "pressing" them. The Treaty of Ghent did not even mention these matters. It said that the Canadian frontier was to be left unfortified and the Lakes were to be "neutralised." Although it was not a full peace treaty, it proved to be a permanent settlement.

Graham Sclater's book Hatred is the Key (Tabitha Books 14 Feb 2010) is an historical novel set in the notorious Dartmoor Prison and covers the war between America and England (often referred to as the second war of independence).
Whilst “Hatred is the key” is a work of fiction it is based on fact and follows a number of American prisoners-of-war captured after a vicious sea battle off the east coast of America and about their time spent in Dartmoor depot. The war ended in December 1814 but they remained incarcerated during what was the harshest winter for more than a century with little food and the knowledge that they should have been freed. The diabolical conditions, overcrowding, disease, near starvation and boiling anger caused the prisoners to riot and, on the fateful day of 6th April 1815, following the anonymous instruction to fire on the prisoners, a massacre took place. Soon after the massacre the prison was closed for many years until it reopened as the infamous high security Dartmoor prison.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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