The Hated Cage: An American Tragedy in Britain’s Most Terrifying Prison

Basic: Perseus. Apr. 2022. 432p. ISBN 9781541645660. $32. HIST
Guyatt (North American history, Univ. of Cambridge; Bind Us Apart) has written an engrossing account of a little-known incident from the War of 1812 in which over 6,000 Americans were held as prisoners of war in England. American sailors previously impressed into the Royal Navy found themselves locked away in the fearsome Dartmoor Prison alongside privateers caught in the act of attacking British ships. Rather than presenting a united front against their common enemy, the Americans were divided by issues of loyalty, national identity, and race. Although high-ranking white officers requested the separation of Black sailors, Guyatt draws upon the contemporary journals of prisoners to show how the segregated block became the vital center of the prison’s economy, culture, and acts of resistance. With great sympathy, Guyatt depicts the daily deprivations and mounting tensions inside the prison as the sailors’ imprisonment stretched beyond the end of the war, thanks to an ineffectual consul in London and a government that turned a blind eye to their suffering. The inevitable result, Guyatt argues, was an explosion of violence that cost nine American POWs their lives.
VERDICT A powerful depiction of race relations, international politics, and governmental neglect in the early years of the American republic.
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