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

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

Nicholas Guyatt. Basic, $32 (432p) ISBN 978-1-5416-4566-0

Guyatt (Bind Us Apart), an American history professor at the University of Cambridge, chronicles in this colorful account the little-known story of more than 6,000 American POWs held at Dartmoor Prison in southwest England during the War of 1812. Explaining that “virtually all” of the prisoners were sailors whose private vessels had been outfitted with guns and ordered to harass British merchant ships, Guyatt notes that British impressment of American sailors was a primary cause of the war, and draws on prison diaries and letters to explain how Dartmoor became “the first racially segregated prison in American history” when white prisoners asked to be housed in separate quarters from their Black compatriots. Guyatt also delves into the story of Black sailor Richard Crafus, known as “King Dick,” who became a leader of the Black section of the prison, which white inmates visited for gambling, theatrical plays, and even Sunday sermons, and documents how mounting tensions over delays in releasing the Americans after the war’s end and an attempted escape led to the massacre of nine prisoners and the wounding of many others in April 1815. Expertly weaving digressions on the history of incarceration and the racial dynamics of America’s shipping industry into the narrative, Guyatt delivers an engrossing look at an intriguing historical footnote. (Apr.)