H M Prison Dartmoor: Obelisk in the American Prisoner of War Cemetery


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
H M Prison Dartmoor, Yelverton, Devon, PL20 6RR


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Statutory Address:
H M Prison Dartmoor, Yelverton, Devon, PL20 6RR

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

West Devon (District Authority)
Dartmoor Forest
National Park:
National Grid Reference:


Memorial erected 1866-8, commemorating the American soldiers who died at Dartmoor Prison, where they were held as prisoners of war during the Anglo-American War of 1812-1815.

Reasons for Designation

The Obelisk at the American Prisoner of War Cemetery, H M Prison Dartmoor, erected in 1866-8 by prisoners of Dartmoor Prison (by then a civic prison), is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Artistic interest: despite its modest design, it is of good quality reflecting its function as a commemorative structure, and having been hand-carved by prisoners of Dartmoor Prison, adds further to its interest and poignancy; * Historic interest: it is an important and rare example of a monument commemorating the American prisoners of war who lost their lives in captivity during the Anglo-American War of 1812-5, the last military conflict between the United States and Great Britain; * Group value: it forms the main focal point for the cemetery and has important group value with the commemorative gate added in 1928, with the adjacent French Prisoner of War Cemetery, laid out together as a matching pair, and with Dartmoor Prison.


During the Napoleonic Wars of 1809-1816 and the Anglo-American War of 1812-1815, around 1200 French and 271 American soldiers died at Dartmoor Prison where they were held as prisoners of war. They were buried unmarked in a field immediately west of the prison outside the prison walls. In the early 1860s, in response to reports that during ploughing of the field human remains regularly came to the surface, Captain Stopford, Governor of Dartmoor Prison, decided to create two burial grounds outside the prison walls, one for the French and one for American prisoners of war. The human remains were exhumed, divided into two parts and then reburied. The two burial grounds were enclosed by a stone wall and the convicts of Dartmoor Prison (by then a civic prison) made a commemorative obelisk for each cemetery.

In 1928 the National Society United States Daughters of 1812, founded in 1892, added a Dartmoor granite memorial gate to the American cemetery, and later cast iron gates were added, presented by members of the US Navy. In 2002, on the instruction of the Governor Graham Johnson, the obelisks to both cemeteries were restored, and a cast iron entrance gate was added to the south side, including seats and a flagpole. In 2012 two further marble memorials were erected behind the obelisk, inscribed with the names of the 271 American prisoners of war who are known to have died at Dartmoor Prison.

The American Prisoner of War Cemetery at Dartmoor Prison continues to be regularly used for commemorative ceremonies.


Memorial erected 1886-8 commemorating the American soldiers who died at Dartmoor Prison where they were held as prisoners of war during the Anglo-American War of 1812-1815.

MATERIALS: Dartmoor granite.

DESCRIPTION: a memorial in the shape of an obelisk set on a circular base with central steps leading up to the memorial, standing on a slightly raised bed laid with gravel. Formerly, as shown on a photograph of the memorial of c1900, the obelisk stood on a stone rubble base forming a rockery planted with ferns.

The front of the memorial is carved with the words: 'IN - MEMORY- OF THE - AMERICAN - PRISONERS - OF WAR - WHO DIED - BETWEEN THE - YEARS - 1809 & 1814 - AND LIE - BURIED HERE - DULCE ET - DECORUM EST - PRO PATRIA - MORI'

Underneath is the bronze star and anchor emblem of the US Daughters of 1812, added in 1987.

This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 23 November 2017.


Books and journals
James, Trevor, Prisoners of War at Dartmoor: American and French Soldiers and Sailors in an English Prison during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812, (2013)
Joy, Ron, Dartmoor Prison, a complete illustrated history (2 volumes), (2002), Vol 1, p 43 and Vol 2, pp 99-100
Stanbrook, E, Dartmoor's War Prison & Church 1805-1817, (2002)
War Memorials Online, accessed 23 November 2017 from https://www.warmemorialsonline.org.uk/memorial/253815
War Memorials Register, accessed 14 March 2017 from http://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/2879
Historic England Archive Report HMP Dartmoor - Building File No. 92318
Photograph of the obelisk in the American POW Cemetery at Dartmoor Prison, c1900, held at the Dartmoor Prison Museum


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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