[Poem Written by an American Prisoner of the British at Melville Island During the War of 1812]. William Jr Payne.
[Poem Written by an American Prisoner of the British at Melville Island During the War of 1812].
[Poem Written by an American Prisoner of the British at Melville Island During the War of 1812].

[Poem Written by an American Prisoner of the British at Melville Island During the War of 1812].

[Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia, ca 1815]. Folio journal, pre-printed and accomplished in manuscript.

An original, apparently unpublished poem on prison life during the war of 1812.

Melville Prison, on an island in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia, was used to house prisoners captured by the British in the War. This vivid poem, in rhymed couplets, was composed by William Payne Jr. of Philadelphia during his imprisonment there. It is written in the back of a log book that was used to record the progress of an 1812 voyage aboard the brig General Eaton from Philadelphia to Lisbon, and then to Brazil. Presumably this log was the only paper available to Payne.

The "Melville Prison" poem, in 35 stanzas of 10 to 12 lines each, takes up 18 pages at the end of the book. It is intelligent, highly descriptive, and literate (Payne mentions Hamlet, William Hogarth, and Samuel Butler.) Following the final stanza of the poem, all of which is written in ink, is a pencil note that reads, in part, "Taken in the schooner Idalia on the 18th of December 1814 by the Narcissus Frigate Capt. John Richd. Lumley after a chase of 12 hours."

The poem graphically details living conditions for prisoners and the terms of their imprisonment (French, American and “Negro” prisoners were segregated into separate populations), the poor food (occasioning Payne's fantasy of a banquet), the harsh conditions and high rates of illness and death, and the hope of freedom and a return home. Inadequately dressed for the harsh conditions—

I want a hat my head is bald
My hat is worn and very old
Give me a pair of trowsers [sic] do
I’m ragged cold and naked too

—it is easy to imagine the low spirits, and high mortality, among the men:

Disordered rage and deaths prevail
From maladies and deadly [ail]
And numerous victoms [sic] feel the wound
And sleep beneath the wintry ground.

Near the close of the poem, Payne devotes an entire stanza just to the black morale that has overtaken every aspect of existence:

Each one oppress’d & broken hearted
By hopes of liberty deserted
Take leave of their comrades here
And give the last farewell & cheer.

In fact, the war ended a few months after Payne's capture, though how long it took him to be released and find his way home is lost in the mists of time. One of the most interesting aspects of the poem is Payne's reference to black prisoners, of whom there were a sufficient number to form their own group. African Americans constituted approximately fifteen percent of the naval corps in 1814.

A compelling, original poem detailing the travails of a War of 1812 prisoner.

This manuscript is owned in partnership with Ten Pound Island Book Company.

CONDITION: Very good. Cover extremities somewhat worn, with minor folds or small tears, otherwise clean and sturdy.

Item #3819

Price: $6,500.00

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